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November 21, 2020: Dog and Pony Show: Every Cat has its Day and Every Dog has its Weak End

Agility class number three today. I pause, wondering what to say. Shadow’s getting quite a bit out of her ongoing classes, but I am getting more out of these classes than she is. There is 64 plus years difference between Shadow and me, making this sometimes a challenge. She figures out things really fast. I figure out things really slowly.

Today, we worked on loose leash walking, going onto the table and teeter totter, the jump and broad jumped combined, and the A-Frame. The class was small, there was just Shadow, the English Shepherd and the Golden Retriever. Smaller classes mean we get to do more.

Shadow was focused, on and off. It was hard keeping her attention. Could be that she didn’t get out enough yesterday. She mellows out if she gets to go for a walk with Pete and then with me. This morning she got to play with the big blue ball before we left.

Dogs sitting

What I most like about agility, and what I think is really good for me, is the focus on body awareness. I do not know if the instructor paid much attention to this before I introduced her to the concept. The main thing I learned was this: ask your dog to halt, say at the end of the teeter totter. Give the dog a treat. Stay rooted, say “let’s go.” Key word, “say.” If the dog doesn’t move, then gesture let’s go with both arms. This is a sequence that I was told, is best learned at the beginning of agility training. By mid-lesson I had this down.

I was also struck by the fact (again) that positive reinforcement is as effective when used on humans as it is on animals. I messed up a few times, but I was then given directives on how to fix the situation. When fixed, I was praised. I suspect that my posture then changed. I began moving lighter on my feet, put my shoulders back, and resumed nose breathing.

Also important – Shadow repeatedly jumped up on Claudia, the teacher, after she got her treat upon arriving at the end of an obstacle. I said (after this happened a few times), “Don’t you think you should say off?” This being the down command. Claudia said no; instead, just call the dog. She said that if she says “off,” she’ll be rewarding Shadow by giving her attention. I then realized that Claudia was assisting me in training Shadow to come when she jumped on her – thus replacing the incompatible behavior with one that was more compatible. This is the earmark of a very good teacher.

I also stayed and watched the second, more advanced class. And there I saw an instance of a discriminating stimulus – the dogs were to bypass the a A-frame and go through the tunnel. Most chose the first time around to go up the A-frame. In other words, they had to discriminate between one obstacle and the other.

The jury is out as to when Shadow and I will be signing up for our next agility class. Right now we have three more classes before winter break. I am now gung ho to be doing both dog and horse agility in the Playground of Higher Learning.

Next: 321. 11/22/20: Winter, Etc.

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