Strummer's Monday night class has been cancelled for the past 2 weeks since instructor Rob is at USDAA Nationals so I decided to take him to the course run-throughs at the same arena instead. He's only been to Boulder County Fairgrounds once for class and a couple of times when I took him to work on his manners during trials but he was whining his head off when we pulled into the parking lot so I figured I'd have my hands full again.
I left him in the car while I walked the course which was jumpers with jumps only, no tunnels to break things up. I chose the novice course which had only one change of side though there were some turns and pinwheels to keep things interesting. The club had set up contact equipment next to the ring in the area where we normally have class so people who weren't running the course could practice and I realized that Strum would come around a turn and be heading straight toward the practice area. Darn, I was hoping we'd be able to run without the distraction of other dogs doing agility (the sound of dogs running on contacts is the thing that sets him off the most) but I figured we'd give it a try anyway. It would be tough for him but I thought it was a challenge he could handle, especially if I kept him focused on me and the course.
With 10 dogs or so to go I took him behind the arena to a grassy, lit area where he could run around and play with me a bit to warm him up and run out some of his crazies. We did a few recalls and he came flying right to me though admittedly there weren't any distractions to speak of other than being in a new place. I have a spikey rubber ring that I toss to him then play tug when he brings it back to me so he can run and catch then focus back on me. I'm not a big fan of tug, hurts my arms/shoulders/back, hurts the dog's neck and teeth so I move toward him with a light pressure on the toy rather than trying to pull the toy away-reverse tug I guess. He has the fun and interaction of playing with me but with only a little bit of force on the toy.
Once I felt he was focused on me I took him into the arena, about 5 dogs and a height change left until his turn. He did great in the arena area, didn't even blink at the other dogs and not a single lunge or bark out of him the whole night at the dogs running in the ring. I never had to ask for his attention either. He got a boatload of treats for both calmly watching the dog in the ring and turning his attention to me. We worked on his tricks and some obedience stuff to keep him calm. I didn't use the toy at all inside before his run because I wanted him calm and focused. We did a few recalls to heel over the practice jump then it was time for his turn.
I couldn't recall if Strummer had ever run a full course before so I wasn't too concerned about making it all the way around in one shot but at the same time I wanted to give it a go since he has that NADAC trial coming up in just a month (yikes) and didn't plan a stop anywhere. The $7 entry fee buys you 90 seconds in the ring and I knew he would run around the course in maybe 20-25 seconds but I didn't want to do the course twice or keep him out there for too long so I decided to spend the time rewarding him for his startline so I led out a jump, came back to reward, led out 2 jumps, came back to reward. He seemed fine on the startline and held his stay for all the reps until I finally led out 2 1/2 jumps and released him. I surely need a solid startline stay on the little rocket launcher and I'm not sure how I would have handled the course if I couldn't lead out. Novice courses are hard with the big long line of jumps all in a row! A rear cross would have worked but leading out so I could get a front in worked much nicer and he had a nice smooth turn/cross. He came around the turn to face the contact practice area where other dogs were running, I called his name to keep his attention and he never gave it a second glance-woo hoo! Then he proceeded to run past a whole line of jumps in a row without taking them but I didn't care. I brought him back to the start of the line of jumps and he took them then completely missed out the pinwheel. I brought him around again and he finally finished the sequence, more or less, and we were outta there. He was so happy after his run, came running right up to me wagging his tail and waiting for his treats. What a good boy! I don't think we had any bars down either. He's been getting much better about that in general.
Overall I was thrilled, a huge improvement over his class 2 weeks ago, not a single lunge or bark or scream the whole night. He seemed perfectly comfortable around all the other dogs too, didn't seem the least bit interested in them or worried by them. That's taken a lot of work as well, I haven't written about it due to lack of time but I've had some great people helping me in part with the help of their well socialized dogs. He'll make it around a course eventually, that part will be easy and will come soon enough. Novice is not so easy, trying to keep up with a rocket dog on those big long runs of jumps and we've been working on mostly more technical, masters type stuff.
Class is back on next Monday, hopefully Strum will keep tabs on his brain until then.