Rufus and the Fire Ants

This is just one story of a smart dog and his highly trainable human.

My English Shepherd, Rufus, was the dog who could go anywhere and do anything, but he did require some steering to keep him out of trouble in the foraging department!

I will never forget when we had just arrived in Houston, Texas for the Pedigree Grand Prix of Dog Agility.  Rufus and I had won the trip to USDAA Nationals with flight and hotel paid for by Pedigree Dog Food sponsors of the event, but were unprepared for the high humidity and wildlife of Texas.

Our first day in Houston and Rufus needed a walk outside before retreating to the relative coolness of our hotel room. What could possibly go wrong?  Two words may give you a clue:  Flexi Leash!

A short way into our walk Rufus managed to pick up a slice of bread which he managed to swallow just as I saw the fire ants that were crawling all over it! We were both stung as I tried in vain to retrieve the bread from his throat, but the biggest problem was yet to come.

As we prepared to run in Grand Prix the next morning I noticed that Rufus appeared somewhat off his game. He was not interested in his toy which was highly unusual. When we ran the course he was clean, but very slightly slower than usual.  He missed the finals that year by .75 of a second.

I was disappointed to be missing the finals because of a slice of white bread and a bunch of fire ants, but wasn’t I fortunate he was not allergic.

Agility Tips (2000)

Agility Tips

Nel over a jump
Photo by Tien Tran Photography

By Kathy Lofthouse

September 2000

Warm Up Properly

Whenever training agility, playing with your dog or before a competitive agility run, please be sure to warm yourself and your dog up thoroughly. This is crucial for the achievement of peak performance and the prevention of injuries.

A carefully planned warm-up routine can enhance the agility experience for both dog and handler. Be sure to walk about and allow the dog to gradually stretch his legs, relax and get the kinks out. Let him sniff and answer the call of nature. Gradually walk about with him in a more purposeful manner, gaining speed and stimulating both human and canine circulatory systems.

Kathy's young daughter, Clair, with Bracken on the dogwalk

At this point many competitors like to engage in a stretching routine for themselves and their dogs. Some play little games, tricks and maneuvers, which engage the mind and body of their agility partners. After several minutes, short periods of jogging can be introduced. Only then is your dog ready to engage in playing with toys, jumping the practice jump or sprinting and finally going into the ring.

One note of caution: Be especially careful when traveling with your dog. Several agility dogs have been injured when being suddenly asked to run at speed when having been confined in a car for long hours of travel. Even if your dog loves to chase the ball, please let him walk about, sniff and stretch for a considerable period of time before throwing his toy.

Common Reasons For a Dog Going Off-course

One of the most disappointing faults in an agility run is where the dog goes off course in spite of what the handler considers to have been great handling. Unfortunately, the handlersí reaction to this is often a reason for the dog learning to run slowly and carefully around the agility course, sometimes for the rest of his/her career. Before blaming the dog for this transgression please consider the following may have occurred and remember that what you do in the ring for this run will directly affect his or her next performance:

  • Handler took her eyes off her dog
  • Command was issued too late
  • Command was not clearly given
  • Dog was not trained for the challenge
  • Handler used ambiguous body language, such as leaning forward when she really wanted the dog to arrest forward movement, waving an arm towards a wrong obstacle in order to “help” her dog, glancing toward an obstacle to which she did not want the dog to go
  • Handler did not know where she was going in time to give proper guidance
  • Dog has been given many rewards for performance of a particular obstacle and very few for the performance of another

In order to avoid the same pitfalls as this handler you should always:

Rufus jumping the wall jump
Photo by Karen Moureaux, Dog Sport Photos
  • Keep your eyes on your dog, except while making a very quick and efficient blind cross
  • Issue commands in a timely manner, i.e. in a jumping sequence the dog needs to know where to go while he is in the air over the previous jump
  • Give commands clearly and with confidence and gusto
  • Move rapidly in the direction you wish the dog to go
  • Train the dog better before competing
  • Stand up straight if you don’t want the dog to push on faster
  • Keep your arms to yourself unless you are very proficient at using them close to your body. Square your shoulders towards the obstacle you would like the dog to address
  • Learn the course well and then go where you want to go. Do not worry about where you don’t want to go
  • Keep a balance in rewarding obstacle performance, i.e. don’t just give rewards or praise for contacts, but sometimes for jumps and tunnels, table etc.
  • Particularly useful when using the “Here!” command, always be sure that your hands respond to the command before you expect your dog to do so! One of the most common errors is for the handler to be yelling “Here!” while their arm is waving toward the direction the dog is, of course, going

Most importantly, for all but the hardest headed dog, if your dog goes the wrong way, please go with him or her and keep running, thereby preserving his or her positive attitude.

Your dog will thank you!