The year is drawing to a close and our club's agility field has been closed for almost two months. It's time to start thinking about our competition goals for next year and how we're going to get there.
I love setting goals and working towards them, even though the goals that I have right now are not really that big of a deal to me. The only goals that have been important to me at all were getting a title, qualifying for Nationals, and running in Superdogs (this was a huge accomplishment for us because of Mika's reactivity). Mika and I have accomplished all of these goals together and now we're just enjoying the ride, but I still think it's fun to have big goals to work towards.
My big long-term goal for both dogs is to get their ATChC (Agility Trial Champion of Canada) titles. To keep us on track for this goal, we also have the smaller goal of achieving at least one title each full trialing year. (Wall-e's first full trialing year will be next year, since he only started trialing in June this year.) Mika and I got our MADC (Master Agility Dog of Canada) title this year and next year the most likely title that we'll get will be our MJDC (Masters Jumper Dog of Canada) or our SGDC (Starters Games Dog of Canada). Wall-e didn't get any titles this year because he barely did any runs, but we may get his ADC (Agility Dog of Canada) or SGDC (Starters Games Dog of Canada) next year.
I'm still working towards getting Mika's SGDC because we only started trialing in Starters Snooker this year, although we're in Masters for all the other classes. (The SGDC requires two Q's each in Starters Jumpers, Gamblers, and Snooker.) Mika and I only ran in two Snookers this year and didn't Q in either of them due to my handling! The reason I've waited so long to do Snooker is because I wanted to make sure that Mika was completely confident in the ring before trying a potentially stressful class. (It turns out that since Mika is a Masters-level dog, she's used to twisty courses and didn't find Snooker stressful in the least!).
To accomplish the competition goals, we need to have agility training goals/plans as well.
Contact/tunnel discriminations. Since I've rewarded hundreds of contacts over the past four years of regular training (3-4 times a week, 6 months of the year), and barely any rewards for tunnels, Mika loves contacts, and when presented with a tunnel/contact discrimination, will choose the contact every time, no matter which contact it is. The first step will be to do lots of rewards for tunnels to raise the value of tunnels. Then, we'll train discriminations.
Angled dog walk entries. This is long-overdue. I never properly trained Mika to safely straighten her body to take angled DW entries, so we just avoid them; if we see an angled DW on course, I over-handle her so that she enters it straight. However, we saw two gambles this year that involved DW entries at an angle. In both cases, I modified the gamble so that either Mika didn't take the DW or that she took another obstacle before the gamble to allow her to take the DW straight on. If I hadn't modified the gambles, she likely would have slipped and fallen off. But the thing is, Mika has awesome DW's at a distance (other than hitting the contact!) and those gambles would have been great for us if I had taught Mika how to straighten herself out. That's why teaching angled DW entries is an important goal for us. I'll be using jump wings to condition Mika to straighten her body by muscle memory, since muscle memory works really well with her.
Handling sensitivity. This is the only training goal I have for Wall-e (other than my goals of reducing his fears, which apply not only to agility but to everyday life as well). This year, Wall-e has gained a ton of drive, but his sensitivity to my handling has decreased a bit. I also need to learn how to handle this very fast dog. I'm getting Moe Strenfel's foundation DVD for Christmas and we'll use that to refresh our understanding of handling!
Goals are a fun part of agility and I'm looking forward to start working towards them next year. Of course, what we're all really looking forward to is doing any agility at all; we're taking a big break from agility this winter. Other than renting one of the agility buildings a few times, we won't be doing any agility training at all to rest the dogs' bodies. As you can imagine, we're dying to get back to our sport!