So I spent the summer alternating between thinking her very short agility career was over, to really really going to try hard with her, to me storming off the field and never ever going to train her again as she disappeared yet again into blue yonder with the latest toy!
But then I would feel quite sad as I know when I clicker train tricks with her she will push the rest of my pack away (all collies) to work with me and will work for longer then them if food is around, and I really like her funny goofy ways.
At the same time Julie, my training partner, was reading a lot of Denise Fenzi books on dog training, playing and engagement, and we realised that Grace is not a willing participator in our agility training - I end up begging and pleading and following Grace around the field to bring the toy back and do a jump etc. rather then her leaping all over me, wanting to work.
So, following Denise Fenzi's idea of rewarding for doing absolutely nothing but focusing on the handler, I went onto the agility field and let Grace off the lead and watched her wander off and sniff the ground. It was so hard not to call her name, shuffle, rattle the treats or run away. Julie had to keep glaring at me to make sure I didn't talk to her! Eventually when Grace found nothing interesting, she bounced off to annoy Julie and her dog Nancy (who was also getting rewarded for doing absolutely nothing and was ignoring Grace, as Julie was more interesting) so Grace finally decided to saunter over to me, and I clicked and treated about 9 times and told her how good she was. The 10th treat I threw away from me and just waited - Grace bounced over to eat it, and came running back to me which was an amazing feat in itself! Then something really weird happened. Grace spotted a tennis ball on the table next to us, she went to grab it, ran off to show Julie and Nancy, who were still ignoring her, then started to run away with it, stopped and looked at us all, realised nobody was chasing her and brought it to me.
That might not seem much to some people, but I nearly fainted on the floor as she has never ever brought me a toy before!
From that moment on I have felt so energized about Grace's training and it is fun again. We aren't even really doing anything except walk onto the field, let her off her lead, click and treat for her focusing on me, ask for a bit of fun heelwork or tricks such as spinning, maybe standing next to a wing and seeing if she'll offer a wing wrap (which she is!), a few more fun bits of focusing, and that is it! It doesn't feel exhausting and draining anymore. And if she doesn't want to play/focus, that is fine, I just put her away and she can come out later.
Since then, we've done the same sort of thing at a show in the exercise area, and she's focused perfectly on me, so I took her round the rings and the difference since the last time I took her round the rings at an agility show is quite unbelievable. Before I started the focus work she used to nearly drag me off my feet near the rings, wanting to run and do zoomies, and the thought of letting her off her lead was really scary! whereas this time, she was super focused on me and I even dropped the lead whilst we did some heelwork.
And bit by bit I'm finally doing tiny bits of agility, eg 2o2o on the end of a dog walk, or a wing wrap. To reward her away from me, I'm using treats placed in dog bowls and racing her to them. Already she will go through a tunnel backwards and forwards to the dog bowls, and last weekend, she actually did a sendaway through a tunnel and over 3 tiny jumps to a dog bowl.
I feel it will be a long time before or if we're ever ready to compete, but I'm now enjoying the journey with my funny goofy girl!