Thursday, December 21, 2006

Agility Class At Last!

SUMMARY: Took Tika to class last night and we did fine.

The last time I went to agility class was November 15. Took Tika last night for one last shot before another week off for Christmas. They've already cancelled Boost's class for today because of anticipated rain and the holiday rush, dang it all.

We both did well. I never ran full out, although after some experiments, I did rather a Goucho Mark glide, to get some speed without actually pounding my knees. Tika handled just beautifully at a distance. I am so pleased with her weave poles, both her entrances and her willingness to stay in while I veer off sharply in an entirely different direction. She made some very difficult entrances last night with me at a distance (that a couple of other people had trouble with even being there to manage their dogs into the entrance), and I really pushed the limit on veering away--the instant she was in, I took off at nearly a 90-degree angle past a couple of other obstacles to the next one 40 feet away while she finished the poles. (Normally I'd drive her through the contacts for maximum speed, but in this case I was trying to move around a large course without having to run, so I took any distance maneuvers I thought I could get away with.)

She even stayed at the start line! Without standing up or skootching! Which she's normally very bad about. I guess practice does help, eh?, and we've been practicing that in the yard lately. Except once she did stand up early and I let her go because I didn't want to walk back to her (BAD handler! this is why it deteriorates...).

The only issue was, as usual in training, that she stands at the end of the contact, having made a very nice 2on-2off landing, and roots around in the grass looking for microscopic bits of goodies that previous people have left on the ground when rewarding their dogs. It's so hard to practice real-life contacts with her. In competition she never does that (because there's no food in the ring). I've been trying to reward her for releasing off the contact and coming with me, but the challenge is getting her to release and come with me! Even when she decides to recognize the "OK", she strolls off in any random direction with her nose to the ground looking for more goodies. We're still working on this...

But I felt good, my knee felt good, Tika handled beautifully, we had some lovely end-of-the-year brownies baked by Tracy in honor of Flash's triple-double at their recent 3-day AKC trial and various pastries provided by Ashley in honor of Luka's ending up in the top 10 in all 5 categories in USDAA for the year--at last look, they were in something like 1st, 2nd, 2nd, 2nd, and 8th (gamblers?). How far they've come in 2 years! It's very exciting to have seen them progress and succeed.

And I might have mentioned it before, but I'm delighted to have Ashley in my class because I really feed off of his enthusiasm and determination. His legs are much longer and faster than mine and he's more coordinated and naturally bubbly than me, but it gives me something to strive for. Our Wednesday night class this time around is generally very inspiring for me. I've seen Tracy improve in confidence and willingness to try challenging handling moves with her fast little sheltie. Ken and his fast Terv, Apache (aka Bubba for who knows what reason), have inspired me since Tika and Apache were both novice dogs and I'd always be looking for other dogs who could come close to Tika's time on course (faults aside), and Apache was one of only a couple of dogs there, so I was thrilled when they joined our class. And Jennifer and her fast aussie, Kai, are fun to watch, too. While Ken and Tracy are more like my age, they still know how to move around a course, and meanwhile Jenn and Ashley are younger and more athletic and I love watching them run and trying to get my body to do what theirs do--not in an unrealistic way, but on the theory that an excellent way to learn how to do something well is to watch experts do it.

And we all feed off of each other at stretching our handling skills, with Jim helping by throwing in frequent challenges ("here's how you might handle it, but if you really think you can get there, then here's this option--"). If even one of us says, OK, we'll try the double-layered, distance send, double-reverse front-cross halfway across the field for major Cool Factor points, then by golly we all end up trying to do it, and we all cheer and whoop wildly as the others try it and so often succeed. It's especially helpful with Ken and Jennifer because their dogs also jump 26", so we're in a minority in training classes in general.

It's a great class. Thanks, Jim and Ashley and Ken and Tracy and Jennifer and Bobbie and Kathy for helping me to challenge myself to be an even better handler--somewhat humbling, with my 12 years of experience, being propelled onward to greater things by all these folks with much less experience.

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