The last time I've taken a group class with Mika was in 2007, when we took two sets of agility group classes.
In 2007, it was a constant struggle to keep Mika, who was then aggressive and pretty unmanageable, calm and focused on me instead of reacting at other dogs. When we got out of the car, she was pull towards the other dogs, barking LOUDLY. If another dog got close, she would lunge toward them and snap. During class, she would bark the entire hour except when she was busy chewing a Zuke's bone or licking a Kone, which both didn't last long. I had no idea then, but I now know that she wasn't merely barking at other dogs; she stressed, freaking out, and worrying for her safety the entire time, even though all the other dogs were perfectly friendly. Mika didn't know that.
The first class we took in 2007, in June, was the hardest for us because the class involved a lot of individual obstacle training as well as sequencing. During the obstacle training, all of the dogs took turns on one specific obstacle, one after the other. This type of class would have been fine for a dog like Wall-e, but it was way too much for Mika to handle.
In the summer class, there was a JRT/Toy Poodle in the class that she was the most reactive to. She would fixate on it and wouldn't -- couldn't -- glance at anything else.
Halfway through this set of classes, on the recommendation of another class member, I got a Halti for Mika to help with her barking. But the first day we used it, Mika pulled towards that JRT/poodle as hard as she could and the Halti broke. I can still clearly picture the horrifying image of Mika thundering over to the other dog and the tussle that followed. We pulled the dogs apart and there was no damage except for a couple hairs that the other dog had pulled out of Mika's beard, but it was emotionally shocking. We had just started working through our challenges with the teeter and Mika's stressing in agility, and now we had this aggression that seemed huge, even compared to our other very challenging problems. That day, I was very seriously considering retiring Mika from the sport.
That was 3 years ago. On Monday, I ran Mika in Wall-e's last sequencing class.
The whole week before the class, I toyed with the idea of running her in the class. On one hand, would it be too stressful and too risky to run her in a class with other dogs? On the other hand, hadn't I learned my lesson that with Mika, I should always go with my gut feeling, which in this case was to run her in the class? I am a worrier and an over-reactor (maybe Mika gets it from me), and it was hard not to think of the what-ifs while making my decision.
On Monday at the class, I didn't run Mika in the first sequence because she would've had to weave towards the group of dogs in our class. Mika stayed in the car; I knew that I would definitely be keeping Mika in the car at all times except when she was running.
The second sequence wasn't too close to the other dogs, so I decided to go for it. Armed with lots of freeze-dried liver -- what else? -- I carried Mika in; she feels a bit safer when I carry her. But not once did I see her glance at the other dogs. When I put her down to start the sequence, she was in high-drive. She leaned back when I held her by the stifles and said our typical "Ready...Set...Go!" and then blasted off to the first obstacle! She ran the sequence like a dream. Very fast -- as fast as she was last year -- and extremely focused. Not only was she not worried about the other dogs, but she was driven!
I brought Mika in again to run the full Starters course. Again, FOCUSED and FAST! I skipped the weaves and a jump that would have brought her towards the group of dogs, but the instructor let us do the weaves in the opposite direction. They were the new 24" spacing (which went into effect this month in the AAC) and although she wasn't very speedy through them, she drove through them fluidly with her body low, and did the whole set of 12. She's only 12.75", so it'll take a while for her to get her usual speed on the new spacing. We ran the rest of the course and that was it; we'd done it. After 3 years of very hard work, Mika successfully ran in a group class without worrying about other dogs!