Rain just attended her first-ever agility event! And boy, did we both need a nap afterward.
Regular RitF readers will remember the unanimous results of our recent poll sent us to a small facility in the western reaches of the Portland area this past weekend. We weren’t sure quite what to expect, but it was clear that this event was pretty small potatoes. Safe. Perfect for us!
Steven came with us for moral support, which included getting up before sunrise and heading west before 7am on a holiday weekend. After we picked Steven up we continued west to a modest horse arena in Helvetia, a small agricultural community established by Swiss and German folk in the 1800s. Car traffic was light that early in the morning, but we passed many cyclists on our way and tons more after leaving.
As we approached a group of cyclists next to Helvetia Tavern, Steven rolled down his window as we gingerly passed and said, “sorry about the dog who’s going to bark…” As if taking her cue from Steven, the end of his sentence was cut off by her barking as she saw the strangers.
Once Rain had a chance to sniff around the property a bit, I put her back in the car. Dogs are often left in crates inside vehicles during events like this for a variety of reasons. As it was early, vehicle heat wasn’t an issue but as the forecasted high was in the mid-90s, I realized another reason why “dog activity people” contain their dogs in crates in their car. In a situation like this, the vehicle can have all the doors and/or the rear hatch open for maximum ventilation while keeping the dog(s) safe. Many of the cars even had a large silver cover draped over their entire vehicle. Made of reflective material, it reduces the heat absorbed by the metal car in the sun.
While we were outside, Steven pointed out all the barky doggies. Rain was in good company! Had she finally found her people?
Inside the arena, things were pretty chaotic as organizers got the facility set up for the day’s activities. Before I knew it the arena itself was filled with over 20 random people walking every which way, nearly bumping into each other at times. Were they setting up the course or walking it? (Both, as it turns out.) One organizer handed me a course map and my eyes crossed. Even the novice course had two sets of markings, but I overheard someone say “black squares” and went to work trying to find #1. I learned that “open” means “intermediate” in agility lingo. After I found everything on the page I ventured into the ring to walk the course a few times before it was about time to start.
A border collie kicked off the activities, plowing through tunnels so fast they came out of their supports! Once the event started, the chaos seemed to calm significantly and I started identifying “knowledgeable” people who I could approach with all my questions. The next 45 minutes were more or less a waiting game, as the dogs using the tallest jump heights went first and Rain was about halfway down the list overall.
Dogs using channel weaves were put in the front of their group though, so we got moved up a bit. Around 9:45am, it was time for Rain to hang out in the staging area until it was our turn.
A look into the arena from the opposite side of where most of the action was.
THE FIRST RUN
Rain and I entered the ring, and I set some things on a table just over the wall so they wouldn’t fall out of my pockets as I ran. At some point my understanding was each person would have a short period to work with their dog on little tricks before starting, in an effort to warm up and gain the dog’s focus. This turned out to be incorrect and since I was kind of nervous myself I didn’t take time to do much of anything before placing Rain at her starting point. I walked ahead to my starting point and called her to begin.
Two obstacles in, she was already missing an easy tunnel entrance. Rain ascended the teeter next, and promptly launched off the end, Dukes of Hazzard style. (Yeeeeee haaaaawwww!) I’m pretty sure I stopped in my tracks and just stared for a moment. O_O
Rain landed facing the gate through which we had entered the arena, and she sauntered over there next. It took me a bit to get her moving again, and when she more or less missed the channel weave I knew I wasn’t going to go back—she just hasn’t practiced on it enough to be worth wasting much of our two minutes in the ring. We moved on, and Rain had a few more misfires/distractions. Our time ran out when we were roughly working on #10.
Rain certainly had a memorable first round! In shock, I escorted her back outside to sit with her for a bit and wait for the second round.
It wasn’t clear whether we’d be able to do our second run or not, as another renter was slated to have the space at noon and this event apparently had a pretty huge turnout. While waiting, Molly let me puppysit the latest addition to her family: Eclipse! Eclipse, or Clips, is a border collie that Molly got while she (like many of us) traveled to the path of totality for the recent eclipse. The puppy smelled nice and I enjoyed my time with him.
Pasture lands outside the facility.
Another dog demonstrates how to properly end a contact obstacle.
THE SECOND RUN
Eventually everyone got their turn and the organizers started working on second runs. In order to save time they shaved each dog’s ring time down to 90 seconds. I knew we needed to be time-conscious so I had Rain in the staging area early and entered a little too soon, before the dog before us had fully exited the space. (Whoops! When I’m focused I can get like that.)
Once again I placed Rain in her starting spot and walked to mine. I felt like her focus was sharp, and we had a connected gaze before I called her. We started our second run, and Rain was much more like her usual self. As we came out of the first tunnel, Molly said “skip the teeter,” so I did. It turns out they had a tip assist on the other end that they forgot to take off before we came in. No matter, I gladly skipped it. Rain’s joints don’t need any more hard landings.
Then I started forgetting where my next obstacle was. Turning away from the teeter I remembered after a second, but then my memory started breaking down a little further as we ran the course. After all, it had been at least two hours since I had walked the course! Molly and our classmate Jackie (Cedar and Poppy’s handler) started calling out “tunnel,” “jump,” “A-frame” just to jog my memory and I am so grateful they did!
During this second run, Rain was a champ! Even when I was inadvertently miscueing one jump (thanks for the info, Molly!) Rain was totally with me. After that, we started flying through the course—through a tunnel, up the A-frame (with some pausing for “feet”), through another tunnel, up the dog walk, and to the pause table.
At the pause table, Rain hopped right up but then her tendency to take a while to lie down kicked in. “All the way…” I told her. She did lie down and someone started a countdown, but I think I messed up and released her before the counter got to “and zero.” Whoopsie! A timer had warned us that we had mere seconds remaining. We only had one more jump to do after the pause table, so sorry/not sorry.
When a dog is getting introduced to the ring, it’s important to end their experience on a positive note, so I made sure to cheer and give Rain some good pets when we were done. After her second run I had a special treat for her outside, too.
Molly saw us outside and suggested we do plenty more “fun run” events for practice. Rain knows how to do everything that was in the course (although she’s more solid on some things than others), so it’s a matter of getting experience at coming into a completely new space and building success.
Personally I was really impressed with how Rain improved between her first and second runs! She was also a model citizen during the periods when she had to wait in the car outside.
When we finally got home—far later than we originally anticipated—we were both pretty wiped out. After a long afternoon nap, we were both a little more ready to take on the rest of the day and start reflecting upon what our next agility shenanigans may be.