Today was the first day of our proper competitive agility classes. (You may remember we joined five lessons of an ongoing beginner class back in December, which gave us some good practice, but ultimately wasn't a good fit.) This one is at Ace Dog Sports in San Francisco. This first lesson was an orientation without dogs, and I was very impressed with the instructor and the curriculum.
She had us practice pulls (outside turns) and front crosses with rolling suitcases taking the place of our dogs -- brilliant idea! Then we did the same thing with a classmate acting as our dog. She also had us practice taking a handful of Zukes treats and dropping into plastic cups one treat at a time, as quickly as we could
She demoed an "It's Yer Choice" version of shaping a stay and recommended that we start practicing at home before next week's class. This will be our start line stay. She recommended teaching a stand-stay for small dogs since they often don't want to sit or lie down on wet grass on the agility field. (Same thing for some short-haired dogs, too.) I did a couple of sessions of shaping a stand-stay without any cues after we got home. I've been luring Cai to switch between sit & stand and down & stand with his front feet on a platform, but don't have the stand in any other context yet. Dragon had an awesome start line stand-stay, but he was a less fidgety dog!
She recommended having an agility-only release word that means "drive to me" as opposed to "you're free to do what you want". That's a great idea for most people. For myself, I've been raising Cai with agility handling in mind since the day I brought him home, and his release from staying already means "drive to me". I tested it out to make sure I was correct, and sure enough, Cai runs to front if I'm facing him or to my side if I'm facing away, so I'll continue using my current cue.
We discussed knowing our dog in terms of what food rewards will work for them. She said that you don't have to teach your dog to tug, but you need him to be able to drive out toward something he values and pick it up in his mouth, and then have some semblance of getting it back to you. I have a food pouch I used a lot for Dragon, especially before he was comfortable tugging in class. I need to pull it out and teach Chimera to run to it, and then not run away from me with it! He's made a lot of progress recently with bringing objects to my hand, so this is a good time to introduce the food pouch.
No bait bags are allowed in class -- treats must be in easy-to-reach pockets, with no plastic bags in the way. That's the way I usually train. Cai knows which pocket in my sweatshirts is the treat pocket, and always tries to stick his head in there! (And the other pocket is the tissue pocket, and he's gotten very good at sneaking them out and shredding them.)
No luring allowed. Yes! The first six week chunk is called "power steering" and is solely about flatwork. Yes! After that we will be starting obstacle basics, including crate games, and using the crates as if they were obstacles. YES!!
She said that training collars and head collars and harnesses are not allowed in class. I said that I have a puppy who will lunge toward things he wants and that I don't feel comfortable with having a leash attached to his collar rather than harness. She said that I could bring the harness at first and we would work through it, but that "harnesses are useless in class". Something about the way she said it ruffled my feathers, and I felt my body become stiff and I know I got a hard look on my face. (I have trouble sometimes when people tell me things I don't want agree with.) I don't like the thought of working Cai on a leash going to his collar. With Dragon, I worked him on a harness until he was focused enough that I didn't need to have him on leash, and then I introduced an agility martingale/lead combo to get him used to it before trialing. Same with obedience work -- on the harness until he heeled so well that the leash was decorative. Well, I need to do more IYC and focus work, and then Chimera will stop lunging at OMG STUFF, and the issue will be moot.
Something else I liked was that she said that her dogs have no leash walking skills, because they rarely get leash walks and she doesn't care about it, and they have phenomenal heeling/circle work skills that she can cue if needed. Wish I could say the same thing for myself, but as a pet dog trainer I really need to have a dog with good leash skills or it will reflect poorly on me. Plus, it's giving me good experience to draw on when teaching clients.
I just looked up the instructor's profile again on Ace's website, and she went through one of Bob Bailey's chicken camps. This is all looking quite good.