4 November 2012

Contact conundrum

Dog agility courses utilize obstacles that have prescribed standards in order to assure safety and basic uniformity.  One set of obstacles includes contact equipment: a dog walk, A-frame, teeter-totter or see-saw and a pause table. Dogs must maneuver these pieces of equipment in a prescribed manner. For the dog walk, A-frame, teeter-totter, the dog must move from one end to the other end of the equipment and must touch within the yellow "contact' zone on the 'down' part of the obstacle.  With the teeter-totter, the dog must tilt the board and remain on it until it hits the ground.  If the dog jumps or flies off the A-frame, dog-walk or teeter, it's an automatic failure.

Last week I entered Miska in two Intermediate (= Open in AKC) standard trials, expecting her to easily pass and earn her title.  That didn't happen because of the contacts.  This video shows Miska in Trial 1 refusing to go over the dog walk and jumping off the teeter.  This really surprised me since earlier in the day at training, she had done them both successfully. Likewise a few days prior to this trial in run-throughs in much more difficult courses.

In Trial 2, Miska was far, far worse when I thought she would be better.  I got her to the top of the dog walk, but then she started to cower and refused to go across it .She was terrified.  I simply could not coax her across the top  board.  The judge finally asked me to lift her off so she wouldn't fall off.  I had never, ever seen Miska like that.  She was absolutely terrified to cross the dog walk. Needless to say, she did not pass either trial and so didn't complete her title. Although I was very disappointed, I was more concerned about our future participation in agility.

At the end of the trial, I was able to take Miska on the course and coaxed her with food over the dog walk and teeter-totter.  After several sessions with positive reinforcement, she was happily completing those obstacles successfully.

I still wasn't sure what caused her to initially refuse to do these obstacles. There were major differences between the trial setting and where we train.
  • At this trial, the contacts were rubberized but Miska has been on rubberized equipment before.
  • It was indoors when we have been raining outdoors.  However, Miska has trialed at this location before and been successful once before.
Four days after this unsuccessful trial, we went back to agility training (outdoors) on non-rubberized equipment.  It was cold and  windy in advance of Hurricane Sandy but at least the rain held off.  I thought about passing on the class because of the weather but decided to venture out in order to get Miska back up on the contact equipment, especially the dog walk and teeter.  Well, she was terrific!  In fact, she kept wanting to take the dog walk when I wanted her to enter a tunnel.  So she had no problems at our training site, which uses non-rubberized equipment.  This made me more perplexed as to why she had earlier refused to do them at the trial.

One possible explanation given by our trainer at Companion Dog Training is that the building structure could have made Miska feel crowded on the dog walk because it was set up close to a wall. That might explain the dog walk but not the teeter which was in the middle of the course.  In thinking back on things, Miska and I competed indoors at this location one other time. She passed the first run but not the second. I now think it's the building that is affecting her.  We train outdoors and rarely run agility indoors.  In obedience we always talk about training in different locations and the same, I guess, can be said of agility.  It's just a lot harder to do since the sport of agility requires a lot of equipment that needs to be set up.

Our next trials will be outdoors for some time so I'll see how Miska does.  

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