On Sunday Chimera attended his first agility fun match! I expected him to be distracted by smells on the new floor and the presence of strange dogs and people. My goal for the day was simply to work on focus in a new setting. To help Cai be less reactive, I dosed him with two drops of Rescue Remedy on a calming treat from Pet Naturals of Vermont.
First up, let me say that there was definitely an improvement in his reactivity thanks to the supplements. He was still dog reactive, but it his growling and barking were noticeably less intense, especially at the beginning. He got lots of treats every time we heard dog tags jingling or there was a dog near his crate. I will be using the same supplments in the future when we go to agility class, hiking, or on any other outings.
We had three runs, lasting 90 seconds each. The jumps were set at 12 inches and I had copious amounts of beef hot dogs on me.
During our first run, I kept him on his short leash and simply waited for him to turn toward me, and then I would mark and reward. He stopped looking around and was ready to work much more quickly than I had anticipated! So I started cuing just a few steps of heeling (either side) and rewarding that, then releasing him to look around if he wanted. At the end I dropped his leash and had him run through a tunnel, and then back in the other direction. As we left the ring, one of the instructors for classes at this training center commented, "I love it when I can tell what the handler is trying to do!"
For the second run, I started off just rewarding attention again, and quickly increased criteria to short bursts of heeling, coming to front, pivoting, a tunnel, or 1-2 jumps. Once he was in work mode, Cai only got distracted by a stray scent once or twice, and would quickly return to work when I called him.
For the third run, I asked him to do more work -- up to four jumps, mixed with tunnels and lying down on the table, plus a bit of heeling.
After the match was over and I was letting him potty, a different member of the hosting club came out to tell me that she was so happy to see me using a high rate of reinforcement and working on our focus foundation. That was great positive reinforcement for me!
I was so pleased with how well Cai did. It was a perfect setting for his first match, since it was indoors and there were only six or so dogs signed up for the afternoon session. (Apparently there were around twenty during the morning session.) Now my job is to continue to sign up for matches! And if there aren't any, take time to linger around the edges of trials and work on his ability to focus via obedience/freestyle/tricks.