Well Feature and I had a chance to get to know each other better as a dog and handler team while we were in Florida. First of all, we worked together at camp for three days and then we had two weekends of trialing. I have to say bringing out a new dog is one of the few times I still get nervous in agility anymore. I think it is the unknown factor. At a world championships I am excited, but I know my dog and know if I do my job she will do hers. There isn’t all of those unknowns that there is with a dog in the ring for the first time like; Did I train enough? Is she mentally mature enough? How will she react to the judge? The other dogs, the leash runners and other distractions found at a trial? Did I prepare the dog well enough at home before I have taken her to her first trial? You shouldn’t have any of these questions with your older dogs, but no one can be really certain to the answers of those questions with a baby dog. Ideally, if you have done your foundation work, these questions will be more or less answered in your first couple of runs.
When I think of my first three agility dogs; Shelby, Stoni and Twister, all were phenomenal dogs, all were National Champions, as a matter of fact between the three of them they won 12 National Championships, however my level of confidence of what I would get in the ring was not there for years with them (and for Twister it took most of her career before I had that level of confidence.) By way of contrast, Encore won both a Grand Prix and a Steeplechase class when she was 18 month of age. Feature at 20 months old, came 2nd in the Grand Prix in Florida and qualified in both of her Steeplechase classes (coming 4th in one and 2nd in round one). The difference is the work I do away from the equipment, that and Greg Derrett’s handling system. Foundation work allows me to keep mistakes down to a minimum when the dog does get in the ring. I don’t work my dogs on ‘real’ agility equipment until they are 14 or 15 months old, by that time they understand how to weight shift to drive into contact position and are less likely to make mistakes. Greg’s system allows the young dog to understand my movements right from the start. It is all dog training really. That is why the Greg’s system works so well with my dog training program. It is all just science. Dog training is science and handling is just dog training. You have trained your dog to sit, you give a cue to “sit” and the should respond, immediately. When you handle, you give cues with your body; arm changes, motion or positional or occasionally verbal cues. You should have the same expectancy with those cues as you do with all of your other dog training. It is all just science, it is black and white and once you understand how it works both you and your dog will be much happier. How well you have taught your handling cues and how consistent you are with their use will indicate how much success you will have with your young dog in the ring.
Here is collection of some moments that Feature and I had at the trials in Florida, I put in some great ones and some not so great ones to show she is still a baby and she and I are still learning about each other. She is learning the boundaries of my criteria and I am learning to gauge her speed (which I failed miserable at several times). Overall I couldn’t have been more happy with her performance, in and out of novice in two weekends.
Today as I look at the early accomplishments of my youngster, I am grateful to Bob and Marion Bailey and all they added to my understanding of dog training.