Our Kennel Club held the first night of beginner Agility classes tonight. Lindy Loo (lying on top) was in the first class, and her BFF Swede William (Lindy Loo's extra cushion in the photo above) was in the second class. They are both about a year and a half old. Sam I Am went too, as he is entered in a trial in a couple of weeks, and I thought maybe he'd learn by, I don't know, osmosis possibly.
I love watching animals learn. I loved it when I worked with young horses, and I love it with dogs. Our teacher is one of our Kennel Club members and she's patient and kind and explains things well, so neither the dogs nor the humans are having anything but fun. Lindy Loo and Swede William have gotten a little headstart; yet another Kennel Club member took pity on me this fall and graciously has given me some private lessons at her home. I could tell she has started us off on the right feet, because both of the puppies were thrilled tonight to see the equipment.
We think that humans are the only ones who learn by observation, but I don't believe it for a minute. Back when I trained young horses to accept a saddle and rider, I soon realized that it was exponentially easier and less traumatic when the horses had seen other horses be ridden. When youngsters came from broodmare farms where they never had seen a horse under tack, no matter how used to being handled they were, they were much harder to convince that this was a reasonable proposal!
I had messed up training poor Sam I Am the teeter. (In Agility, one of the obstacles is a seesaw. The dog runs up one side, hesitates slightly as he reaches the fulcrum point, and then runs down after the teeter tots.) Sam was afraid. So for two training sessions last year, I stood Sammy next to the teeter while the advanced dogs ran over it. And every time a dog banged the teeter, I gave Sammy a treat. Bang! Treat. Bang! Treat. After watching all those dogs and getting treats just for watching, he stopped being afraid. Now I have to work on slowing him down on the teeter!
In tonight's class there was a beautiful big Doberman. Just a gorgeous dog with a gleaming coat that a Pantene commercial would crave. His handler blatantly adores the dog and is justifiably proud. To introduce the dogs to the A-frame, a pause table that was set at about a foot off the ground was placed on the side almost at the bottom of the A-frame. The dogs were to jump up on the table, and then ease onto the A-frame and creep down to the bottom. Just a few steps. The Doberman thought this was not a clever thing to do with his Monday night. He climbed willingly onto the table, but was intimidated by the pitch of the A-frame. Our instructor wisely didn't want to frighten him, and when he placed just one paw on the obstacle, she had his handler give him a treat, and tell him he was brave, and that was it.
I looked at the Dobe as the other dogs climbed onto the table and down the A-frame. He'd watch, and then glance at his handler. And wag. I could see his brain working. When it was his turn again, he climbed right up on the table and then put one of his big, gentle paws on the A-frame. And with trepidation but without hesitation, there went the next foot and the next and the next and he had his courageous bulk on that steep ramp and there he was with his back feet on and front feet on terra firma and he was getting treats and whoops of praise and he fairly beamed and his human beamed right back and is there anything much cooler on Earth?
It's amazing what dogs will do to please us. Astonishing how much they trust us.
hug your hounds