Today I drove all the way to Beltsville for my weekly attempt to train my dogs in agility.
On the longish ride I asked myself why I was going through all this trouble to get dogs to fly over jumps, through tires, up ramps, through tunnels and then, the seemingly most ridiculous one: weave through poles?
The reason came back to me today.
As you may know, my dogs are all rescues. Recently we rescued an extremely fearful dog, Boo, who was tagged as “unable to be placed in a home.” An Australian Shepherd who is so afraid of humans and in the face of a new person he cowers in the corner, panting, eyes dilated and paws sweating.
He also had mange, was afraid of the dog dish and knew only to drink the dew off grass in the morning or from puddles. He was messed up, to say the least.
Over the months he has bonded with me and has even graduated from his first obedience class. Still, he has no confidence and is terrified of new people.
Well, of all the crazy things to do, I took him to the agility class with my dachshund, in the hopes of getting him used to being around people. I had no intention of making him do agility. After all, he has a hard enough time with on-leash obedience training without panicking.
My teacher had other plans as soon as we walked through the door. “If your dog is here, he’s going to do agility!” she exclaimed.
I nearly panicked this time. “Oh no, you don’t understand. He is afraid of his shadow… please…” and before I knew what happened I had obeyed her orders and was coaxing Boo over jumps.
Now, I will not lie, it was no fun for me, and I am pretty sure Boo thought he was in hell as he knocked over jumps that, in his mind, seemed to attack him from behind, not to mention the tire that may just as well have threatened to close in on him as he went through.
But, I realized after an hour of this that something amazing was happening. Boo started to look proud. He expected treats for his “amazing” feats and, as we went back to our chair, rather than cower in the corner, he began to explore his surroundings and watch the other dogs as they did the same exercises with exuberance.
Boo was gaining confidence and relishing it.
The story will be continued as I go every week. But for now, guess what? We have agility possibilities all over Annapolis.
Check out the exercise posts at Quiet Waters Park: Wooden beams that beg you to get your dog to jump, boards on which your dog can jump, sit, stay and be rewarded.
You could set up a home-made jump in your living room or back yard. Just be careful that you don’t set your dog up for disaster through injury. Watch some YouTube videos or even join a class (CTA in Beltsville).
These opportunities make for happy, owner-oriented, well-adjusted dogs—even those that were once deemed unfit for human companionship.