At the end of November, I enrolled Rio in an beginners agility class with a friend and colleague and signed Shayne up for a Rally-O class with her as well. I wanted to give them both something to do during the frisbee ‘off-season’ and I wanted to continue to work on my ground-work handling skills.
Rio was in a very basic class. He had a good time and was fantastic; he loved learning this new game. He already had a lot of the focus and handling foundations from learning frisbee so we would frequently ad-lib during classes to keep things more interesting for him (to prevent annoying barking). He learned some figure 8 jumping, has a good understanding of front crosses, learning how to work with me doing rear crosses… working contacts, etc. I was just absolutely shocked at the ease at which we were able to advance and learn. Some of the behaviors he was able to work were just out of this world for a dog brand new to the sport. I attributed a lot of this to how he was raised and the foundational skills he’s learned for frisbee.
He is very confident in terms of trying new things, being in new places and tackling obstacles. He never hesitated as he learned the jumps (even if they dropped), no problems barreling through a tunnel, it took just a few tries to master the chute, the A-frame was like nothing (he climbed it without even being asked as we rearranged the room in between classes), etc. Even working on the basics of the teeter (slam-it, wobble boards, low teeter) didn’t rattle him one bit. With frisbee, he has learned really strong focus cues, how to work with me, basic directional understanding, etc. I do think part of it was just who he was as a confident little man.
While working agility with Shayne, this epiphany was hammered home. Canine sports like agility, freestyle dancing, and frisbee ALL revolve around building a relationship. When you have built that relationship and foundational training in one sport, it is easier to work and progress in another sport. Shayne has had two (sort of) agility classes and has had some time casually playing on an agility course learning to do the obstacles as a way to build confidence. Yet, a few weeks ago, during a particularly empty Advanced Intermediate agility class, she was able to work in the class. She ran three complete courses (15+ obstacles-jumps, tunnels, A-frame, dog-walk, and tire) and on the second run had a near flawless run–for a novice dog and handler. My jaw dropped. In this course there were front crosses, rear crosses, obstacle discrimination, etc. yet somehow, this dog, who has virtually no agility training, was able to just ROCK IT OUT.
What was most moving to me in this completely awesome experience (running a near flawless course) was that my previously terrified, completely lacking confidence, and tentative dog was a driven speed-demon! She was not concerned about making a mistake, she was not concerned about doing obstacles that took her years to gain enough confidence to even touch (dog walk being one of those)… she trusted me to lead her through the course, trusted me to not worry if she made a mistake, and she was forgiving of MY novice handling skills and adjusted accordingly.
It’s a powerful idea: what it is all about is the relationship we have. The partnership that frisbee has created seems to have allowed us to have such success in a sport she’s hasn’t trained for. She seems to understand that, like frisbee, agility is about a partnership…about communication, about being a team. When I look at dogs in our Int. and even Adv. Int. agility classes (I assist with), the thing most of the “teams” are missing is the partnership–the team concept. Their dogs will do all the obstacles but then they run off, don’t look to their handlers, don’t have much focus, have no concept of working together, and are not yet a team (*the caveat being these are not competition classes, it’s really about just having fun with the dogs, so it’s not that big of a deal for the people).
All of this simply serves as a reminder that while all the training work is important… at the heart of it all, it’s about having a great relationship with our dogs. When you foster that relationship, you are setting yourself up to have such potential in whatever you decide to pursue with our dog!