Tay started out her agility career trialing at 18-20 months in novice AKC and ASCA and in levels 2 in CPE and P1 in USDAA. She did really well and did not seem any different at trials than she was at home training. She was really fun and consistent. Then when she was about 25 months old at an ASCA trial I put her on a stay and did a four jump lead out. It was something I had done many times in training so I thought I would try it at a trial. Those of you who know what ASCA/NADAC jumpers courses are like - it can be really nice to have that long lead-out. Tay became visibily stressed and by the time I got to jump four she got up and left the start line sniffing. I took her off the course and began to ponder things. At an AKC trial around the same time her dogwalk criteria started to fall apart and she was becoming visibly stressed about it. I tried verbally marking it and that didn't seem to help. Then I tried taking her off the course for not doing it and it only made matters worse. These were all things I had done in training with her when she had gotten too excited to be able to maintain her criteria.
Tay is a dog who in training is very resilient. She has no problem making mistakes and learning from them. She loves clicker training and she will work endlessly to figure out what I want. If she gets excited and misses a contact in training it doesn't take much to fix it.
Since she was about two years old I have spent the last almost two years working to get the dog back at trials who loves to train in agility. It has been a long road with a lot of learnings for both of us. Tay has had more "PQ" runs ("personal Qs" or "Party Qs") than any dog I've had. She and I have tried essential oils, Florida Water, Pelliscastle collar and stones, talking to Mary Stoffel, past life clearings, Shamanic healings, T-Touch, Massage, Healing Touch, Chiropractic and probably a few other things I'm forgetting about. She and I have had more short training runs in trials. I stopped showing her in AKC all together and only entered her in trials and classes where it was going to be easy to make up our own courses. We did classes where we didn't have to do a dogwalk or weaves. I would use ASCA and NADAC trials to work on those things where we can repeat the obstacles or sequences and where it is ok to make up your own course even on a regular course. I stopped asking for a start line stay in trials and began running with her.
In the beginning of all of this as I let go of asking for a start line stay I saw her ability to do weaves and any contact go downhill. I figured that they were all linked together under the "self control" issue and if I don't ask for control at the start then it is hard to ask for it later in the run. I stopped asking for those obstacles and just worked on having her run and have fun doing jumps, tunnels and teeters. You'd be amazed how many classes you can do with just those obstacles and even pick up some Qs along the way!
Back when the meltdown first occurred I spent some time playing with a running dogwalk contact. She has a running aframe. I thought it might help. I think it made matters worse. In training she would offer me the two on two off. So several months ago I went back to proofing the two on two off contacts on the dogwalk. I really made it hard for her to maintain criteria with treats and chewies within reach of the dogwalk and by tossing things and running in different directions. She got it. Mind you had I proofed these things when she was younger but I think this time around she was more mature and the proofing started to sink in. I did the same with the weaves poles. In training I threw the hardest and most difficult weave entries at her and I put all kinds of distractions by the poles. I would run backwards and far away and up close on the poles. She just got faster and faster in training and seemed to love the game.
However in trials she was still stressed if I asked her to do weaves or a dogwalk. There would be avoidance or sloppy performances if I "tested" it at a trial to see where we were with it. I also entered her mainly in ACTS trials where I knew what the situation would be like and the equipment would be familiar and honestly I would not feel like I was out of a ton of money in entries and travel!
At ASCA Nationals I totally planned to train in the ring - expensive training but good experience. She totally melted down when I tried to train the weaves there and she totally stressed and avoided them. After that I made the decision to move her back to Novice in ASCA and enter FEO so she could gain confidence again on 6 weave poles. I did that this past Fall. I think it really helped build her confidence back up. So in January I decided to try her back in Elite Regular to see how she is doing.
At our January USDAA trial Tay ran the best she has run in years at a trial. She earned a Starters Standard leg with a perfect run! I was so thrilled and amazed. She was really focused and fast and fun to run! She had more great runs in a trial setting than we have had in ages!
This past weekend at the ASCA trial she gave me her first fast (like she gives me in training) two on two off dogwalk in public in two years on an elite regular run! I was so thrilled I just wanted to make my way out of the ring and she hit a set of twelve poles like a pro! I was so excited (she had an off course) that you would have thought we had earned an ATCH on that run! It was her very FIRST Elite Regular Q. This was in spite of being a bit sore and by Sunday I pulled her from most runs because Kristin thought she had a rib out. I won't run her when she is sore, I've worked too hard to make it fun to run that I don't want to ask her to run when she is sore.
While I know enough not to rest on our laurels here I will continue to do proofing and to do calming things with her at a trial. I still think and know she is sensitive to her environment but I also think she is learning to cope with it much better as her confidence increases.
The one thing that has not come back in trials and I'm still "testing" is a stay at the start line. I've been training her with both me running with her and with stay leadouts. I'd like to get a leadout back with her - it is really helpful with ASCA courses. She still glazes over in a trial setting if I ask her for one there and can't do it. I need to keep working on it. She was able to do it at Dana's seminar on Friday which is progress. She can do it a run thrus too. I've had to go back and retrain a stay by having her sit on a stool/pedestal so she is more aware of her her foot movement. Stays have always been hard for her to comprehend. So I will keep working on it. Since she showed me she can do a two on two off fast and confident at a trial and she can hit 12 poles perfectly with speed I am optimistic we will get our stay at a trial back too! I am grateful for organizations like NADAC and ASCA where we have more liberal training in the ring policies to help ring-wise and ring-stressed dogs work through things. Trials are different than run-thrus to many dogs (and handlers) so it is helpful to be able to use these places to work through things. I have done a lot of positive training in the ring with her. I tried using corrections with her and didn't realize that her mindset at trials was different from training and it was causing her too much stress. So after creating my own problem I am finally seeing improvement two years later and I have hope that we can move forward now and both of us enjoy trialing together again!
So it is just a reminder that every dog is a unique individual and the way a dog is in training may not be how they are at a trial. Many of us are very different in training compared to trialing.
I am also realistic and know I have a lot more PQs waiting for me than Qs still for Tay and me but it is much more fun this way!
Annelise and the "Amazing Miss Tay"