I had the good fortune to run into one of my longtime instructors Joy out at Biscuit Eaters on Weds. night and as luck would have it she was teaching a private lesson at 6:00 pm the very next day and was happy to schedule me for 6:30. It's been years since I've had a lesson with Joy and this is unfortunate because she's an excellent instructor and has been an incredible help to me throughout the years, esp. when I was starting out.
I took Lola for the lesson because I wanted Joy to see how she was running and give me her opinion about whether her issues seemed physical or the result of her long layoff. Joy had her own little sheltie out for a long time with a shoulder injury so she's had experience with rehab and coming back to agility. Sure enough, Lola missed a simple weave entry right away then made the entry on the second pass but popped right out of just a 6 pole set, both the issues that have been giving me the most worry. Joy noticed right away that the problem was that Lola was watching me instead of focusing on the poles. She thinks that all the time away from the agility obstacles and all the work I've been doing one on one with her in the meantime have caused her to become more handler focused and she's lost her obstacle focus. She had me go back to basics, open up the channels on the weaves and escort her right up to the entrance like you would a baby dog then run with her right to the end. Then we added a jump and a tunnel before the jump and after just a few passes Lola was finding her entries and weaving confidently like her old self. We did some proofing things, having me hang back and send her, having me run laterally away from the poles, having me turn in a circle while she's doing the poles and Lola handled it all perfectly and didn't give me a second look. Joy thinks if I keep up with this sort of back to basic training that Lola will soon get her obstacle focus back.
As for the balking at the jumps, Joy thinks this is because I'm standing still too much and trying to send her or call her to me rather than running with her. Now I know this about Lola but simply forgot, it's been so long since I've handled her. I can think of several instances at the trial last weekend where my lack of motion could have led to her balking at the jumps.
So in less than 1/2 an hour Joy put my mind at ease about her physical condition and I feel more confident about training her now. We'll go back to basics for a little bit though it shouldn't take too long, Lola seemed to be remembering it all pretty quickly. I cancelled my appointment at Alameda East. Their biomechanics lab is kaput anyway (noone to run it at the moment) and I was going to see a physical therapist who insisted she has some method for working on the dogs' backs that helps them redistribute the forces more evenly to their back and off their shoulders when they land. I was both hopeful and skeptical about this as a preventative thing, I figured it would be worth at least one session but I think for now I'm going to focus on training and maybe reschedule if I think she stills needs it later on.
I'm going to try to continue on with 1/2 hour private lessons with Joy. It's not cheap but these short sessions focused on my particular needs seem to help me so much more than a longer more general regular class with lots of other people so in the end it's more cost effective even if I have to cut back to once every other week.