Training The Baby Dog – The Chronicles of River

under_constructionNot having a dog to run in agility has been a test of patience. It has been 5 months since Merlin started rehabbing his knees and River is still too young to do a lot of the training that needs to be addressed eventually.

River has been 19″ tall since June (11 months old) so last month I decided to take her for X-rays to check her growth plates. She was just over 14 months old at the time the images were shot. The vet we normally see took the X-rays and gave me the all clear that her plates had closed. Inside my head I let out a quiet “woohoo!” which was quickly followed up with “are they really closed?” I emailed them over to Dr. Woodside for a second opinion and while they are almost closed they’re in fact still open. I guess the small hole in her tibia wasn’t all that obvious. I really love our vet, but the important take away here is to work with a specialist when dealing with your k9 athletes. Having someone that understands exactly what the dogs put themselves through with any sport is paramount. I don’t want to imagine the possible damage that could have been caused from starting to ramp up her training with plates still open.

As she turns 15 months with her growth plates still open I’m pretty sure this is part of a larger conspiracy of the agility gods. Running a jumpers sequences with bars set to 12″ with what appears to be a fully grown BC who is full of piss and vinegar has forced me way out of my comfort zone. My attention to our training has shifted to areas I may not have focused on nearly as much if her growth plates were already closed.

Video: Unleashing the beast on a jumpers sequence.

The Twitch Effect – Going slower to go faster.
Improving my movements has probably been my largest area of focus, and a lot of it I’ve worked on without having a dog present. If the neighbors are watching I’m quite sure they’re wondering “WTF is he doing out there?!?”

Handling River is much different than handling Merlin. The boy is in need of constant cheer leading and exciting movements. The girl wants to go as fast as possible all of the time. The extra twitchy movements just confuse the daylights out of River and nothing good comes of it for either of us. We’re still learning each other’s timings, but I can consciously feel my cues and motion being more precise and direct. I’m excited to see how Merlin responds to this whenever we are able to get him back up and running. I was been able to guest handle a few dogs at a recent trial and none of them had any issues reading my motion. I hadn’t run a full course in five months and it feels like I’m headed in the right direction. I’m conscious of when I revert back to “Twitch Mode” which is a big mental victory. Being able to run a full course at a trial has tempered my “need” to get either of the BC’s out running before they’re ready. Thank you Steve, Dave and Lori Sue.

Commitment Issues
Early on it was very apparent even with my speed, there would be no outrunning the Little Bits on a course. Consequently we have spent a considerable amount of time working obstacle commitment. I’m really happy where we are at this point in time. The speed bump jump heights have really forced my hand of cueing the obstacle and getting out of there as quickly as possible.

Impulse Control – The Start Line Unlocks The Game
Merlin has a number of confidence and stress issues. Start lines can shut him down as he starts to overthink what is about to happen. With River the game has become the reward and from early on the game didn’t start until she offered up a sit or a down on her own without me cueing it. In the beginning this meant we would spend our entire time in class waiting for the behavior to be offered. I needed her in an exciting environment and this became class time well spent. This has developed into a single hand single that send her between my legs to get her placed where I want her and right into a down position. With as amped as she gets, I smile every time she patiently waits with excitement for the game to begin. The little firecracker has some impulse control. We continue to proof this on a daily basis.

Understanding Your Most Valuable Commodity – Time
I’ve set goals for Team River. We’ve got a number of short term goals to work towards as well as some specific medium and long term goals. I work two jobs and over the last year and a half I’ve seen more doctors than any individual should have to see during their life time. I never see the wifey as much as I’d like to and free time for training becomes a very precious commodity.

We work multiple skills at once to maximize what we can fit in. A simple game of fetch is transformed to combine start line proofing, blind crosses on the flat and recalling to heel. You can get very creative with what else you can work while focusing on a specific skill. I try to remain aware of what we need to focus on and what we actually have time to work on.

I’m very excited to see where all of the work we’re putting in now away from equipment gets us when we start working on weaves, contacts and raising the jump heights. For now we’ll continue to launch out of puppy cannons and fly around sequences with short jumps all while smiling and enjoying the moments of a young dog learning and loving the game.

Happy Training!

Bonus Video: Running Flyer USDAA Masters Standard