Sunday, December 30, 2012

What About Poppy?

What about Poppy? I haven't said too much about her as of late. True, I've been training her to become a nosework superstar and she absolutely loves it. But, as far as agility goes,  between her stressing in the ring at trials, a sudden issue with the teeter that appeared early last spring, and then her injury in July, her agility career has been put on hold while I focused on achieving my 2012 agility goals for Ollie and worked on Hokey's foundation training. But I've really missed running my crazy girl. This is a video I made back in the fall of 2011, when we'd been struggling, but I was still holding on to the hope that the worst was behind us.

Poppy with her ribbons from her first trial

Despite her multiple issues, I LOVE running this dog in agility. She started out with such potential and I really thought she was going to surpass Ollie in superstardom. She has a lot of drive and learned everything so fast. I entered her in her first trial (USDAA) at 19 months of age as a 22" championship dog. She Q'd in 4 out of 4 runs.

Results of her 2nd trial: Poppy AD

The following month, I entered her in her second trial. She Q'd in 5 out of 5 classes AND because that gave us all the Qs we needed, plus the 3 judge minimum, she finished her AD title. At 20 months old and in only 2 trials!! I couldn't be more proud of my crazy little shelter mutt. 


Then everything fell apart. I had brought her to the Mid-Atlantic Agility Showcase and, I don't know what - the intensity in the atmosphere? Certain sounds? A combination of factors? Who knows? But her sensitivity to something turned on big time. She melted down in some form of doggy panic attack. This carried through to smaller local trials. Suddenly this dog who was still fast and focused in class, could barely manage to do more than an obstacle or two at a trial. Once, after I'd decided to do an arc of 4 jumps from the start to the finish and leave in the hopes of giving her a relatively stress-free & positive experience in the ring, she did 2 jumps and ran out of the ring. After less than a handful of trials, I tried dropping her down to Performance 16" to see if that would have any effect on her stress levels. Nope.

Then I decided to try doing a little CPE (easier courses, more laid back environment) in the same building where we were taking weekly agility classes, starting at level 3. I started off slow, only entering a couple of classes/trial at first. It was better. Not perfect. There was still some stressing. But it was better. A few months later, after I fully entered a couple of trials, she even managed a couple of perfect weekends.
Poppy's first CPE perfect weekend

A new CPE title

Then there are my handling issues and the holes in her foundation training. I've always known those issues were there and tried to seek help, but didn't get far. Some of the things I've been working on with Hokey have given me ideas for plugging the holes in Poppy's foundation.
Poppy Jan 2010 - the day after I adopted her (6 months old)

After several months of no agility, during a break from nosework class, I signed her up 4-week mini agility class. The experience provided me with the opportunity to "take her temperature" when it came to agility and gave me some very useful feedback:

  1.  Ring-stress. She still stresses when it comes to agility. There is a huge difference in stress level and focus between when she does nosework and when she does agility. However, she still worked very well and, after the first couple of classes as she started to feel more relaxed, I did start to see more of her true personality coming out. It will continue to be a work in progress.
  2. Handling. I really learned a lot about how I need to handle her in this class! I felt like for the first time, I finally got the type of feedback I needed. Poppy handles quite differently from the two little ones. With those long legs of hers, she's faster, bigger striding, bigger jumping and doesn't respond as quickly. I've found it very difficult to get my timing just right with her. Ollie has spoiled me in that my handling can be so-so and he'll still do just about anything I ask. No so with Poppy. She requires much more precision. I need to communicate my cues sooner and remember to always keep moving. After this class, I have a much better idea of where I'm headed with her and what I need to work on. And for that, I am so thankful.
  3. "knuckling over" behavior

  4. Physical soundness: This remains an open question as far as Poppy's future agility career goes. I'm still not sure what caused the severe lameness back in July. I will say that she has an odd quirk of standing knuckled over on the toes of that same leg. This is nothing new; she's always done it. It hasn't gotten any worse over the past 2 1/2 years and has never seemed to bother her or affected her ability to run like a fiend, careen off the walls of my house, launch herself down the stairs, or do agility. However, since she only displays this behavior on her left rear leg, which was the same one she came up lame on, it does make me a little suspicious. I did mention it to the vet back in July and, off the top of her head, she didn't seem to think it was related. I've also noticed that sometimes when I'm holding her and put her down, as soon as she touches the ground she has a tendency to poke her nose or bite at one of her hips --- not always the same one. Is it just another one of her weird quirks, or is she indicating that something is bothering her? 
Wild and Crazy Girl
Anyway, the agility class gave me more food for thought and has me wondering even more about her teeter-fear issue. The first week, at the end of class, I wanted to see where she stood with the teeter since it had been many months since she'd seen one. It was obvious she'd forgotten her fear at first as she tackled it with a little too much gusto before realizing what the obstacle was. Not exactly what I was going for. She was a little more reluctant after that, but I did manage to coax her across a couple more times. After each class, I massage her before turning in for the night. That night, when I went to massage the upper part of that particular leg, her hackles went up and she growled. NOT typical Poppy behavior! Obviously it hurt her and she didn't want me touching it. She had had the same reaction back in the summer when she was lame on it and we were trying to pinpoint the issue. The last 3 weeks of class I did not put her on the teeter, but she did all the other equipment, including the usual suspects that might cause a problem: jumps, A-frame, and weaves. I had no problem with her reacting to my massaging the leg on those nights. So might her teeter issue primarily be a reaction to pain that it might be causing her with the noise and/or motion only being secondary fears due to their association with physical pain? I don't know. But it warrants further investigation.
So, as it stands now, I do not have any plans to trial her in the near future. I want to spend some time really working on my handling with her, continuing to work on her ring-stress, explore her physical issues --- and then see. 

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