Saturday, August 08, 2009


We've been taking some agility classes out at the Medina Swarm Agility Club this summer. You can see how we are doing in these pictures taken by my friend Teresa when she was visiting earlier this summer. This was week three of Agility classes, and Hamlet was still on leash for the most part. He's off leash now, and really starting to pay attention.

What I'm discovering is how much agility sharpens communication between canine and human. The skills that are tested for the canine really match up to the evolved characteristics of the Shetland Sheepdog. The small toonie dogs that worked the sheep on the islands would need to be sure-footed to navigate the steep rills and rocks of the Shetland mountain-scapes. Shelties are really good at reading human signals because the crash of the ocean from all sides of the islands could make audible signals difficult.

Here's a shot borrowed from a Shetland island site:

And here's Hamlet, sure-footing it up and across the narrow "dog-walk."

Notice that he is off-leash in this exercise. He's got a hand made "tab" leash on, that is short and hangs from the collar. It's a training devise for dogs who aren't totally there yet with their recall. I am proud to say that at last week's training session, Hamlet was brilliant on his recall. At first, he was all about the other dogs, and would run to any new participant as they arrived. Now he's staying with the tasks at hand with only a few bounces away toward other dogs or humans. And when he did, I didn't have to go chase and capture him by the tab. I called "Hamlet, come!" and he turned around immediately and came back to me. This is a hugely thrilling achievement!

Here Hamlet learns to jump, still on leash. Since he's only 6 months old, he can't do any high jumps yet. His skeletal frame and muscular strength are still developing and we have to take it easy until he's at least a year old in terms of going for height. (At the dog park, however, he routinely leaps over other dogs, like they are hurdles!)

No pictures of the tunnel or chute challenges. Hamlet took to those right away. It's fun to chase down to the other end to meet him and be in the correct position to communicate the next move.

Currently, we are working on combinations of challenges and it is becoming more about me being in the right position. When Hamlet misses a turn or a jump, it wasn't him messing up. I have to focus on getting the signals correct in terms of hand/arm/body positions and also figuring out my own path around the sequences and ultimately of course, it is all about the timing.

We have yet to learn the weave poles and the teeter totter challenges. I think he'll be good at the weave. I've already got him doing figure 8's around my legs and we are working on weaving back and forth through my legs while walking.

All kudos to our personal trainer, Terry Cranendonk of DoGoodDog training here in Akron. And all hail to those animal behaviorists who have developed the science of operant conditioning into the art of positive dog training.

The "tire" jump is difficult for some dogs, but not for uber-Sheltie* Hamlet!

*Uber-Sheltie: my term for over-standard sized Shelties, such as Hamlet. His collie heritage is very evident, but he's not going to achieve standard collie size either. That's ok with me!.. I prefer a couch dog to a lap dog, after a hard night's work of agility training.


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KevinBBG said...

Sounds like you and Hamlet are having lots of fun. I remember seeing a TV show once of a depressed dog. the trainer said he was a working dog and needed some work to do. His owner started him on agility training and the depression melted away, he had a purpose!

Shelties are the uber working dogs.