MargeDog with student "S", doggy doppelganger (except the color) and fellow fearful dog!
I haven't spoken recently about the non-competitive agility class that I teach. It actually just ended - after 6 months of teaching it, the head instructor and I both decided that we needed a break. Two other club members were interested in teaching it, so they'll handle it for now and we'll hopefully eventually go back to it after they decide to stop.
It really was a great experience. It got a little commonplace towards the end, mostly because there are only so many obstacles that you can introduce, and teaching them got a little bit repetitive. But, the teams were a lot of fun to work with, and many of them show great promise that they'll be successful if they continue training.
Some of my personal favorite teams:
- A rowdy, anxious, dog-reactive Shepherd mix with an equally anxious/nervous momma, who struggled with control issues at the beginning of his 8-week stint in the class. Some clicker training and Control Unleashed exercises later, and he was able to function pretty well in the group class setting. He didn't stick around for another session, but continued obedience training. They've still got some work to do, but his momma's thinking about getting him in to Rally or maybe a special class for reactive pups.
- A married couple very new to dog training with a yappy but extremely biddable Miniature Schnauzer. They had some real handling issues in the beginning and had no idea how to get a handle on their dogs' barkiness and make themselves more interesting than the larger environment. A few classes later, and they were able to get him to focus on them after he began barking. He also shows some really nice obstacle focus for a dog with no agility training. I told them that I really hope they continue with him - he'd make an awesome little agility dog!
- A student with Down's Syndrome training his Dachshund. This dog absolutely *adores* this boy and works his heart out for him. His handling improved greatly over the 16 weeks that we've worked with him, and he's continuing another session of the class. We hope that he might be able to show his dog in one of the smaller agility competition venues one day. Definitely one of our "feel good" stories!
- A shy mixed breed who needed some serious intervention from Pavlov to help her get over her fears of the various agility obstacles. I helped desensitize/countercondition her to both the tunnel and the chute, and she's made some great progress with jumping (she doesn't seem to like to pick up her feet!). She definitely enjoys the class, and her momma holds out hope that she might be able to dabble in Rally, too. Her mom has become a much more confident handler who is learning how to read her dog's body language and help her correctly when she starts to get nervous or scared. We're going to be doing some training together so that I can introduce her to the sport of Rally, which is exciting - they're a nice team and the dog has a lot in common with my own girl!
As you can see, the class sort of became a safe-haven for those who might not have been ready for mainstream classes. Reactive dogs, shy dogs, handlers with special needs, new dog owners - we were extremely accommodating of a wide variety of dogs and people, which made the group a lot of fun and, quite honestly, gave me a lot of opportunities for learning. And, let's face it - not every one has the time to devote to serious formal training. So, some people got a taste of training in agility in a safe environment that they otherwise could not have gotten, without the rigors of foundation or competition prep classes, and several of them have decided to go on to basic training classes (some are already in foundation agility!).
The class taught me to be:
- innovative, like using large cones to keep a tunnel without tunnel bags in place (in a class full of small dogs, we didn't have to worry about the tunnel rolling around!)
- creative, like making "new obstacles" out of PVC, hula hoops, broad jump planks, or the striped bars from the obedience bar jump
- quick on my feet, because yes, we did have a scuffle and I was in the right place at the right time to break things up
- motivating - it's easy for people to get frustrated when their dog won't perform for them, so it's really important to explain why their dog acts a certain way and how they can change their dogs' behavior using a reward system
It'll be nice to have my Monday nights to myself again for the winter, but in a couple months' time, I think I'll be itching to do it again!