A Tug of War Breakthrough: Weekly Agility Report

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Agility day came, and the sun was shining. Rain and I were joined again by Mom, and we took the interstate-avoiding alternate route again (don’t be surprised if I stop calling it an “alternate!”). We played in the undeveloped park near our class site again and I snapped a few photos.

Speaking of photos, the reason these weekly updates don’t feature many photos of Rain in action at agility is twofold. First, it’s tough to run exercises and shoot decent photos at the same time! On the occasions I’ve been able to get photos in the arena it has been after class has technically ended.

Second, Rain demands my attention the entire time we are at class! Once the contents of her Kong were gone this week she started trying to get Kate’s string cheese, then she started barking at Zarra getting to work when Rain was supposed to be on her mat. After a few minutes of these shenanigans this week, I took Molly’s previous advice and went to work her on other tasks while we waited for our turn on a specific exercise. Essentially I used part of the arena to do a little agility course with her.

Rain was taking low jumps when we walked by each obstacle. She ran for the wobble board to stand on it and move it (other dogs take some time to get used to the wobble board—not Rain!). Then we’d skirt near the table and she’d do her table command. All these things in aid of the number one reward in Rain’s life…

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Molly reviewed the “two paws on, two paws off” board exercise with all three dogs. This one has been a challenge for us, but I have some ideas and hope to put more time into this one soon.

Eventually Molly had us practice our front crosses. Rain and I are pretty good at exercises that involve her going around an obstacle and exercises where she needs to touch my hand for a cookie. So she gave us an extra challenge: essentially I would stand between two cones and navigate Rain in a figure eight, not giving her a cookie until she had gone around both cones. Rain did well, despite our false start when Rain’s dumb handler (me) didn’t understand what was being asked.

During class we reviewed another series of exercises exploring turns, using toys as a reward instead of food. Rain has not been keen on playing tug of war, and I’ve been trying to work with her over the last few weeks to get her to play. I’d mentioned this to Molly in the past and she sent along a few articles to help.

Want to burn your dog’s energy by playing tug of war? Try these!
Tugging as a Trick
How to Create a Motivating Toy
Tug o’ War is a Fun Game to Play with Your Dog

Before I had a chance to start working on the tips contained therein, we were in class and Molly wanted Rain to WANT the toy I was using for our exercise. She spontaneously started shaking around our rope toy like a snake in the grass, building Rain’s excitement. She handed it off to me before trying another toy. Rain would have NONE of the other toy, possibly because she’s usually a bit suspicious of Molly.

“He is reserved with strangers but does not exhibit shyness.”
Did you know? Australian shepherds are often reserved around strangers. In fact, it’s even written into the breed standard for their character!

By this time, Rain had started barking. A lot. I started shaking the rope as best I could in the dirt, pretending it was a snake in the grass. Rain kept barking…but she also started getting excited for this rope! Right there in class, we had the longest session of tug that we had had so far. Rain went back to her mat a happy dog.

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I noticed some dark clouds in the sky on our way home, and the next morning we woke up to a very wet world. Instead of playing ball in the rain after our park walk, I decided to try out our new method of playing tug of war. If she didn’t last too long, I could always work on other agility exercises.

But she did it! We played with that rope for a full ten minutes or more. She tugged longer than she has tugged before. She tried harder. She attacked the ‘snake’ as it moved around, scratching my arms and hands. When we were done, she was panting and I was convinced she had gotten a fair physical and mental workout.

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