In which Foxie gains skills and displays them for the camera...slowly

Foxie Loxie and I have been taking agility classes.

tunnel practice in the park.  Picture taken by my New! Phone! Camera!

We started classes in January, with a very basic "Intro to Agility" class.

Like many Shelties, Foxie's biggest challenge is timidity.  Training him is not unlike training a skittish young horse:  he has a lot of fears, and at first, his response to fear was to run away...which isn't a very good response for horses OR dogs, but it's much easier (and less scary) to fix in dogs.

Fox has gained a lot of skills since coming to live with us.

I deliberately look for situations to challenge him, and then I help him cope with the new stuff.

5-K Jingle Run (Walk) with my mom
Huge crowds of weirdly-dressed people and dogs.  Plus a marching band and fire trucks.

Nile Creek, Renegade Rendezvous camp with Roo
Hot weather, lots of power equipment, plenty of strangers, a creek with fish!  and LOTS of horses!

Kenmore Air Marina.  We watched the float planes take off and land.

I am definitely his Comfort Object.  If he can see me, he can cope.  But he prefers to be on me.

Bare Bones ridecamp

His favorite, most secure place is up on my shoulders..

"Yertle-ing", also known as a lamb-carry

I wasn't a bit surprised at our first class when he was terrified by the big gymnasium-like room where the agility classes are held.

"I need to be on your shoulders!"  he told me.


"Also, I need to POOP!"

That DID surprise me, lol.   

But we got everything taken care of and he didn't poop on my shoulder.  (it was a close call)

That first class, he followed me on leash over a few jumps and through a hoop, and earned many teeny-tiny treats and lots of praise.  Then he was done for the night.  I was pleased.

Week 2: off leash  (OLD PHONE CAMERA = terrible photo) over low jumps, through the hoop and through a tunnel

Fox has gotten braver in subsequent weeks.  We finished the first series at the end of February, and this week we started the new class, this time using "teacup" agility equipment that is designed for small and tiny dogs.  

He now copes with his fears by going V-E-R-Y S-L-O-W-L-Y through the course.  He gets plenty of praise and treats, as always.  Here's what works for him:

*  We keep the sessions SHORT.  He is rarely on the floor for more than a few minutes at a time.  Then, it's some other dog's turn to practice.  Watching other dogs and other handlers is good for both of us!

*  We introduce new things slowly.  One or two new skills per night max, and I ask him to try the new skill.  He doesn't have to get things right the first time, or even the tenth.  There is no hurry, no timetable, and no deadline.  

*  Sometimes we "begin in the middle."  For example:  when he was learning to cross the A-frame, I picked him up and put him on the downhill side, and then shamelessly lured him to the bottom with treats and praise.  The next time, I put him closer to the middle and lured him to the bottom.  By then end of the night, on his 5th or 6th short session on the floor, he was approaching the frame, climbing up, and then climbing down to earn his treat.

*   If he goes off-course, it's not a crisis.  I bring his attention back to me, and we re-approach the obstacle.  

*   Plenty of tiny treats and praise.  If he does something wrong, there is no "bad buzzer" noise.  Maybe an "oops!" and then I ask again.  And I don't ask LOUDER or STRONGER the second time.  The cue is the cue is the cue.  He doesn't get reprimanded for doing it wrong, but he doesn't get praise until he does something  (even something tiny) that I've asked him to do.

We will probably never be as amazing at the game as the 8" agility champion Sparkle who finished the 2017 Westminster course in under 37 seconds.

And that's okay.  

Of course, all of these lessons are immediately applicable to training horses...or cats.  I'm not as confident about how this stuff works with goats or co-workers.  I'll let you know how that goes.

Here's how we look right now: 

For a little dog who was scared to be on the floor 8 weeks ago, I call this a WIN.

And that is Good!


  1. Agility is an awesome way to build confidence. And especially the way you're doing it. Kudos

  2. I love everything about this post -- the title slow-jam agility should be trademarked for everyone who enjoys it without speed, which is a lot of us! Thanks for sharing your awesomeness as a trainer. My old Beagles did agility in their own way, too, and it was a blast for all involved.


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