Charlie completed his last training class, Advance Life Skills almost ten months ago, and I could tell he missed the routine of his classes. So, in January, I signed him up to another course that Karen’s Dogs runs - introduction to Agility.
The course was explicitly not run to Kennel Club standards of Agility, and very clearly described itself as ‘have-a-go’ Agility. This suited us fine, as I wanted to be sure Charlie would enjoy the Agility classes and training before signing him up to something more involved.
The course consisted of four sessions (we unfortunately had to miss the third due to travel issues), progressing up to full circuits performed by the dogs in sequence. There were four other dogs attending Charlie’s class; two other Border Collies, a boxer and a black Labrador. Charlie was the oldest, and as the other dogs were all somewhere between puppyhood and late adolescence, he was largely the calmest dog in attendance too.
Our first session consisted of learning ‘warm-up’ exercises, and introducing the dogs to the equipment they’d be using. The warm-ups were simple sit/down/stand/spin commands, performed initially on the training class floor, and then on different pieces of uneven/balance equipment (such as balance bubbles and exercise steps). At first, Charlie was unsure of his footing and concentrated more on where he was putting his paws than listening to commands, but he soon got the hang of it. In later sessions, the warm-ups were reduced as the dogs were used to the new balance equipment.
The main part of the classes covered five pieces of Agility equipment; the A-Frame, Weaves, Jumps, the Tunnel, and the Seesaw. Each dog initially worked on one piece of equipment at a time, with owners directing the dogs with what needed to be done, and rewarding them for their attempts. Charlie had the A-Frame first, and he picked it up very quickly (the A-Frame is simply an up-and-back-down ramp), no issues at all. After that, we tried out the weaves, which he struggled with a little, wanting to skip some of them but for the most part understood what to do even if he did occasionally weave out of sequence.
Next, we worked on the Tunnel, which Charlie was not a fan of at all. I took Charlie to classes on my own, whereas the other dogs had at least two owners, so convincing Charlie to run through the tunnel when there was nobody at the other end to run to was not easy. He seemed okay with running through when I gave him a ‘down and stay’ command and ran to the other end before calling him through, but that isn’t exactly competition standard. We’ll work on it.
The Seesaw was next for us, and Charlie was fine with the low practice seesaw, picking it up straight away, and not showing any fears of the loud bang as the seesaw fell, which many dogs are. Finally, we got a chance on the Jumps, which Charlie picked up fine too, but only if they were set a foot or so off the ground. If they were too low, he just walked into them, too focused on the treats to even notice them!
Having learned all of the equipment, the next session was mainly letting the dogs practice courses, and also trying out slightly harder versions of some of the equipment (like higher jumps and a higher seesaw). We did a short warm-up and quick practice on each piece of equipment, and then Karen set up basic courses for the dogs to try out. With the exception of the tunnel, Charlie struggled very little with the courses, and (as he has been for a long time now) was very attentive to my commands, not letting himself get distracted by the other dogs. For the tunnel we had to stop for a lie-and-stay before continuing, but other than that he managed the course fairly well regardless of the layout.
The final week was comprised similar to the second, with longer courses with switchbacks and repeating equipment, but Charlie really did not seem to struggle, and seemed to be enjoying himself the whole time. I’m definitely planning to take him to a full Agility trainer sometime soon; he seems to be a natural, although I think before we sign up for anything more I will try setting up a homemade Agility course outside when the nights get lighter for us to practice ourselves - and hopefully he will get used to the tunnel!