Discovery Monday – back to the beginning


Look at me - I'm so cute!

Look at me – I’m so cute!

The lyrics of the Coldplay song The Scientist come to mind after our trial on the weekend:

/Nobody said it was easy/

/No one ever said it would be this hard/

/Oh take me back to the start/

That’s right – Mr. Snifftastic came out to play on Saturday. We attended the Agility Dog Club of NSW (ADC) and started the day well. In RQH Jumping we had one fault – Jaxon popped the weaves at the 10th weave, which was most likely my fault. Otherwise we had a fun run & a great start to a cold morning.

Disaster struck in our second run. Of course it was Novice Agility (AD).

I was worried about the weaves after table considering the table slows the dog down & it’s a challenge to get them revved into the weaves following a complete stop. Before we even got there, Jaxon stopped completely at the 3rd jump. Yes, he’d smelt something in the grass. No amount of calling or distraction would get his nose off the ground (spaniel genes!). He was instantly rewarded by a chunk of something which he promptly gobbled down while staring me in the face. I was so upset that there was food on the ground. If any distractions, that is one thing we’ve been working on for the last 6 months, and actually getting somewhere. I thought we had gotten past the “food comes from the ground” stage and onto more focus for running.

The next few obstacles, Jaxon’s nose was on the ground. And you guessed it – off the table into the weaves, he just stopped and sniffed. After the weaves was a tunnel – a great speed-up for Jaxon. So the remainder of the course I managed to get him focussed & having fun again. A good recovery.

Despite complaining, we weren’t given a re-run, and the 2 faults stood at the end of the run. I was pretty upset by that, and it took me most of the morning to come to this conclusion: It’s really my own fault. I shouldn’t be upset by that, I should have proofed the sniffing.

Hence the song springing to mind.

It’s often hard to push through disappointment like that. On our very next run, the old demon came right back. Jaxon barely did the first three obstacles before deciding the ground definitely had more food than I did. I apologised to the judge & got him to run the last tunnel & jump before retreating to think how this could have collapsed after months of little to no sniffing.

Simple – I didn’t do a good enough job on proofing the behaviour.

Susan Garrett speaks a lot about this, and how you build layer upon layer of proofing a behaviour before it’s rock solid. I’ve taken heart in her blog and the Recallers program. Jaxon needs to choose to play agility, not to sniff. For that to happen, I’ve got to be the most interesting and fun thing in his life. And I have to proof that daily.

The good news is I have the resources and knowledge to jump on that straight away. When he zigs I’ve got to zag. On Saturday I immediately turned to the clicker & waited for the good behaviour. After about 5 minutes of walking about and rewarding the behaviour I wanted outside the ring, I kept building on that. Using the techniques Recallers is giving me around bridging connections & trying to get the real behaviour, not just the treat seeking behaviour.

By the time we were ready for Excellent Jumping I felt tentative that we’d done a bit of good work, enough maybe to get his focus back. Despite knocking a bar, missing a jump and doing the course in double the time, the biggest achievement was getting Jaxon’s focus back on the task at hand, and having some fun doing it. I nearly lost my voice in the high-octave range trying to keep him focussed and excited, but we did it! A great step forward for any team considering how the run before that one went.

And the total outcome was a wonderful learning experience from my furry bestie that showed me how to eat humble pie, embrace failure, and build on that strength of just having a fun day playing with my pup in a field (that happens to have equipment in it).

So have we gone back to the start? Not quite – we’re layering & proofing! It’s sometimes tough, but every knock back in training a dog brings you to a different realisation about yourself, and your pup.

After all, we’re only human, and they’re only canine!

Happiness is a doggie bestie

Happiness is a doggie bestie

Posted on July 14, 2014, in Agility nerds, Discovery, Fun, News, Training, Trials and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Love that song!
    And well when you are dealing with start line stays it feels just the same.
    Oh so close but oh so far…. ironically we don’t have the problem with sniffing…. ours is starting out with such speed that there is no room for error.
    Each of us dogs gives the handler a unique learning opportunity.

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