Sunday, February 28, 2010

Agility Training

I am venturing pretty far from my main topic -- art -- but remember; I'm balancing my life. The creature you see to the left is Sparky, our border collie mix who will turn one year old this month. Acquiring this dog really changed our calm "artists in the studio" lifestyle to something a little more active! It all started in a park when a friend rescued a mama dog giving birth in a puddle, on a rainy day last March. She took the mom and pups to my vet and boarded them, then sent photos of the litter to her e mail list, hoping some suckers would step up. I had been missing having a dog since the death of my beloved Westie, Dinah, in 2005. I showed the photos of the adorable puppies (are there any non-adorable puppies?) to Martin, and, in a moment of lapsed judgment, he said "Border collies! Cool! Let's get one!" So we did.

Probably I should have done some reading about the breed before we commited to adopting Sparky, and the horror stories I read online after we said we'd take him were a little alarming. I confess to thinking that probably those people were not good pack leaders -- I had watched enough episodes of the Dog Whisperer to give me a false sense of my own dog training abilities. Anyway, I won't take up any space describing the damage caused by this dog to our home, property, and even our own bodies: what is clear now is this is a dog who needs to be doing something structured most of the time. I had read that border collies were working dogs, and I knew that intellectually, but it took awhile to realize that lifestyle changes would need to be made.
In that vein, Sparky and I started agility training at Bed, Bath, and Biscuit, a great local facility that provides, as the name suggests, boarding, grooming, training, and day care for a range of pets. We had already completed beginning obedience training with Nikki, the Willis Dog Whisperer, and Martin and I both were impressed with the improvement in Sparky's manners. Unbelievably, he had passed his Canine Good Citizen Test; the test administrator is probably the one person Sparky ever met that he didn't jump on. After that triumph, I thought it was time for something fun to work off some energy. Of course I didn't realize just how much energy I would expending, but a little more exercise is not necessarily a bad thing!

On the last day of class Martin went with us to take pictures. I posted these on facebook, and apparently some people inferred that we are "going pro." We have no plans for that, and in fact, Sparky is a little more lackadaisical about the whole activity than I would have imagined. Still, he enjoys it and while I can't use the word "mastered" to describe his performance at all the different stations, he has completed the course with no major mishaps.

The picture above shows Sparky running on the plank, probably his favorite piece of equipment. He hasn't said so in so many words, but he is most enthusiastic when running up, along, and down the plank, and hasn't balked at doing so like he has at some of the other stations. Some of the more difficult stations, like the weave poles, he has not mastered at all, but he is usually eager to give it a shot, especially with a huge hunk of "liver loaf" held right under his nose. He may be a working dog, but he doesn't work for free!

As he approaches his first birthday we starting to see what a great dog he is turning out to be!

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