I have been taking Idgie to agility trials with Kelso and me since she was about 3 months old.  Her first trial was the CKC trial attached to the Rocky Mountain Cluster in Denver, so she not only got to experience hanging out in the dirt at a trial with agility going on, but I carried her through the busy show grounds as well where she saw all sorts of dogs and humans, and got a puppy massage from Terry, while Kelso got his from Debbie.  She did fabulous.  She then accompanied me to a couple of trials at Douglas County Fairgrounds (where most of our trials are) and was an angel in the crate the whole time.  She is proving to be a great trial-going dog, hanging out in her crate (thank you Crate Games!) and coming out to visit.  I try to keep a few things in mind, however, and they have proven extremely important as she matures into a more “normal” (not quite bomb-proof) border collie.

 

Give 100%

I always tell my students that if they expect 100% from their dogs, they’ve got to give 100% too.  I often see my fellow exhibitors walking their pups all around the trial grounds while chatting with friends, watching runs, and even while walking their other dogs.  I only even take Idgie out of her crate at a trial when I can totally focus on her.  This way I can read her early signs of stress, help shape her interaction with things causing her stress, and be certain that she learns when we are at a trial, we are in working mode.  I don’t want my dogs to learn that dog shows are social hour, though I do want them to be social.  I have her say hello to people, get fed treats by strangers, etc.  but she is to come back to me for the final reward, and receives most treats and play from me, not others.  She can visit other dogs if she chooses (though she usually chooses not to, they don’t ever give her treats!) but always comes back to me before long.  I want her to come out of her box ready to work and play with the mama when we are at a trial, and so far so good.

 

Keep Stress at a Minimum

I also make sure to put Idgie back in her crate if I notice her stressing much at all.  I don’t want her to decide trial grounds are a place to have your fuzzy little head spin with stimulation.  I don’t keep her out of the crate at an indoor trial for more than 15 minutes, and that is the absoulte max (usually she comes out for 5 or so).  I see people carrying their puppies around and shoving them into people’s arms, meanwhile the little pup is exhausted, stress signaling, and just about toasted.  This is what creates dogs that can’t work at a trial because they find it too stressful.  Kelso, at 8 years old, spends a good amount of time outside of his crate walking outside of the show site, not inside.  He is only out of his crate inside just before and after he runs.  It is too stressful for him otherwise.  The difference is that I recognize stress signals in my dogs and respond accordingly.  I can’t stand it when people say their dogs need to “learn to get over it.”  Get over what?  Stress? Have you ever experienced a stressful car ride on the interstate?  The knots in your neck when you finally got to your destination, the pit in your stomach?  Wouldn’t it have been nice if someone had noticed your stress and taken the wheel for a while, allowing you to rest?  That is what we can and should do for our dogs, especially puppies.  Let them nap, relax, and come out of their crate only for short focused fun. 

 

Recent Trials and Behavior Issues

More recently Idgie’s behavior issues (visual reactivity and resource guarding) have sprung up minorly at trials, and I am doing my best to not allow her to practice these behaviors on the grounds.  Trials are not the place to work through these issues, so I tend to avoid them, and am sure to stick to my guns about how I will be handling them.  When she traveled to Casper, WY with Kelso, my parents and their dogs, and I for a trial last month I opted not to take her to the show grounds at all–much to the dismay of my friends who love her.  The camper was parked clear across the parking lot from the site, at least a quarter mile away.  Walking her that distance is plenty of stimulation and work in a new environment, so I opted to walk her around outside, clicking and treating glances at other dogs.  The second she started to react to something visual in the environment (one biggie was a couple of Bouviers racing across the snow across the lot) I picked her up and took her straight to her crate in the RV.  Though everyone wanted to see her, I knew she was entering an intense fear period and I chose not to allow her to decide the trial site was scary.  Most recently I took her with me to Jeffco for a trial with Kelso.  It was a one ring indoor trial with plenty of crate space so I was able to crate her right next to Kelso.  We were camped right by my friend from the Obedience world too, so I knew I could trust her and her dogs to respect our space.  Wonderful when you can pick your neighbors!  She didn’t have any guarding and we had plenty of space to do some shaping with the dumbbell at our crate.  She came out and met my friend Lori, ate some treats from people, and got clicked and treated for glancing at a scary GSD (her most scary breed).  The only reaction she had was to a horse outside (who was being “trained”/abused) and frankly I had a reaction to the sight of it myself.

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