Novice…The Happiest Place on Earth!

10 Mar

When you ask people where the happiest place on earth is, many would probably respond with DISNEY WORLD! However, those of us the play the game of agility with our dog should think of that novice ring as the happiest place on earth!

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When you brought your little puppy home at the age of 7 or 8 weeks, that puppy didn’t ask to play agility. It’s something we want to do with our dogs. We take our puppy to class each week, we train at home, we want to do this with our dogs.

I’m back in the novice class with Sghetti after not having been there in 8 or more years. This is a very special place for me as I didn’t know if I would ever be able to run her because of a growth plate fracture that happened before I got her and didn’t appear until later. We have trained on and off over the past couple of years and with careful rehab and monitoring. This weekend marks her first weekend of running all the runs at an AKC show.

As I sat and waited my turn, it pains me to see some of the things that happen in the ring especially in Novice and Open. People raising their voice at their dog, getting frustrated that their dog isn’t doing something just to name a couple. What I didn’t see all the time was the pure joy that we should be sharing with our dog. Yes, there are many that make this a happy place, but there I wish for the dog’s sake there were more!

To me the novice ring is a place for happiness. What I do in the novice ring will set the tone for the rest of my dogs agility career. Remember, the dog didn’t ask to get up in the morning and go the agility trial. Most of them have no clue why they are there, sitting in a crate for hours while we socialize with our friends. Some have grown up at trials as the tag-a-longs. But being a tag-a-long and actually running are two very different mental states for the dog. Sghetti came back to the motel tonight and put herself in her box and took a nap. Something that I actually have never seen her do.

I make sure that I’m creating a routine for my dog so that they know what to expect before each run starting with the VERY first show they are entered. First we go outside and take a walk.  It’s important that they are properly warmed up. Then we do some stretches and just have a little bit of chill time together by the crates. When it’s time to go ringside, we stop by the practice jump to have some fun and do a little bit more warming up.

The warm up jump isn’t a place to go and train the rear cross you need out on the course and you don’t think you have it in your tool bag. The warm up jump is just that a a place to warm up and have a low stress bonding moment with your teammate. We then head to the ring and have a couple last minute cookies for some easy tricks.

When we enter the ring, it’s our time together! Before I leave my dog, I ALWAY reach down give them a little pet and say “Love ya..let’s play!” I’m not sure when I started that, but it’s something special that I wouldn’t change for anything.

Whatever challenges the course presents, we must try our best in the most positive way possible.  If my dog can’t do something at that particular time, in that particular ring, that is info to me. Info that I need to take home and add into my training. Not something to obsess over, just something to check in. Yes, my dog might have been able to do the weave poles at home or training school. But the trial is on dirt, turf or mats that my dog may or may not be used to, the trial may be in a building that isn’t familiar, there may have a kid with popcorn just outside the ring. You can’t train for every situation, but if you’ve done your work the new and weird stuff that happens will hopefully pop up less and less often.

I always video tape all my runs. I don’t always watch them, but if something runs a muck I can go back and see what I did. 99.9% of the time it’s something I did, the other 0.1% is a dog being a dog and probably laughing at us.

When I finish my run, I play with my dog, tell them how great they were, how happy I with them or how silly it was they did something weird. I don’t dwell on the weird, I say it in a happy voice and go on playing. We then go take a walk to cool down. It’s important for both of you to let the adrenaline chill out a little bit before you put the dog back in the crate to rest.

I enter the ring and exit the ring with a smile on my face…I’m playing a game with by best friend! Just always remember the ring should be the HAPPIEST PLACE ON EARTH no matter what level you are in but especially in novice!

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