Our Fourth Agility Trial:
Running with the Big Dogs

Earlier this year, I heard that my favorite agility club would be hosting a trial at the largest indoor venue in the area. I have long heard of this place: it is heated(!) and there is always lot of action. Our teacher Nicole always advised that Miles and I should avoid shows there until we’d gained more experience and control. Now, this venue isn’t a big deal by expert standards. But for teams with easily distracted, stressed, and/or excited dogs, there are several aspects of this place that can present great challenges when starting out:
Our Fourth Agility Trial:</br> Running with the Big Dogs

A while ago I told Nicole that I was thinking of registering for this event. We went over the risk factors — the primary one being that Miles might be tempted to break the barrier and crash the Masters party next door. Which would be no small event. It was one of those risk factors that is impossible to know without trying, so I wanted to be careful about the decision and planning. I took one final precaution. I emailed Gaby, the club leader, and told her about our situation. Gaby knows me and Miles, and without hesitation she said we should register.

Our Fourth Agility Trial:</br> Running with the Big Dogs
Time passed slowly over the next few weeks, because I was sick. I got better just before the trial. I had everything planned. I set my alarm for 5 am. I am a insomniac, so the final step of setting my alarm felt like a novelty. I awoke in the morning feeling oddly rested. My phone was silent. I looked at the time. It was 6:30 am. 1.5 hours later than I planned to wake up, and only an hour before course familiarization was to end. If you’ve read my previous agility entries (see trials / funmatches), you know how important course familiarization is to us. It is a chance for beginners dogs to briefly get a feel for the ring before competing, and to try each contact obstacle twice.
Our Fourth Agility Trial:</br> Running with the Big Dogs
{  Miles’ “it is so early, what the heck!” face }

In theory, it should have taken me almost an hour just to drive to the venue. Somehow, we arrived at 7:28 am. We were the second to last in familiarization. Unfortunately we were so flustered and it wasn’t very helpful.

Our Fourth Agility Trial:</br> Running with the Big Dogs
{ At trials, we spend a lot of time outside relaxing and gathering focus }
Soon enough, it was time for our first run. At this point, I don’t harbor expectations for our first run of the day, especially in a new place. The run started out typically for the first of the day — Miles did small zoomies around the first obstacles (which are considered “off-courses” and “obstacle refusals,” which rack up faults and waste time). To my surprise, after the third obstacle, Miles snapped into gear. When we crossed the finish line, the judge shouted to me, “Wow, he really found his brain!” I began to open my mouth to reply, but before I could, I realized my priorities were off. If you put on a show in public with a crocodile — you don’t stop to chat afterwards. First you round up the crocodile! Welsh terriers live second-to-second. Miles saw that I was preoccupied, and took the opportunity to fulfil his lifelong dream. With a sizeable crowd looking on from the bleachers and around the ring, he displayed the most impressive zoomies I have ever seen. He pulled out all the stops. I began to wonder if during the month of my illness Miles had been secretly training on his own just for this moment. I tried to catch him in every way I knew how (believe me, I have a whole arsenal of tricks). He toyed with me by pretending he was coming to me and slowing down — only to slip through my fingers like a seal and do another victory lap, each of which included impressive displays of his obstacle navigation skills. Pretty soon Gaby, the judge, and the entire ring crew were involved in the effort to catch Miles, and a crowd gathered to watch, ooo-ing and aww-ing at every one of Miles’ skilful dodges. Several attempted to lure him with treats, to no avail. I finally bolted out of the ring and caught Miles when he followed me out. I pushed back my urge to be mortified. Later the outcome of this display proved surprisingly positive. Since Miles had become a crowd favorite, people ended up watching him closely in our subsequent runs, offering interesting feedback later.
Our Fourth Agility Trial:</br> Running with the Big Dogs
{  We had fun watching the action with friends  }
The main outcomes of our first big trial?

  • Miles proved to be quite awesome.
  • He never tried to leave the open ring.
  • Not once did he so much as glance across the barrier into the Masters ring.
  • We had several bloopers (the kind of which usually would have annoyed me) such as notably, the advanced gamble where Miles found a treat in the ring, costing us our opening time, but then completed the final gamble with time to spare… And then the advanced snooker, where I pushed Miles’ teeter quota too far, needlessly costing us an otherwise decent run.
  • We came close to Q’ing more often than not, which felt great.
  • We got a Q in Starters Snooker. One Jumpers Q and Miles will have his first title.

Nicole was there watching, and at times judging. Her happiness at Miles’ performance meant a great deal, since she has watched us weekly since the very beginning. My friend Suzanne, who is an experienced agility competitor and instructor, and her Welsh terrier Axel (Miles’ half brother), stopped by for a while to watch us and to cheer us on. I really don’t have words for how important it was to me to have them there supporting us.

Our Fourth Agility Trial:</br> Running with the Big Dogs
{  Our Camp }

An early conversation with Suzanne about our experiences with training our Welsh terriers — and a lot of the external opinions that get thrown one’s way in the difficult process — ended up preceding the feedback I received later on from several seasoned competitors. After seeing Miles passionately celebrate his first run of the day, and then observing his moments of happy focus throughout the trial, many approached me to say that they think if we keep doing what we are doing, Miles will be “a great little agility dog.” They all emphasized that I’ve done something special in preserving his raw love for the sport while teaching control, rather than breaking his spirit in the challenging process of training such a wild kind of dog. They said that will be the special something that will really give us an edge in the future.
I had never really thought about it that way. Before I had always focused on the negatives of having to defend my dog from misunderstanding, having to ignore naysayers, having to remain steadfast about what works (and what doesn’t) for Miles as an individual… And all this time, I wasn’t just defending Miles’ potential… I was protecting and preserving who he is. The fact that so many people recognized that at this big trial and took the time to come by and mention it to me was amazing. I feel like what we’ve been working towards and how we’ve been working on it is finally being recognized  —  no explanation needed. Miles’ happiness is finally is beginning to speak for itself.

6 comments on Our Fourth Agility Trial:
Running with the Big Dogs

  • Peg

    Whopwhoop! Go team!

  • Emma (author)

    Thanks Peg!!! We miss you guys a lot!

  • Darcy Dorwart

    Congratulations! Sounds lie a great achievement! Good for you both. Would love to watch someday.

    Darcy and Chester

  • Mark Adsit

    Great progress! Miles was just celebrating!

  • theanthzone

    Congratulations to Team Miles & Emmahuman! We're so proud of you! From your number one fans; Archer, Emmadale and Anth

  • Emma (author)

    Thanks Darcy, Mark and Anth!

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