With the triathlon season basically over, I've been swimming, biking and running a bit but I've turned more of my attention to my other hobby, the one that's taken a bit of a backseat the past couple years, dog agility.
When I first began agility with Max, we went to class every week and when once we started competing seriously, we trialed 2-4 weekends a month. It's a lot of time spent to go sit all day at a trial all weekend waiting for your 2-3 turns to run (for 30-70 seconds). But the only way to get good at competing and to finish agility titles is to trial a lot. Your dog doesn't necessarily translate all of their training directly into a trial venue, where you don't get practice runs on the course, so you have to repeat it enough for them to understand the same behavior applies and is expected in new and different places. Max was a dream of an agility dog, finishing his agility championship (many many weekends of trialing went into that!), qualifying several times for the Cynosport World Games (and going once, back when it was relatively close), and always making beardies look good.
Poor Stanley has had the misfortune to come along after his mom got sucked into this whole triathlon thing. So while he's gone to class weekly for years, his trialing experience is extremely inconsistent and mostly limited to winters in between my Ironmans. I hope to be better about that this next year as I race short course and theoretically won't need all day to train on weekends. So, we've been back to trialing again - Stanley and I were out there this weekend for his 2nd trial in 8 months (the first being 2 weeks ago). We improved a bit over Labor Day weekend, so that's a plus. It's just going to take time.
Since a FB triathlon friend commented that it was interesting to hear about this stuff, I thought I'd post a few videos just to show the progression in training and competing. Note that he would have progressed a lot faster if I trialed more often than every winter :)
Here is one of Stanley's beginner agility classes, where he was just learning how to jump and do jumps in sequence. Baby boy brain!!!
Here he was still a baby but I entered him in the jumpers class at our National, just for the experience. I think he'd only learned the weave poles a few weeks beforehand and was clearly too distracted to really know what I wanted at a trial.
A few months later, this was his first USDAA jumpers run. No weave poles on this course so all he had to do was get around the jumps and tunnels and try to stay with me with all the distractions in a cold horse barn in December.
And then you go home and practice everything some more.
And then you do an Ironman. And another race season. And then throw your dog into another trial and hope for the best. (Note: this is not the recommended route for successful obstacle performance in a trial). But he's getting better...
And then I went and did another Ironman (AZ 2011). When we last trialed early in 2012, this is where we stood. Not perfect but getting better.
So it's going to take a while to get it all back. Our Labor Day trial started out with disastrous runs on the first day and by the 3rd day things had improved. Stanley now competes at the Excellent level in both Standard and Jumpers courses, which means we must be perfect for our run to count. No hesitations, no incorrect performance of an obstacle (like messing up the weave poles), no missing the yellow zone on one of the contact obstacles, no taking an obstacle out of sequence, etc. I'm pleased to say that yesterday, Stan got all of his contacts (including 3 a-frames), got 2 of his weave pole entrances correct (the dog has to enter the poles with their left shoulder), and stayed on course. We ARE getting there, we just need to be competing more consistently. With time and practice, it will come together (sounds just like triathlon now, doesn't it?).
What am I looking for in the long run? Something like what Max and I had in his prime, though I know it's going to be a lot faster at Stanley speed!