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Keeper's Agility Thread

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How exciting is that!


The orthopedic vet read his radiographs and agrees that the left hip isn't perfect and could be considered mild, but with the right management he should be fine.


So that said, we're going down the agility path! I'm not going to let a *teeny* bit of HD stop him from living his life.


We have our first private lesson on Monday! She prefers to start with private lessons rather than a class, which is my preference as well. Keeper is especially unique, as he's never taken any obedience classes but it far, far from a beginner. Now she'll just have to fix all the things I've taught him wrong. :)


Luckily, all the things she was warning me about were exactly what I was looking for in a trainer. No equipment for a good while, lots of course study and jump style analyses, and very structured. She's pretty serious, and isn't the kind to entertain people who just want to make their dogs jump. I'm really, really excited!

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If it's any encouragement Kye has HD and is now 10. (Uncharacteristic handler indecision leading to elimination, I know.)



His jumping style has changed over the last couple of years but he still gets placed in our top grade and is never stiff after exercise.

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My dog has mild HD in one hip, I wish I had known earlier so I could have started a strength program. He was 5 when I realised a problem and he had significant difference in muscle mass between the legs. We have been working with a rehab pro for 10 months and at his last check up the physio said there was no significant difference between the legs. So my recommendation would be to find a sports rehab specialist and design a program to help support those hips over his coming career. I work online with mine.

Hope you both love agility as much as we both do.

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The specialist we saw pointed out that Kye had less muscle in one hind leg than the other and he still has but it has never been a problem. Advice was just to carry on as normal which we have done, apart from a bit of wobble cushion work.


His history is that at 7 he had an awkward take off following which he wasn't bearing weight properly on one hind leg. After the usual rest and anti inflammatories my vet x rayed his hip and noted that he had mild HD but that was just in passing. A few months rest and gradual reintroduction and he was fine.


Then a year later he wasn't quite right on his other hind leg so, knowing about the HD, I got my vet to refer him straight away for investigation by our excellent local orthopaedic consultant. He gave him a full examination with xrays and couldn't identify anything that appeared to be causing the problem anywhere, not just in the hips. He had slight arthritic changes compared with the previous year but not really any more than is common in dogs of his age. He didn't think an MRI scan was justified at that point although would have done one if I wanted. He recommended rest and inflammatories again and to keep an eye on it. That worked and two years later, touch wood there has been no further problem with his back end but we do spend a lot of time looking at it.


We would have taken him to a water treadmill to try and even him up but as he doesn't like water much and tolerates strangers even less we didn't think it would be a good idea.


It's good to know about the condition but also to realise that not everything that may go wrong is connected.

He will get arthritis but so do many dogs that have never an agility jump.

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We have a dangerous new addiction.


He LOVED it. Me too of course, but I was curious what he'd think. There was essentially no equipment, but we did quite a few exercises. She was getting to know him, a good number of things she usually starts her student doing were things I had already taught him, so I think we'll get to hit the ground running. She usually introduces spinning both ways, going through and coming back out of your legs, nose to hand targets, and some guiding skills that he already had mastered. I'm sure I'll enjoy looking back at my weekly lists of tasks and laughing as we progress!


Today we:

-Put 4 feet in a bucket. (Mostly fixing my communication skills.)

-Put 4 feet on a bucket. (Again, my skills.)

-Beginning of nose target work, nose to a disk and a release.

-Beginning "out", guiding him around a trash can on a straight line with the trash can passing between him and I.

-Cavalettis with a low jump to see his jump style. He's a wild child...

-Very, very, very beginning of weave poles. She likes to start them early so they don't end up a big deal in the long run.


Our biggest challenge was keeping his hormones under control! She has an indoor, carpeted facility. So naturally, marking was absolutely first on his mind for the beginning. He was still a little sniffy during slower things, but I'm sure we'll work that out. He was WAY faster and more excited than I expected him to be. It was quite clear that my energy will be a big factor in his performing abilities. I also use WAY too many words.


He was absolutely exhausted for the hour drive home, and we can't wait until next week!

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Aed and I are currently on hiatus from agility classes, so I'll just have to live vicariously through you for the next little while. I'm so glad he enjoyed it! There are few things more rewarding than having a partner who thinks working with you and running around on obstacles and hearing your praise is the best thing in life.

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  • 2 weeks later...

We had another very successful night at agility! Our trainer is quite surprised at how quick we've been able to move, all of my foundation work has definitely paid off. Keeper definitely realized that this is a game in and of itself, and he's finding just the activities themselves to be quite rewarding.


We revisited all of the things we did last week, which he passed with flying colors.


We introduced 2o2o today. I've already taught it in some contexts, but she also uses a nose touch. He's doing really pretty well here, this is our main chunk of homework.


We started on some jumps tonight. They were low to focus on handling. We practiced some lead outs, obstacle vs. handler focus, and a couple lines. And other stuff that I don't know the terminology for. :)


We also did a table with a down stay. He picked this up really easily, I had already proofed these behaviors at home. Eventually we worked up to three jumps straight onto the table, wait, and go back the way we came.


We did a mini tunnel (barrel cut in half) and a tire as well.


His progress on weaves was really interesting. I had never heard of her method for teaching weaves before, and she told me that it's not one of the main methods these days. After doing it a few times I didn't doubt her method, but I was a teeny bit skeptical that Keeper would pick up on it. Well I ought to eat my shorts, because it started to click tonight. She's *really* big on letting everything be the dog's decision. She also prefers for the dogs to think for themselves instead of just running and reactivity. So her method to teach weaves is kind of like a recal/shaping hybrid. Basically I go to one end and call him/get him excited to go forward, and she trails behind him with the leash on. The weaves are completely in line, and she lets him get a bit frustrated on the end of the lead. She doesn't guide him through the weaves, but he finds slack in the lead and gets to move closer to his goal when he chooses to go between the poles. For quite a while it resulted in him going through one gap, staring at me getting a bit worked up for a while, through another gap, etc. I had no idea how she'd get him to move forward smoothly, let alone add speed. But, sure as sh*t, the last rep he did about 5 poles completely independently of her tension on the lead. I mean smooth, low headed, highly motivated weave steps. It's not like I really doubted the method, but I couldn't really figure it out. But I can tell he's going to pick up on it really quickly. The level of frustration is mild, but enough to be extremely motivating for him to want to race through the weaves. I'm really excited to watch his progress here!


We're having an illegal amount of fun.

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  • 1 month later...

Keeper is totally rocking it!


We have a couple of alternating weeks with my trip to Texas, she was sick, and I was put into quarantine (fun stuff!). The lack of a routine has made him a little less focused (read: sniffy) at class, but we're still making big progress.


His weaves are really coming along. He's damn near doing it independently. He still has the guides, but they're only a couple of inches off of the ground and you can tell he doesn't really use them. Next week we'll be starting our weaves without me at the end as a recall exercise, and we'll be moving into big boy weave territory.


His contacts are pretty spectacular, if I do say so myself. We struggled for a little bit with getting him to drive to the end of the contact areas, but we got that under control at home. He's now really running to the end, and he's holding his 2o2o without my help. I can continue sprinting ahead of the obstacle and he's still not breaking his position. Interesting enough, his contacts are rock solid with the word "feet", but without it he doesn't even attempt a 2o2o. It doesn't bother me, it gives me the idea that having both a running and stopped contact is more than doable. But anyway, he's doing a full sized dog walk and A frame with gusto.


He's doing both chutes and tunnels, and sending to them quite well.


Now there's the handler part. :) We've started working some sequences and doing some course study. She let me run her dog today, which was super intimidating. Not a border collie, but a super fast MACH 8 flat coated retriever. We started doing front crosses with Keeper, and after doing a couple rear crosses with her dog, we tried it with Keeper. He flunked. :) His first real thing he didn't understand! We also started some ground work exercises to start our rear crosses.


I know his growth seems super accelerated, to the point of sounding like a "just for fun" class. But I swear, we're just going at his pace. I did a TON of prep work, so he really has picked things up this quickly. He's very confident on the equipment, so we've been able to introduce things that quickly. Once his 2o2o was solid (I did a lot of prep at home, he just needed the context of the agility equipment) he very comfortably did a full sized dog walk without any steps in between. She's putting me through my paces with my course study too! I'm learning skills that Keeper doesn't have yet, so we'll be able to move forward quickly once he has them. The last obstacle he has to learn is the teeter, which I suspect will give us some big hiccups. He's goofy about things under his feet, so I think it's best to leave it for last until he's very confident in his space and on the other equipment.


I'm ready for him to get over his sniffiness (hello neuter?), but we're having such a blast!!!

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  • 4 weeks later...

We did our first big boy weaves!!!


By that I mean fast, two-stepping, driven weaves!


Most of the time he's still slow, but we'll just talk about the best one. :)


Our trainer says we're almost ready to move up into a group class, the weaves were the one real thing we were missing. He was VERY afraid of the teeter, but she sent us home with some practice props and he's now feeling much, much better about the motion. We'll see how it works in our lesson on Monday.

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Yay!!! Congrats on the weaves!


I don't know what sort of practice props you're using, but I made one of these tippy planks using a board and a piece of 3" PVC pipe: https://www.cleanrun.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=product.display&product_ID=1705&ParentCat=124 Livi is very comfortable with that motion, but it will be a while before we see how it transfers to a real teeter. I also made something like this while I was at it because why not? https://www.cleanrun.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=product.display&product_ID=1703&ParentCat=124 You may be past either of those being useful, but just in case. Looking forward to hearing how Monday goes!

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Ok, my dog is awesome. Our trainer thinks we'll be ready to trial by this fall.


He's seriously so honest and reliable, she says she couldn't pick a better first agility dog if she tried. He's not super fast (yet), she actually is having to tell me to relax and let the speed come naturally instead of trying to pressure him.


He totally nailed his weaves tonight, he only missed one out of 9 or 10 tries, and it was at the very start. We did several of our first rear crosses too! He was so much better on his contacts, he was racing down to the bottom consistently.



His two problems are:

- The Teeter

- His Handler


I still feel like I'm watching the course happen before my eyes, instead of controlling it. I'm not smooth yet, and Keeper definitely backs odd when he senses I'm confused. But we're rapidly improving, and I'll be jump setting at a trial all weekend in two weeks, I'll get some time to soak things in!


We ran the entire warm up to the AKC Nationals, in bits and pieces of course. But still. :) We are consistently putting together 7 or 8 obstacles, and we're comfortable after one or two reps.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Keeper totally rocked our group class. I'm seriously so proud of him, I don't think I could have a better dog to learn with.


I was thinking we were going to be the worst in the class since we were so new.....not so much. We had the fewest issues, by far. I was also quite surprised to discover that my handling didn't suck. I still have SO much to work on (it's not even funny) but we did a lot of things as well or better than our classmates.


In our class there was an aussie (particularly unfocused and goofy, true aussie style), a malinois (really cool dog, I think a bit more experienced than his handler!), and a border collie. Ugh. Show bred, blue, and everything I don't want in a border collie. It was my first time spending an extended amount of time with a show bred BC, and it's like it's not even the same breed. She was plenty fast, but it's like there's nobody home up in the head. And just not handler focused. Maybe I'm overreacting, but show bred dogs feel like a personal insult. :)


The absolute best part of the class was the fact that Keeper was 100% focused on my, and the other BC was wildly in heat. He knew, for sure, and she was a big hussy. She's stick with her handler during the exercise, but if given half a chance, she'd make a beeline for Keeper as her owner was trying to leash her up. Keeper didn't once make any effort to go towards her, no whining, no excessive sniffing, nothing. That made me more proud than anything we did on course. I've struggled with his intact adolescent brain, so this was a fantastic sign that we may be ready to move pasts that nonsense.


I also see why our trainer makes people take private lessons and have fantastic obedience before entering a group class. It was cool to see all four dogs holding solid down-stays while we walked portions of the course.


We still have teeter fear, but it's MUCH improved. I forgot to mention, I hit the major jackpot. A neighbor in my area has had agility equipment since she moved in three years ago. I always drooled at it, but had never met her before. Well I happened to catch a glimpse of her husband outside up at the house (half a mile long driveway) while on a trail ride, so I got up the guts to ride my gelding up to the house and ask. :) I asked if she'd be willing to rent out her equipment, and she said absolutely not, use it for free! She has every piece of equipment, dog walk, a frame, teeter (with a tip assist), chutes, everything. I was flabbergasted, and I can't thank her enough. She may not be charging me anything, but I'm going to make up for it. She has whippets and IGs, and she trials mostly USDAA and AKC. She's done it for 18 years, and she said she'd love to train together, as her current dog is right at Keeper's age. More advanced, certainly, but still a novice. I won't overstay my welcome, but the ability to get him on equipment as much as I want is spectacular. Especially for our teeter issues (he's sketchy about the DW now, "it might move!!"), it's absolutely the best thing I could have wished for.

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... a border collie. Ugh. Show bred, blue, and everything I don't want in a border collie. It was my first time spending an extended amount of time with a show bred BC, and it's like it's not even the same breed.


Do you remember the chart that was posted here a while back showing that show bred Barbie collies (I won't even insult the real breed by calling them border collies) are as genetically distinct enough from working bred dogs to be considered a completely different breed? :P


Happy to hear you had such a great experience with Keeper. And a big hooray on being able to use your neighbor's agility equipment!

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Now that you say it, I do remember it somewhere! Now that I've seen it first hand, it seems so obvious! There are a few show-ish bred dogs doing AKC agility, but they still had some length of leg and whatnot. They have set ears and funky heads, but this was the first of those seriously long backed, short legged, aussie headed ones I've ever seen. Even her gait is funky. She trots so flat kneed it's like a toy breed. Most working bred dogs I've known have always preferred a lope to a trot, but she was so at home at a trotting gait, it was bizarre.

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