Training Onyx

It has been said that you get the exact dog you need in your life at that moment.  That each dog comes into your life to teach you something new.  Well, despite being just a little over 2 years old, Onyx has taught me a ton in a short amount of time.  The main lesson she has taught me is that I’m a horrible dog trainer and that I need to become a better trainer if I want to continue to succeed in the world of agility.  It’s been extremely humbling and, honestly, a bit humiliating to admit.

All of this has been going through my mind the past couple of weeks because after our last UKI trial I thought a lot about Onyx while I was driving home on that Sunday evening. It basically boiled down to the following:  she doesn’t know how to do anything in agility and I only have myself to blame.  Now, that’s not to be taken literal, but it’s pretty close.  Unfortunately for Onyx, she followed Luna in my house.  Luna was a natural and picked things up so fast.  She was also always so focused on me that she was always up for anything and everything.  So when Onyx came into my house I ignorantly thought I was going to get a similar type of personality.  Well, she wasn’t Luna and it took me a long time to recognize and accept that.  And while I wasn’t recognizing that fact our working relationship suffered.  A lot of training mistakes were made when she was still young that I’m still trying to overcome to this day.  Mistakes that have led to some small trust issues. Thankfully, though, she is a very strong dog and works through them with me and is a LOT further along today than she was even 6 months ago.

So, on my drive home a few weekends ago I ran down a list of what our biggest weaknesses are in agility and promised to myself that we would focus on a few of those items and work on them extensively.  #1 on the list, and something I had actually already been working on, was collection.  She measures just over 21 inches, but jumps so, so big. She can easily bounce jumps 12 feet apart when she’s at a full sprint.  And so far in her young life, collection has not been something I’ve worked on a lot with her.  That was a conscious decision I made in the beginning because I think I worked on it too much with Luna when she was young and may have permanently retarded her speed on course.  So we work on collection 1-2 times a week when we make it out to the training building and I’m starting to see little glimpses of her getting it.

This past weekend we attended a seminar with Lori Michaels and first thing in the morning we ran a fairly straightforward 17 obstacle course.  The end of the course saw a 20′ L-shaped tunnel to a jump about 15 feet away with a 90 degree turn after that to the last jump.  I fully expected Onyx to blast out of the tunnel and take that jump with full extension even with me standing completely still about 5 feet from the jump.  Shockingly she collected herself and didn’t take the jump in full extension!  I was so shocked that I couldn’t even get her tug out of my sweatshirt to reward her quickly enough.  The rest of the day I saw some more glimpses, but also saw her normal behavior with jumps. 🙂

The other big item I’m focusing on is better handler focus.  It’s bad enough that even just walking around a the training floor with obstacles she can’t help herself sometimes and just starts taking obstacles with no queueing or prompting on my part.  So every training session with her now starts with 5 minutes of walking around the floor as close to obstacles as possible.  Walking a foot away from a tunnel without going into it is so incredibly hard for her to do, but I think she’s getting the hang of it.  Same goes for walking by a jump with an added challenge of walking up to a jump and stopping a foot away from it.  It’s funny to watch the little gears spinning in her head extra fast when we do that.  Along with that work, we’re also going back to working on recall to side/heel. It feels like these things will go a long way to fixing our issues and it felt good to have someone like Lori Michaels suggest all of these things for me to work on when I had already started them.  Makes me think that I do know what I’m doing, just that I’m a little bit slow on the uptake. 😉

So on we go with our training and learning together.  I know we’ll get to a place someday where I can trust her on an agility course to do her job well.  And when we get to that place, watch out.  She will be a fun one to watch as she flies around the course. Hopefully I’ll be able to keep up with her. 🙂