The first thing that hits you is the incredible noise! Wow, it's like every dog in the building is barking all at once. The dogs are so pumped to play and they have to let everyone know. The next thing I noticed was how close the racing lanes are to one another. During practise our lanes are really close, but I honestly thought the lanes would be farther apart at the competition. Between the noise distraction, the crazy dogs all over the place and the lanes being really close together, I was starting to worry about how Spryte would handle this new game. She is young and not experienced like Strider. I can take Strider anywhere, do any sport and he automatically knows what to do and performs like he is supposed to. Spryte is still a young, inexperienced competition dog and is more likely to be affected by the distractions of a busy dog show.
So how did Spryte do? Well not bad considering all that was going on. Her first round was perfect. It was just like practise. She ran up to the box, grabbed her ball and ran back. No issues, no flaws. Then the second round, she realised she was "racing". This was a huge distraction for her. She would run up to the second last jump and then watch the dog in the other lane run up and back. You could just see her mind spinning, trying to figure out what was going on. "Why was that dog running so fast? Where is he running to? and Why doesn't he want to play with me???" So we had a few runs were she was too busy watching the other dogs to retrieve her ball. Then we wizened up and had the box loader call her all the way up the line. That was enough to keep her mind on the job, and she had a couple of runs that were perfect again.
Well on Sunday Spryte had figured out what flyball was all about. Its about getting REALLY excited and having a great time. Well that was her interpretation anyway. She was barking like crazy on the start line, trying to pull away from me, eager for her turn. She was so excited that she started dropping her ball before crossing the finish line. A little discouraging for me and the team, but its a common green dog error and will fix itself with time.
My solution was to have her put the ball in my hands. This is something that we have to do with Strider. Strider LOVES flyball and goes absolutely crazy for the game. He also wants his cookie as fast as he can get it. So he will drop the ball early to get the cookie. That's the thing about shelties. Most are not natural retrievers, so the act of bringing the ball back is not reinforcing in itself. So the shelties need to be taught that the job is to put the ball in my hand and then you get your reward. This way there is no chance of them dropping the ball early, because the criteria is crystal clear to them. Ball in my hand = cookie, no ball in hand = no cookie. So this method has fixed Strider's problem of dropping the ball early, and it will fix Spryte's too. Unfortunately we didn't have enough time at the tournament for Spryte to really figure this out. She had a few successes, then she would get over excited and drop the ball again. Oh well, it was her first time out and you can't expect perfection from a young dog. But I'm confident that we just need a little more practise and she will have it all figured out by the next tournament.
In the end Spryte ended up earning her first two flyball titles, FD and FDX, which was my goal for her debut at flyball. Strider was flawless and had a great time. He ran as hard as he did 7 years ago and never gave up. What a good boy he is :)
The rest of the team did really well too. There were 3 other green dogs on our team debuting for the first time at this tournament and all did really well. They all amazed me by running clean and reliably all weekend. All the green dogs earned at least their FDX and several earned their FDCH. We have a great team with wonderful dogs and handlers. I really enjoyed watching and cheering on our teammates this weekend and it was fun hanging out with other doggie people. All in all it was a nice weekend out.
Here is video of our team Go All Out this past weekend: