Last weekend was the latest road trip for Kriszty and I up to Geraldton with Sonic, Cassie, Red Dog and little Tex tagging along for fun. It was my first trip to Geraldton in a couple of years after having a few very bleak trials in Geraldton with Sonic where we had come away with no Q's after two days of trialling. Which makes for a very long and depressing drive home! Fortunately this time we had a very successful weekend and Cassie and I came home with 3 Q's out of 4 runs which way exceeded my expectations.
Prior to Geraldton we did a day road trip to Bunbury which is about two hours south of Perth. I was kind of nervous given that at our previous trial I had completely abandoned running classes and chose to play nose touches at the start line before whoohooing back to a reward. She had come out of that trial quite happy so I felt that I wanted to try competing to see if things had started to improve but still had no real idea what I would get. I had also changed my start line release from "ready, steady, go" to "1, 2, 3, run" just in case I had poisoned our old release by association with the stress. For our agility run with great relief Cassie released off the start line and came straight after me. Half way round I handled her badly which lost her focus and she went out of the ring to sniff. I went and got her and she continued quite happily to finish the course. For her jumping run I decided to abandon running it properly. Instead I asked the judge if she would be OK with me running only six jumps to a tunnel and then straight back out. The judge was happy with that and I was thrilled that Cassie again released and chased me up and back. Maybe she would have run the whole course, maybe she wouldn't have. But I was happy because my dog was happy.
All in all I *think* things are getting back on track with Cassie. At Geraldotn there was one yawn on one start line and one class where she wouldn't initially come off the start line (until she couldn't resist coming to me for a nose touch). She is without a doubt slower and more cautious but the fact that she got both her weavers in both agility classes showed that she was focused and confident. The weavers seem to be what goes first when she is worried about what is going on. The fact that she was slower and more cautious probably worried me less because she was competing at a grounds she has never been to before after travelling in a car for quite a few hours and staying in a strange house. All her runs were also quite late in the day so she had been at the grounds and in a crate for a significant amount of time before all of her runs. She has always been better when she's fresh. So all things considered I think I can fairly safely say that we have turned a corner and are hopefully on our way back.
I'm not sure which part of what I'm doing is helping. I've learned to pay particular attention to her body language and what it might be telling me. I also allow her time and space to absorb what is going on no matter where we are. I've restricted the amount of "fun stuff" she has free access to when we are at home, training or a trial to make sure that the focus is on fun when she is with me and all her energy is going towards that. I've been working on a lot more games at training and less actual agility. We work on random nose touches and tricks all the time with intermittent rewards so they are really high value and can be thrown in at any time. She is getting much better at tugging on her lead and just playing with me without relying on food and toys. I've also had the ring ropes up at training to work around them and reward her for crossing the rope and onto the start line. I do still wonder if a lot of the problem is the lack of reward that she gets when she is competing. She is a very bright little girl and is very aware of what earns her something and more importantly what doesn't. So again, my job is to make sure the agility is rewarding enough to carry her past the no food or toys at the start line. I think I'm achieving that at training but having a problem "bridging the gap" to the competition ring. But I have hope after what we have achieved in only a few weeks, considering that it was just over a month ago that I couldn't get her over the first jump and she was leaving the ring. I still have moments of doubt and times when I feel like I have totally screwed her up. "How the hell did I get here?" is a fairly regular thought that wafts through my head. But at the end of the day you just have to suck it up, get on with it, be patient, patient, patient and believe that you can do it... Kayl McCann who I think is an awesome agility competitor from Canada posted the following quote on FB the other day; "When obstacles arise, you change your direction to reach your goal, you don't change your decision to get there". How relevant for me right now. Thanks Kayl!
Sonic from what I can tell, seems to be reasonably sound at the moment. So much so that I was too petrified to run him at Geraldton in case I broke him again. Pretty sad isn't it... I think he enjoyed the trip anyway and he is always no problem to travel with. All good practice for the Nationals, which are only a month away. Yikes!!!