This post could also be titled “I feel compelled to always jump at least one animal competitively over fences.” There’s only been one extended period of time in my adult life when I didn’t ride. I filled some of that time with model horses and the other bulk of it was spent learning agility with Eliot, my springer spaniel.
When I first got Eliot, I wanted to do therapy dog work with him. Of course since that was the plan, Eliot decided to hate old people and children in a rather serious way… which pretty much eliminated therapy. I thought agility was rather interesting as a sport, and since we already had our Canine Good Citizen and had done some Rally Obedience classes, I decided to start an agility training class to see how we liked it.
By random fate, I stumbled upon a really good agility trainer based out of Cape Cod, MA. I thought we’d jog around the agility course and be doing jumps and tunnels after a week, but the reality was a very rigid, step by step learning process. Seriously, we were doing what looked like choreographed dance moves for weeks (because I did them wrong often) with no jumps or any agility obstacles of the sort. At first I was all, “This is boring” but then I began to respect agility a ton. Sure, it looks like you’re running around pointing your dog at things, but really it’s a very intricate sport of communication. I was glad for such a solid background.
Since we took our time, Eliot progressed correctly and never had any fear of any of the obstacles. He wasn’t a natural agility dog by any means. Some dogs have this fire to them and they can’t wait to get started on the course. My dog was more like this…
“Hey Eliot, let’s go jump this jump!”
YAY! I’M RUNNING AND JUMPING WITH MY MOM! I LOVE MY MOM SOOOOOOOO MUCH!
“Hey Eliot, let’s do the A-Frame”
YAY! I’M WALKING ON THE CLOUDS! I’M LIKE A GOD OF SPANIELS! I LOVE MY MOM SOOOOO MUCH!
On and on and on. It was really fun learning everything though, even if we weren’t fast and spectacular. We took our agility class once a week for almost the entire time we lived in Massachusetts, almost two years. Towards the end of that time, our trainer said we were ready to compete in the 20″ Novice A division. 20″ is for Eliot’s height, Novice is for us not being awesome sauce the A is for both him and I being total newbs basically.
In agility, the scoring is kind of like show jumping and kind of not. You have to execute all of the elements with no faults in order to get a qualifying score. Since we weren’t fast, the goal was always to qualify.
Our first starts were fun, but had some missteps. Eliot was kind of sloppy jumping (and I wasn’t amazing at handling), so we would knock some poles and get disqualified. He was very good at his contact spots though, so that wasn’t an issue.
I remember our second show course, he was doing really well and I was so excited we were going to get our first qualifying score. The last three jumps were all in a row, and pointed towards the crowds outside of the ring. Eliot saw my husband (his beloved Dad) and was like OMG IT’S DAD I’M GOING TO JUMP TO DAD and jumped all three jumps… and then out of the ring. That is also a disqualification, but we all laughed because he was so happy to be cuddling with Dad after his run.
Eventually we managed to get two qualifying scores in competition. Since we were in the total noob class, we ended up competing against ourselves. So I can report that I officially have an AKC Blue Ribbon winning agility dog… we just won’t mention that we didn’t have to beat anyone to get it!
When we moved to Austin and I got back into horses, I stopped taking agility lessons with Eliot. Sometimes I regret this, because he loved the one on one attention. Other times not at all, because he is happier fetching a ball and was always a little bit stressed at the competitions. Either way, it was a fun learning experience for us.
Have you ever tried agility with your dog?