Our homework for agility this week was to practice a “whiplash cue.” Rain would be conditioned to look at me immediately when hearing whatever this whiplash cue would be. (After much deliberation, I chose “zip!”) When properly practiced, the whiplash cue would become Pavlovian, Rain’s response automatic, so it wouldn’t matter if there was something super exciting going on nearby.
We only started practicing two days before class, but it didn’t take long for Rain to show serious progress. So when we came to class this week, I took the opportunity to show Molly and the others without being asked to do so.
Class this week consisted of two courses. The arena was laid out thusly:
The first course consisted of nine obstacles, with some tricky parts built into the design. Two consecutive jumps were placed at a pretty obtuse angle in relation to each other, and that’s the first place Rain found some challenge. I got her over the first jump, but her instinct was to skip the second to keep at my side.
Then we swung around to repeat the first two jumps in the course. When I was walking the course I spotted the real trick: the next obstacle was not the same as the first time we did this pattern! The dog walk started just a foot or two away from the tunnel she had been asked to take the first time around!
Indeed, Rain didn’t get on the dog walk right away when we got to this part of the course. Once we had run the course once and worked through our sticky spots, we eventually got there by taking a moving pause after the prior jump and only then cuing her to the dog walk.
It wasn’t until we were working on the second part of the course that I realized the second piece of trickery in Molly’s setup: she had broken it up between the two courses, but Molly had set up a pinwheel in the arena! It’s labeled B1, 1/6 and 5 in the map above, but there was no mistaking that it was a pinwheel. Now that I’m starting to understand what I’m doing and looking for while walking a course, I’m taking notice of these little details intended to be challenging or reinforcement of prior work.
The second course of the day also included a broad jump. After several conversations where Molly learned that Rain hadn’t actually learned the broad jump yet, we took a few minutes and started introducing her using one tipped-up broad jump board. She didn’t seem to take to it as easily as other things we’ve done, so I imagine it will take some practice. Molly did include the broad jump in our run but only included one board, knowing that Rain would be running so fast towards it she would have no problem jumping over the length.
The end of the second course was pretty interesting too—a tunnel had been placed under an A-frame and she was to go through the tunnel and then immediately climb over the A-frame. It meant getting her attention immediately when coming out of the tunnel, which was fairly easy but I could imagine instances where a dog’s instinct might be to keep running toward the jump (9 in the map) since that’s what they would see coming out of the tunnel.
It was a good class! Rain and I spent some time in the pens out back afterward, Rain alternating between a dip in the kiddy pool, ball fetching, and sniffing around the grass. At a certain point I heard a voice from the barn:
“Heather, you have to go home sometime…”
It was Molly, teasing me about having made myself comfortable on the grass to enjoy the summer afternoon. Perhaps we were lollygagging a little longer than usual, but when we were passing through the barn to head out, our two classmates and Molly were having a gab session anyway! We’re not the only ones taking advantage of hanging with our beloved furballs in the country on a summer afternoon.