Saturday, August 2, 2014

Pongu Starts Agility

Now there's a sentence I never thought I'd type.

Ever since I got Pongu's OFA results back, and Crooky's PT vet said in passing "you know, Pongu's structure isn't really that bad," the little thought in the back of my head had been growing: maybe Pongu could try agility someday.

Maybe, just maybe, he might be able to do it. Maybe he could at least try.

There are a lot of reasons I never started agility with Pongu. I always figured he'd be too fearful to approach, let alone do, the obstacles. This is, after all, the dog who took a full year (and dozens upon dozens of NQs) to get semi-reliable with doing a single bar jump in Rally.

But it's been a while since we had problems with that bar jump, and through his PT exercises, Pongu has gradually gotten more comfortable with the wobbling of his FitPaws balance disc. He used to flinch and flee when the disc rocked under his feet, but now he'll Sit and Stand on it with all four feet, and the wobbling doesn't seem to unnerve him like it used to.

I also always figured that Pongu's old foot injury from his first owner made him too unsound to compete. I'm still not completely sure that this won't flare up if and when we ever start training more intensely or trialing regularly, but it hasn't seemed to bother him much in PT (the specialist vet says he has a little laxity on that paw, and might want to wear an ankle brace for it, but otherwise she hasn't seen any problems with it) and he runs around fine for three hours straight on the moors of Nantucket, so physical soundness doesn't seem to be a dealbreaker right now.

And I figured that my inability to reconstruct an agility course for home practice would be a problem too. I still think that lack of practice equipment might be an issue if I ever get Seriously Serious about agility... but right now, honestly, I don't care about that. My janky-legged, wobbly-hocked mutt puppy is not a Seriously Serious agility dog anyhow.

So when a beginner class finally rolled around at one of our two local training clubs, I hopped on board. Why not? Our obedience work has been making me sad for months. A change of venue might be exactly what we need. I don't have Seriously Serious goals in agility; I just want to have fun with my dog at whatever pace is right for us.

We've had two classes so far. And in the whole 90 minutes or so of his agility career to date, Pongu is doing brilliantly.

It is scary for him, no doubt about that. Tunnels, A-frames, sequenced jumps, baby teeter wobble boards -- all of this is new and alien and unnerving to Pongu. But instead of causing him to freak out and panic, it seems to be triggering a crazy thrillseeker response in him. It's almost like he holds his breath when he goes under or over or through an obstacle, eyes bugged out in semi-panicky disbelief, toes clenched up into scrabbly claws... and then he comes out the other side, still alive!, and he just explodes into a frenzy of joy.

It's great. I don't think he could have done it 18 months ago, but he can do it today, and more importantly, he can have fun doing it. And because Pongu's having fun, I'm having fun too.

I am nothing like a natural agility handler. Even doing a sequence of three bar jumps in a straight line, I feel as awkward as I ever did while taking dance lessons (and there's a reason nobody knows I used to take dance lessons). But Pongu and I have a strong background in shaping and general body awareness (for him, not me), and nerdpuppy has always been acutely attuned to whatever I'm doing, so he's done amazingly well. Pongu has astonished me with his ability to follow me on the course and interpret my flailery as meaningful information. I don't know how he does it. I don't know what I'm doing, but somehow he does. It is BANANAS.

Who knows how far we'll get with agility, but after two beginner classes, I have a renewed appreciation for how much my little dog loves me, and how much I love him.

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