An Unlikely Performance Champion

Wally's World

Why Agility? And what about Obedience?

Posted by shana on March 15, 2011 in Uncategorized with No Comments


I got into agility with my deaf rescue Great Dane, Pixie. So why not try a TM? Wally’s breeders, Dan and Lois, are very supportive and enthusiastic about my plans, they may secretly think I’m crazy, but on the other hand, how cool if we are successful?! My experience with Pixie has encouraged me to try with a very non-traditional agility breed. A deaf dog is both easier and harder than you might think. I haven’t found her challenges any worse than the challenges my friends with hearing dogs have faced. Agility is all about teamwork. You compete against the course, and yourselves. Your dog rarely makes mistakes, failure is almost always handler error. Signal too soon or too late, and you are likely to drop a bar on a jump or send the dog off course. Every dog is different, some need a lot of space, others like to run right next to you, and both have their downsides. Some dogs are fast, some slower, some are more agile than others. Some get stressed and you loose them to stress sniffing or mindless zooming around. Other dogs are quick to frustrate and will leave you far behind, making up their own course for 60 seconds, if you aren’t on top of your game. Every agility competitor has bad days, sometimes you are furious at yourself (or your dog – bad handler!) or frustrated, and emotionally drained. Performance sports take forever to train, and there is always room for improvement. Every one of my agility friends has left the course in tears or nearly so at one time or another – sometimes out of joy, and sometimes out of sadness. But we keep coming back because when its remotely run well, agility is a blast! I may change my tune when I get into competition Obedience, but for now, I don’t think there is any sport that requires more depth in teamwork than agility. You have seconds to complete a course, with your dog off leash, in a highly distracting environment, moving around a course that you have one shot at and not a lot of time to memorize. Its a testament to the human-canine bond that two different species can navigate the course successfully. Can you tell I love the sport?

I knew I wanted to try agility with a TM, and have been eagerly waiting for him to be mostly old enough to start training. To be ready to compete at the novice level, you really should expect to spend about 6 months in weekly classes. Some dogs get there faster, others slower. TMs are massive dogs, not tall like a Dane, but heavier than other dogs their height. They grow slowly and its important you don’t stress their growth plates until they have closed. Wally is 14 months old, way too young to start jumping still, but training agility isn’t about jumping, its about handling. So for the next 6-12 months he will be learning to safely do the non-jump obstacles, and learning to move through jumps set low, at 8″, mastering the handling maneuvers we will need on the course. Turns, u-turns, front and rear crosses, and other handling moves are vital for early agility training. Jumping can come later. There are many opportunities for us to practice competing in a trial environment at fun matches around the area, where he can jump 8″. My hope is to be ready to compete as soon as the vet signs off on jumping him full height. Earning a MACH will take us years, so I want to get started as soon as he’s done growing, so we can retire from agility with his body still in good condition.

But what about competition Obedience? Well…I’m intimidated. That sport requires a lot of precision, a lot. I’ve never trained for it, and I’m intimidated. We are working on it, but its more or less on the side. We will be doing an occasional private training session with our agility instructor, who has competed in obedience in the past. But its not my focus right now. Agility is hard on a dogs body, especially as they age, so I really want to get as far into that as we can as soon as possible. Obedience is not as physically demanding, so waiting to focus on that is ok. In the meantime, we will work on obedience behaviors, and keep obedience in mind while training so he doesn’t pick up bad habits. But its not the focus. Wally is in an Obedience Drill Team with our friends Lindsay and and her Dane, Bess; Kennedy and her Dane, Vegas; and Pam with her Pembroke Corgi, Jewel. Its quite the group, and our routine has yet to feel remotely seemless, but we are getting there. Its a nice way to keep us working on obedience while we focus on agility.

And who can forget Conformation? Wally has been entered in many shows and has an upcoming National Specialty with the American Tibetan Mastiff Association on April 1, 2011. He has 6 out of the required 15 points towards his CH title, including one 4-point major. We will continue to show in conformation locally when possible. Wally has a great time bounding around the ring and generally being unruly, I wouldn’t want to deny him his limelight. Although he says he could do without the hairspray, which he lets us know he hates with howls of protest. Yes, TMs use hairspray, but at least you don’t have to shave their whiskers off! He is about to blow his coat, so we may take a break from shows if he looks awful afterwards. Naked TMs don’t generally show very well, especially the young ones who have yet to develop a good adult coat of guard hairs they retain year round.

Here is Waldorf winning his first Major, and Best of Winners, in Albany OR on February 13, 2011. Special thanks to our judge, Mrs. Pat Hastings.

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My name is Shana, and I live in Portland, OR. In 2005 my husband, Andrew, and I brought ho...

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Tonight was our first agility class. We have tinkered on a few obstacles at a local traini...

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A Note From Shana:

This blog is a journal to record my progress in training a Tibetan Mastiff, known for their independent and untrainable nature, to compete at the highest levels of AKC Agility and Obedience. Succeed or fail, my hope is our journey is inspirational to my fellow TM owners, as well as a source of humor and humility for dog lovers everywhere.

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