Despair

That was my feeling while driving home on Saturday after the USDAA trial.

Vito had a few pros:
- He didn't fixate on anyone or react to anyone.  Even when kids were running by he remembered that he actually likes people.
- I got him to yell at me on every start line.
- Great dogwalk and aframe contacts

But had a lot more cons:
- He ran dirt slow and he got slower on each of his 3 runs on Saturday.  By the 3rd run on Saturday I actually ran on the outside of one jump and on a wrap I even ran past the plane of the jump just so I could continue my forward motion long enough for him to take the jump.  Weaves were the slowest.
- It was hard getting him up to engage with me on our warm ups.  Even for his tennis ball he was not super thrilled.

I didn't know what to think.  There are plenty of dogs who never sprint around the course and minus a few exceptions, they look happy.  There are even many people who really want that calm (and usually consistent) dog and never encourage their dog to break out of a trot or gallop.  But that's not my personal vision of agility.  I want speed and enthusiasm and am happy to take some off courses while we are learning to read each other.

Vito will never be a blazingly fast dog, but he used to run for me in practice.  Then he slowly started to have a few days here and there where he wasn't so speedy.  Now days the slower days are happening more frequently even in practice.  Usually if I can get a good warm up and barking at the start line he does well.  If not, I can almost always get a fast Vito after that first reward.  And if we are by ourselves he runs like a champion.

So as I drove home on Saturday I was in tears as I contemplated letting agility join obedience in retirement at Vito's 3.5 years of age.  Certainly disc will be joining them as well after this summer's experiment.

On Sunday I tried a new warm up plan; I brought along a disc.  When I first pulled it out Vito jumped on me and then remembered that he's not idiotic and brainless at agility trials.  He remained focused but calm as we walked over to the ring entrances/warm up area and when I found there was a huge delay he quietly lied down.  When I was ready to start getting him excited, Vito was very up but kept his wits about him instead of turning into a screaming idiot.  We tugged on it and threw a few short rollers.  Going into the ring seemed pretty comparable to Saturday, which I felt was good both days.  I got him to bark at me again and he seemed focused.  On our standard run he even did his reverse chest vault when I just asked him to put his paws on me during a small delay.

Our runs were better.  They weren't fast and he still weaved very slowly, but it was a huge improvement from Saturday.  Again he loved his dogwalk's and aframe's and gained speed after them with his running contacts.  I am so grateful that I don't have to try to get him up after stopped contacts! 

But I still don't know where to go from here and I don't know why we're struggling.  Vito does not seem stressed in any way just hanging out at trials or practice.  He is content to relax and even sleep in his crate.  Out of his crate he is calm and even if he does fixate on a person (which is still pretty rare) he recovers very quickly.  Trials are like a second home for Vito, unlike when he goes over to someone house and completely overloads with excitement, or even when goes to work with me and decides that just the environment is stressful.  So why has this been an issue for us and what should I do from here on?

Other facts to judge thee giving of advice:
- I've done complete training breaks.  We don't really train at all anymore anyways, just once a week in class and maybe 5min after Lance's class.
- We don't compete that often and mainly do one day shows, averaging about 1 trial a month.
- He's not running fast, but he isn't walking or even trotting.   I don't have YPS for this last trial, but usually when he's feeling slow but accurate he's about 3.5-4.5yps and fast for him is between 5-6.2YPS at a trial.  It's not the numbers that concern me, it's the large difference between them.

Shenna Lemche AKA Project Leader  – ( June 5, 2012 at 10:17 AM )  

Since so much of this I could have written at one point...

So, firstly, those courses in Starters/Advanced were just mean. I wouldn't despair too heavily, all the dogs had a bit of a WTF face at one point or another. Plus the days were REALLY, UNUSUALLY long because of the supervised status.

Nextily, I did see several of Vito's runs. He looked fine up until the moments when things stopped making sense. Again, given the courses... but it looked like when you had to improvise or think, he got lost without your full attention. And yeah- constant movement was definitely his friend.

So things to consider. Good when no one else is around... sounds familiar :) ... Can you find someone you can train with who you'd want to run like? Don't just do classes, really buddy up and train with someone who can challenge you and give the toller a new experience.

Maybe think about how much he loves contacts (highly compensated!), and think about if his jump/weave training was that focused (and highly compensated!).

After that, if all goes well- trials can be a second home, but being in the ring- so different. Can you show more? Not more runs but more often, at least for a bit? A few shows a month, let him really be in trialing mode. It helps some dogs to have breaks, but not others.

Last, consider that it may be you, at least a little. Disappointing experiences make for some nasty build up in our brains. Read a mental management book, see if anything resonates, take a class online, whatever.

OK, all done. Don't despair! You've come so far with Vito! Be proud. :)

Autumn  – ( June 5, 2012 at 4:58 PM )  

I had similar woes on Saturday and I really think the heat played a huge factor. First, this was our first outdoor trial this year, so I expected a certain amount of distraction. Second, it was warm. Not blazing hot, but the weather was much warmer than what they are used to when running agility. Plus, I have a black dog and a gray dog - they both melt and lose motivation in the sun. That's not to say they'll never work up to it, but they are younger dogs and the drive and motivation for agility just isn't top notch yet. My younger dog will run her brains out no matter what the weather is for a frisbee, but that's because that has so much more value right now. I think it was a smart idea to bring a frisbee out for Vito - especially if that is a high value reward for him.

Also, have you focused on motivation specifically in your training? There are lots of great exercises out there - rewarding for chasing you back and forth, jackpot rewarding for speed, etc. Also, you could focus on handling specifics that increase motivation - show acceleration in the right spots, focus on looking ahead and just running versus watching him jump. Kory Kaye does a great seminar on this topic and has helped us a ton.

Also, it sounds like the things that went really well are things that you have had to work really hard on. That is definitely worth a party over. The stuff that didn't go so well might have seemed big, but maybe that stuff can be fixed relatively easy. You never know!

Keep at it - hard work pays off and it sounds like he's got a lot of potential!

andrea  – ( June 5, 2012 at 6:00 PM )  

Be proud of all you have accomplished your bests are just awesome - imagine him not fixating on anybody? WOW WOW WOW

Vito sounds like a thinking dog - he may just want some more miles before he starts speeding up in a trial setting :)
no tears - this is a fun game ... you'll find the fun again ...hang in there

Laura, Lance, and Vito  – ( June 5, 2012 at 7:54 PM )  

Thanks Shenna. I know I certainly wasn't the greatest handler, especially in the gambler classes. I think I'm a pretty easy going person and don't really get stressed at agility trials so I don't think he's feeding off me. But I do know that I'm trying so hard with him and I'm certain he feels that pressure.

I would love to train somewhere that can really push me and to have a buddy. But money is more than tight for me right now so I need the free classes I get at TCOTC and don't have any equipment of my own or a yard to put any in. I've been concentrating on a modified version of cik/cap to work on powering out of jump wraps and he is doing much better with that. I guess I need to start some weave pole love training as well!

We will keep at it. We have a one day NADAC trial the end of this month for sure.

Laura, Lance, and Vito  – ( June 5, 2012 at 8:01 PM )  

Autumn- I loved Kory Kayes seminar and Vito had a working spot this past year. He was worried the first run, but after that he remembered he was a drivey dog :) I think I need to go back in our training and reward more frequently the moments he is putting on that extra effort. I had started to do this recently and need to continue it for sure!

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