Right now I am preparing Idgie for what is likely to be her last Cynosport. Bittersweet for me, this event has been a favorite of mine for years, and there is no better partner to run there than Idgie. It will be our 6th together, and our third height class to run in (we’ve done 22, 26, and now p16). I promised her that I wouldn’t run her until she broke, that I would do everything in my power to keep her hiking until her final days on earth, and winding down her agility career as she turns 10 seems like the next right thing in that regard. So as we get ready for this special event I am zeroing in on three major areas, all while keeping behavioral wellness at the forefront of her daily life.
Priority one has always got to be fitness. Idgie alternates between working her core, her front limb strength, and her hind limb strength during the week to be sure she is in good enough shape for what I will ask her to do. She also gets regular massage and I am sure to watch her closely for any signs of irregularity or lameness. Since Cynosport is a bit of a marathon I will be adding plyometrics in as well. All of this is under the expert guidance of Dr Leslie Eide, never embark on a fitness plan without getting qualified help.
I never want to try to “fix” or repair broken skills before a big event. Rather, I want to get as many repetitions of reinforcement in as possible for vital skills like stopped contacts or weave pole entries. I am not pushing for errors here; I am keeping things easy enough that Idgie is just getting paid a lot for doing her job. While it may not seem as sexy as watching a trainer induce error time and time again to get that pay out of a correct behavior, repetition of reinforcement is actually what will maintain our skills over time. For Idgie, that means doing a few dog walks a week to be sure I can reinforce her contact heavily. I am not interested in drilling, so I keep the stakes high (a bit of steak, a meatball, a heel of brie…) and I focus in on the “cold trial.” When we need our dogs to get something right the FIRST time (like we do in dog agility!) the cold trial, or the first rep of whatever you are doing, is the one that counts the most anyway.
At this point, Idgie and I basically read each others’ minds, so this one is a smaller slice of the pie right now. Essentially, I want to set up a drill a week that involves only jumps and tunnels, and practice speaking to each other in common sequence challenges. It might be tough serpentines one week, and threadles the next. It could be a send-and-go one week, then complex lead outs later. I don’t want to shove a bunch of things into one session—I just want to check off that we still understand each other when it comes to all of these things.
All the while, wellness has to take priority. She is on a strict non-lazy diet meaning that I do the legwork to be sure her bowl is nutrient-packed every night, and that everything in her morning kong is stuffed with things that serve her body. Daily we go for a long off-leash walk, her body needs it and so does her brain. If I only have time to do her fitness workout or take her on a walk, she goes on the walk. If I only have time to prep food or train, she gets the good food. You see where this is going. She must get her good meal, her good exercise, and her enrichment daily. The rest gets scheduled in, but if something gets cut from the day (because life happens) it’s not the wellness stuff.
One More Thing
Oh yeah, there’s also the mental work. The daily mantra of “we are enough.” The reviewing of Cool Runnings, the building of the Cyno Playlist, and the Daring Greatly audiobook for the drive. Because after all, agility is not a math problem—there are too many variables at play to guarantee anything. The only thing that’s certain is that I have the great fortune and privilege of attending this event with the best dog on earth and if we show up and lay down what we have on the day we need to, that’s enough. That’s always enough.