Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Awful, thanks for asking

This weekend was not the most fun I've ever had at an agility trial. In fact, it may have been my worst trial ever. It was the kind of weekend that leaves one wondering why one spends all of one's time, energy and money doing dog agility.

I know I should feel a lot better about the weekend than I do, because Mr. Gomez qualified in 6 out of 8 runs, despite being somewhat of a goofball. But we're still in PI and PII (We finished PI Gamblers and Pairs this weekend, so we'll now be in PII everything), and the lower-level courses are relatively easy. More importantly, refusals aren't counted yet. Once we hit PIII I have a feeling we will tank a lot of runs because Gomey often blows right by obstacles in his hurry to get ... well I have no idea where he's going sometimes. He's just going. He comes right back when I call him and takes whatever obstacle I want him to, but it often seems as if he still doesn't get the point of this whole agility thing. He completely gets the point of the game where I throw the ball over and over and over again and he runs and gets it and brings it back every time. Now there's a game! He's clearly a very pattern-oriented dog, and agility throws up a brand-new configuration every time. I think the poor boy will never get over the confusion.

Lucy's the dog who really "gets" agility, and she and I have become reasonably successful over the past year. So not getting a single Q all weekend felt rotten. A few of the problems were simply my handling, but some of the issues were things I thought I could trust Lucy to take care of. Weaves, for example. I'd spent a lot of time making sure she understood how to find the correct entry from all angles, and had gotten good deal of independent performance and distance with her. She was becoming an excellent weaver. But this weekend, she was missing entries and popping out over and over again. Now I've completely lost confidence in her weaves to the point that I plan to go back and start re-training her in an open channel. There's no way one can succeed in Masters level without trustworthy weaves.

Another issue is the table. She has become slower and slower to down on the table as time goes by. In practice she's great--I say "Splat" and she goes splat. It's one of the first things I ever taught her, and since we don't do AKC, the table only ever means "down," never "sit." But in a trial she just doesn't want to lie down. It's completely infuriating. I'm not sure what to do in training to fix it, because in training she's fine. Maybe I need to borrow a friend's table and feed Lucy her dinner every night in the "down" position. Or, (I don't really like this idea and doubt it will even work), I could sacrifice my runs to her training by picking her up and carrying her off the course if she doesn't immediately down on the table. She hates being picked up and carried. Problem is I can't take her to her crate because she loves it in there. So I'd have to just carry her around for a while. But the big problem with this is that I've spent too much time building her motivation to risk shutting it down by stopping a run in such a way. Still, I don't know what else to do.

And there are those pesky contacts. I've trained, re-trained, and re-re-trained. She just loves sailing over them. She's perfectly capable of a two-on, two-off or a nice controlled, moving contact--she does them in practice ... well, not all of the time, but lots. But she loves to fly in a trial. It's faster that way. And I'm just not willing to end a run for a missed contact. I don't think it's really very effective (I know people who have done it and it hasn't really helped them at all and, again, I don't want to mess with her motivation). But now I'm stuck babysitting her contacts saying all kinds of things ("easy wait easy bottom easy!") hoping to just slow her down enough to at least scratch yellow with one tiny claw. You can't succeed at the Masters level that way (especially in Gamblers).

So right now I need something to build my own motivation. I don't even feel like going to class this week. What's the point? It just a Sisyphean exercise if I have to keep training my dog to do the same things over and over and over again. Of course, it's all probably something I've done anyway, in which case the whole thing is really hopeless.


Elayne said...

I'm sorry you had such a crappy weekend. It happpens to all of us though and sometimes, just like human athletes, dogs get up in the morning and don't quite have their head in the game. Both of you could have been a bit tired and burnt out from last weekend. Trials are so exhausting, it usually takes me 4 days or so to recover.

The other thing to consider is that she might be injured. She might not be but it's a possibility. Much of what you're describing is what Cody did when he had a shoulder injury I didn't know about. He had no other signs of lameness other than he'd limp for a step or two after napping maybe once every 3-4 weeks. It took and orthopedic vet (regular vet was useless) to find the problem and when he opened up Cody's shoulder the thing was blown out even worse than he had thought it would be. Dogs are so good at hiding their injuries. Dogs who suddenly have trouble in the weaves out of nowhere always make me nervous.

I've been leaving the ring to reward downs on the table during trials and it seems to be working so far. Cody had great, fast tables last trial and Lola balked but laid down on one run and had a great table the other run. I don't reward every single table, just if we've NQ'ed anyway because I don't want them thinking the table always means they're done. If I can't get them down in a reasonable time then I just leave the ring, no reward but no harsh words either. Both dogs are very soft so I can't risk doing anything too negative either. If I carried Cody out of the ring he'd probably never go near the ring again.

You can do a similar thing for contacts, leave and reward when she gets it right. NADAC is good for that, you can redo the contact until she gets it right then leave and reward. I make a big happy deal out of leaving so they don't think they've done something wrong.

Good luck with it all, you know you're too addicted to give it up. Once you get some rest and perspective you'll be raring to go. And you might want to consider looking into an orthopedic vet if you can find one, if nothing else you can get some piece of mind and know you're dealing with training issues.

Lisa B. said...

Thanks for the encouragement and good points to consider. I should indeed make sure it's not an injury. There's a rehab/sports medicine vet not too far from me. And it's quite possible that she hadn't recovered from the previous week and/or, it was just too damn hot out.

Plus, I think I was a little clunky myself, both mentally and physically. How can I expect her to do her best when I'm not?

I have another trial in two weeks--if the opportunity presents itself, I'll leave the ring for good performance if we've already NQ'd. That's much better than carrying her out for bad performance. I want to keep her happy.