Tuesday, January 8, 2019

An Agility Debut

I always said that Barley would never compete in an agility trial. As much as she loves her crate, she will not crate around other dogs that she doesn't know. She also doesn't tolerate barking and excitement from other dogs well. I knew that the environment would be too stressful for her. Apparently I should have listened to that whole "Never Say Never" message when I watched An American Tale over and over again growing up. 

I love running courses with Rye. Running with Rye is a lot like riding a roller coaster: you get faster and faster and hold your breath and your stomach is in butterflies while you wait for the bottom to fall out. It's fun, it's thrilling, it's entertaining. But it's not running with Barley and that has made every single trial bittersweet, especially our very first trials. We've met some really amazing people at trials, but none of them knew Barley, who is the very biggest part of my life. Without Barley, there would be no agility in my life. Spending time with people and talking to them without them knowing Barley was really hard. Once we got to trials where our classmates were competing, it was a little easier since they all know her, but there's always been a part of me that wished Barley could compete.

Rye and I have started trialing fairly regularly at a place that's less than an hour from home that's in a fantastic building. There's a ton of close parking with multiple doors (that are all glass, so you can always see if someone is coming out when you're trying to go in). It's one ring and they run the Novice and Open dogs at the end of the day, so most of the dogs are already gone by the time those courses come up. When Rye ran in the Open level there, she was often the only dog in her height and often there were fewer than 10 dogs in the entire class. The Novice level was often even smaller. That seemed like a manageable size for Barley.

At the beginning of last month, I made the decision to sign Barley up for two early January Sunday afternoons and this past weekend, we had our very first trial after 7+ years of agility training. It was a really small trial with less than 200 runs each day (the max is 350 for one ring trials) and there were 6 Novice dogs, including Barley. It was the perfect introduction to trialing. 

For our Standard course, Barley was the only 16-inch dog (she's technically a 20-inch dog, but since she's 9 now, I'm running her preferred so she can run at 16, which will be easier on her joints) and she was the second dog to go on the course. That meant that we could wait until the bars were reset to enter the course, giving the dog ahead of us plenty of time to clear the course, and the dog behind us wasn't coming in until the bars were set to their height.

I had no idea what to expect going out on the course. Our training center is tiny, so every course is wide open spaces for Barley and Rye. Barley has never had that much room to run and I wasn't sure what she'd think about that. When our training center moved to a new building a few years ago, Barley couldn't even run a full course because she was so distracted by the new environment. Barley got a little distracted by the environment after the first two jumps and went to explore alongside the weaves, but she quickly came back and did the weaves and finished the course with no issues at 3.02 yards per second.

Our Jumpers course was the same--we were the only 16-inch dog and the second dog into the course. She was much more focused this time around. She ran the course cleanly--the weaves gave us a little trouble; she went through the first four and then thought about stopping, but I got her through the rest of them and we were back on track. She was much speedier this time around, too, at 4.12 yards per second.  

She got her first Q in both courses (and since she was the only dog in her height, she was in first place by default). 

While running with Rye energizes and thrills me, running with Barley centers me. When Bar and I are running a course together, everything's right in the world. When my car died in October and I had to get a new one that came with new car payments, Barley had to stop taking classes. I still can't talk about it without getting teary eyed. That hour a week was when I felt most centered. Barley's missed it, too. She doesn't love agility. She likes it. But she loves spending time with me and now that she's not coming to class, we don't get as much time together. Lately, when we've been walking with Rye, after a mile or so, she'll slow down and walk behind me instead of at my side like she's always done--on solo walks, she'll walk as far as I want to go without slowing down. At night, she was sleeping in her dog bed or under the bed instead of in bed with me, Rye, and Soth. When we did our December Scent Trial, she perked back up on walks with Rye and started snuggling up with us again. I realized that she needed more time with me--and I needed more time with her. That was a big motivator in signing her up for a trial. 

Since Rye taught me that a first trial can be a bit crazy, I went ahead and signed Bar up for two back-to-back Sundays as a test run, so we'll be back out there next weekend. Since she seemed to really enjoy this, we'll be signing up for a few more trials before it gets too warm for her to stay in the car while I walk the course. We probably won't go past the Open level because I still firmly believe she wouldn't do well with a lot of dogs around and once you get to Excellent and Master, there's a bit more chaos. But if we can have a few afternoons of fun and maybe get a title or two along the way, I think that will be more than enough. 


  1. Congratulations! For some reason Novice and Open seem like the step children of agility. There are never that many entries, they are end of the day runs, and most people have already gone home. We hate that, but for a dog like Barley it is probably the perfect environment.

    1. We actually love that about Novice and Open--it means that we can sleep in a bit, walk before we leave, and and not feel like a zombie the rest of the day! We much prefer getting to a trial around lunch time than having to be there by 7 a.m.! (Although, it is nice being done much earlier in the day now that Rye's in excellent and master for everything.) Most of the trials we've been to, though, have been two-ring trials, so the novice dogs run first in one ring and last in the other ring and you have to be there all day no matter where you're at. For Barley, a one-ring trial with a handful of dogs is the only way she can compete, so it definitely perfect for us!

  2. I'm so happy for you both that you figured out another way to do something you enjoy - being together!
    Jan, Wag 'n Woof Pets

    1. We were both so happy to be out there together! Rye's gotten so much of my attention lately that I've really missed my Barley girl and for those few seconds we were out on the course, all was right in the world again.