Monday, September 13, 2010

Eight Years of Agility

Photo by Alissa of Pet Personalities
I've been doing agility for about 8 years.  I began with Cheryl Carter of Fundog in Antioch, Illinois.  Cheryl was running a very fast Border Collie in NADAC, so if you went to Cheryl, you were going to run your dog with distance.  Period.  End of discussion.  This turned out to be a very good start to my agility foundation training.  Unfortunately, for me, I was trying to train an Airedale.  "Biddable" is not in an Airedale's vocabulary.  After running Mr. Max for a year or so, I decided I wanted a dog who was a little easier to train.  I considered several breeds and finally chose an Australian Shepherd. 

My first Aussie was indeed more focused and willing to play with me.  Unfortunately, he didn't care for agility.  The only thing that really floated his boat as a reward for performing was water coming out of the garden hose.  Not exactly a portable reinforcer.  After 14 months, I returned him to his breeder at her request for reasons unrelated to agility.

My second Aussie was a precious little ball of fluff who was also the queen of her litter.  People just could not resist touching her--think The Trouble with Tribbles episode of Star Trek.  Libby has a congenital paralysis of her upper esophagus, and had several bouts of aspiration pneumonia in her second and third year of life.  Knock on wood, with proper management, we have kept her healthy since then.

Photo by Alissa of Pet Personalities
Libby ran agility because I asked; she never really was turned on by it.  She loves to bark while she runs, but she didn't enjoy going to class, and eventually she got to the point where she didn't really enjoy trialling, so she is basically retired to a life of leisure.

Dusty is my third Aussie.  I fell in love with his picture on the ARPH (Aussie Rescue and Placement Helpline) website.  I met him in Lafayette, Indiana, at a gas station that was between my home in northern Illinois and his foster home in Indianapolis.  At our meeting, he was subdued and I figured I was taking on another pet as opposed to a high-energy agility prospect.  But that was okay with me because as I said, he was gorgeous.

Well, as it turned out, Dusty was recovering from the effects of being a feral dog plus Kennel Cough.  He was 20 inches tall, but weighed only 33 pounds.  Once Dusty began feeling at home with us and gaining some weight, I discovered I now had one very high-drive dog living with me.  Be careful what you wish for.  After almost six years, I still don't handle him very well.  David Bailey of the Quad City Dog Center in Davenport, Iowa, began running Dusty at some NADAC trials.  At most, David has run Dusty a couple of dozen times, but last week it all came together beautifully on a practice JWW course.  Additionally, it took Dusty and me three calendar years to complete his Elite Standard title; David and Dusty have two standard Q's this year!

That brings me to Belle.  She is a dream come true.  Her sire was Beth Wasielewski's (Ledoux Aussies) Unbelievable Rodeo Bronco Buster.  Buster passed on a desire to work to his off-spring and has many performance winners on the ground.  

I brought Belle home in May, 2006.  We had moved from NE Illinois, an agility hotbed, to NW Illinois, an agility desert.  Luckily, over the years I had trained with some pretty good people.  I was also extremely fortunate that Olga Chaiko began her virtual agility lessons in 2007, and I was able to use what I was setting up for Libby and Dusty to train Belle.  I just kept the jump bars on the ground and skipped the sequences that included weaves.

Belle turned out to be the perfect dog for me.  She wants to please and is eager to learn.  Her favorite things in the world are doing agility in the yard, swimming and tracking, and she squeals with joy when any of those activities is on offer.

Okay, that was a long preamble to the reason I decided to start a blog.  Belle completed her first NATCH in February, and we are five Chance Q's from her second NATCH.  We compete occasionally in AKC and Belle has her MX and MXJ.  If we never compete again in AKC, I'm content with those two accomplishments.  We also go once or thrice a year to USDAA and CPE trials.  But NADAC trials are held only 70 miles from the house so that is our primary venue.

Since NADAC is our primary venue, getting a 15 point bonus in every class is my next big goal.  Increasing Belle's yps's has been an on-going project for the last two years.  Belle is quick, but she also wants to be right.  We may run 10 seconds under Regular course time, but that's not fast enough to get a DRI over 1.00.  So far we have just two--both in Tunnelers.  In contrast, I think Dusty has six, and several of them are in Jumpers.  So if more speed comes I'll be ecstatic, but I'm not holding my breath.  The 15-point bonuses though, I think that's something we can eventually attain with the right training.

A dog can express more with his tail in minutes than his owner can express with his tongue in hours. - Anonymous

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