Today is Dog Agility Bloggers Action Day. To read other blogs on this subject, please visit http://dogagilityblogevents.wordpress.com/outside-the-ring/.
Agility is an activity that can easily take over your life. When I began competing in agility in the late 90s, there was a trial season. Now I can do trials in my venue of choice pretty much any weekend (and a lot of weekdays) without traveling more than 3 hours from home. As the Invitational has made breed rankings and point totals a more important part of the sport, there is now a lot of pressure to trial often. Even if life and a full time job didn’t make this impossible for me, I’m not sure that all agility all the time is the best thing for my dogs.
The longer I do agility with PBGVs, the longer it seems to take me to enter a young dog in novice. Maybe I just don’t have the sense of humor for zoomies in the ring anymore, but I also think the large 3 ring indoor trials that are common today are hard for a green dog. C.C. will be making her novice debut soon at age 3, but I am waiting for a small trial on artificial turf to give her the best chance of success. I know there are dogs a lot younger than her with high level titles, but I think the other activities C.C. has done have all helped to prepare her for an agility career. As a puppy and younger adult, she competed in the breed ring. This gave her experience traveling to events, being crated in strange places, and being touched by a lot of people without a lot of pressure to perform off leash and without food. The conformation ring might not be for everyone, but as a breeder I feel that its important to select dogs based on the breed standard and not just traits that may result in more speed or an advantageous jump height in agility. Later on, C.C. did rally obedience, which was the first time I really asked her to focus on me and perform in a new public setting. I think learning to work in handler focus mode without the arousal associated with equipment has a lot of value for a future agility dog, especially in a distractible breed. C.C. has also competed in hunt tests, giving her practice in working off leash and in a situation about a million times more arousing that agility. Hunting also helps a young dog learn about proprioception and athleticism in a setting where motivation is extremely high. I’ve been told that letting my dogs hunt will ruin them for agility because they will always want to chase rabbits instead, but given the fact that they are PBGVs I’m pretty sure they were born wanting to chase rabbits anyway.
On the other end of the agility spectrum is C.C.’s grandmother, Chili. She is 9 years old and really consistent on course- some days I think she can read the numbers on the cones. The hard part of the sport with Chili isn’t focus but keeping her speed and motivation up. Giving her an enriched life with lots of fun activities helps a lot with this. Chili rarely sees agility equipment outside of the trial setting anymore. I’m pretty happy with her training level and more agility time makes her slower, not faster. Instead, we work on recall games, toy play (definitely a trained behavior and not a primary reinforcer), core work, and whenever possible, hunting. Some of my other agility girls also enjoy therapy visits, but Chili prefers just to socialize with people she knows well.
My girls aren’t typical agility dogs for a lot of reasons, but I think any dog needs to have a life outside of the ring. The 45 seconds or so that we are running a course is a small part of life and having great time together outside the ring is a much bigger part of life.