oh my auggie

Payton’s First Agility Seminar

Yesterday was our Stuart Mah seminar. The day started at 4:30AM; I packed almost everything into the car the night before so I wouldn’t have a lot to mess with in the morning. Roll out of bed, feed the dogs, potty the dogs, get dressed, pack the cooler full of caffeine, put Payton in the car crate, fire up the GPS, and away we go! We left at about 5:15AM and arrived at the seminar location a little bit after 7:40AM. The seminar was small, so we all got plenty of chances to work our dogs.
We started just talking a little about a list on a wipe off board, a list of skills dogs need for agility and a list of skills people need for agility. The list for dogs is obviously much longer, but it was a bit surprising to me how MUCH longer it was. There were definitely skills on the list that Payton doesn’t have. Then we all got the chance to run our dogs on a course Stuart set up. After we ran, he asked us what we thought our dogs needed.
Funny enough, after two weeks of Steak & Weaves, there were NO weave poles in the course. We didn’t see a single weave pole all day. We did, however, see contact equipment, and Payton was spectacular in his judgement of where to jump off in order to precisely clear the yellow completely. Sigh. He also took some great off-courses for me. And barked a lot. Basically, he had a very lovely Payton-esque run, which is what I was hoping for so I could be like “My dog. Let me show him to you.”

So what I said I thought Payton needed was impulse control. Stuart said “that’s part of it.” But more over, what he thinks Payton needs he called “attention to detail.” Payton’s version of agility is to run around the course as fast as he can, taking as many obstacles as he can, often just grabbing whatever he sees in front of him, with very little regard for where I am on the course or what I’m telling him to do. In my description of this, it sounds like a dog who is stressed and is running zoomies around the course – we’ve all seen those dogs. But that’s not quite Payton. Payton instead is so eager to go on, run ahead, and keep trying to take as many obstacles as he can – hit your contact? But there’s a jump right out there. Finish the weave poles? But there’s a tunnel there I would rather do instead. Take THAT jump? But this one is in front of me! The rules just don’t come into play anymore in his eagerness to play the game as fast as possible. In my head I pictured a little kid playing soccer. The kid is so excited he picks up the soccer ball, runs as fast as he can down the field, flings the ball as hard as he can into the goal… then he dives into the goal, grabs the ball, and runs back the other way as fast as he can, flings the ball into THAT goal, repeat. And the whole time he’s doing this he’s screaming at the top of his lungs. And meanwhile all the other kids are standing there going “But dude, that’s not how you play the game!” But he just doesn’t care about how THEY want to play the game, because he has decided he wants to play the game by running as fast as he can and scoring as many goals as possible, not even necessarily for his own team. He doesn’t care that in soccer you’re supposed to move the ball with your feet. He doesn’t care that only the goals scored for YOUR team really matter. He just wants to run fast and score goals and also yell a lot.
That’s Payton playing agility. Except it’s not quite a perfect example, because Payton will generally follow me around a course. He doesn’t run off and start taking jumps at the opposite end of the ring while I’m still standing back by obstacle #3 – but he’s not super concerned if I’m over by jump #5 and he’s on an off-course over that way. In fact the off-course jump might, in Payton’s view of agility, give him bonus points (hint: it doesn’t.)

In some ways, this is good news, but in other ways, it’s bad, because Impulse Control is a Thing that I know, a Thing that I have a concept of how to work on. How to teach my dog attention to detail, I have no idea. I’ve never even heard of that as a Thing.

He also said part of the reason Payton does this is because he doesn’t feel there are any consequences for not playing the game correctly. It’s true; I don’t punish my dog for making mistakes. I try to not even let him know he’s screwed up and I’m unhappy. And it wasn’t until later, while Stuart was talking about something else, that it really occurred to me WHY. Because in my head I think that if I do anything or say anything, I’m going to squash Payton’s enthusiasm and end up with Auggie. A dog who desperately needs the energy to be kept cranked WAY over the top to drive him through a trial, and even then, he might not make course time. So I’ve decided that in exchange for speed and enthusiasm, I give up control. And the end result is we still don’t Q but for entirely different reasons.

I’ve also said before to friends that I feel like Payton and I escalate each other, and definitely some of what Stuart said backs this up. Payton is running fast and loose and loud. I start getting louder. He gets louder (and faster) so I get louder and the cycle just continues. I want Payton to come to me and instead of being calm and quiet, I’m basically shouting PAYTON PAYTON PAYTON at him which is just adding energy and intensity and doesn’t at all signal “chill out” to Payton. Somehow I have to manage to be in enough control of myself and my voice and my tone and volume to communicate better to him. Not exactly a skill I’m good at; my volume level tends to be very reactive… so that will be interesting.
There’s also the issue that I run hard and fast a lot. Payton runs hard and fast so I run hard and fast so Payton runs hard and fast, more of the cycle repeating. Let me drop my psychology degree in here for a second to mention that it’s very self-rewarding for ME TOO to run hard and fast with Payton; excepting the exercise physiological aspects of endorphins and everything from the equation (like the fact that my sport of choice is running and I just plain enjoy it,) which of course comes into play, I have a fast dog who is wildly opposite from my first Molasses Dog and it’s incredibly rewarding in all kinds of ways to run all out with my fast dog. It’s also rewarding to Q though. There has to be a balance there, from me, which might be harder than just training the dog.

Ultimately it almost sounds like it’s going to take more changes in my behavior to force changes in Payton’s behavior, so the onus is really going to primarily be on me. Yes, there will be some extra training going on, but I’m going to have to step up my game and be better about what I do and don’t do with Payton in the ring. Our next trial is over the July 4th weekend, so we shall see if there’s anything to be gained by that point or if I’m just going to continue setting money on fire for a while. All in all, it was a pretty good experience and helpful to have somebody of a high caliber confirm a lot of things I was thinking. I flat out asked about the contacts and weave issues (even though Stuart didn’t see him weave) and he agreed that he feels it’s an overall issue with his lack of attention to detail rather than an obstacle performance issue.

On the positives, Payton was otherwise a delight all day. Sat in his crate quietly even though a major windstorm was brewing outside and the entire building sounded like it was shaking. Let Stuart use him as a demo for his stretching routine. Gained some admirers who asked where I had gotten him because he was a nice, solid dog who rebounded from failures easily and is of course a very cute, enthusiastic boy. In most cases I really believe Payton tries very hard to be a good boy, and while it’s true I was sitting there halfway through the day and thought “I miss Auggie…” it was nice to spend a day with my little baby dog and have some fun. Also, it’s the very first time I’ve ever seen Payton truly tired. He had to use his brain HARD for hours at a time, and even though he was happy to play and wrestle and run around after we got home, when we all finally crawled into bed at night, he lay down right next to me and stayed there, even after Auggie decided it was too hot and jumped off the bed to sleep on the floor. Normally P snuggles for a bit and then moves to the floor, but NOPE… too tired. Can’t even get off the bed. And that alone might have been worth the whole thing.

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