Category Archives: training

Fear….

This year, as part of annual self-improvement day (New Year’s), I joined two different “Challenge” groups. One of them is Daisy Peel’s 2017 agility challenge group; the other is a running challenge group called the Hadfield 2017 Challenge. They have a few things in common; the one that stands out for me is that they are both mostly women, and both mostly women who are afraid that they’re not meeting some arbitrary external standard. “I’m not that fast,” they say. They write: “I’m not a very good handler” or “my dog deserves a better handler.” On the running challenge, they ask for advice about riding a bike in traffic (for cross-training) because they’re afraid of riding in traffic. Or about dealing with dangerous dogs that they might encounter in a new situation. Or about how to get up the courage to try a long distance race or a triathlon.

I think for many of the women in these groups, the “challenge” is overcoming their own fears. It’s that inner critic again: the one who knows all our secrets, including how scared we are to try something new–and maybe fail–or maybe just look foolish–or maybe trip and fall.

When I am trial chair, one of the questions I always get from first-time competitors is “what happens if my dog poops in the ring?” My answer is: you leash your dog, then you clean it up, and then you take your dog out of the ring. Sometimes the ring crew will clean it up for you. Oh yes, and “it has happened to every single experienced competitor in this trial.” And every single new competitor is worried that they’ll be embarrassed. There is that horrible video that goes around the internet every few years, of an agility dog having a wonderful run right up until he stops to shit; I cringe every time, because that poor handler must feel so awful that she asked her dog to run when he needed to go.

We all worry about making fools of ourselves.

We all worry about our safety.

We all worry about appearing clumsy or inexperienced.

We all worry that people are judging us and finding us lacking.

But I’ve noticed that most people aren’t interested in judging other people. We’re watching because we want to learn. We want to be awed. We want to share our experiences with others. We’re not holding up signs with numbers. Really, we’re not.

The role of trust in dog agility

I have a friend with a worried dog. The dog worries when she’s in the agility arena at a trial, and so my friend worries too, and the net result is that my friend does not trust the dog when running in competition. This lack of trust means that the team struggles when competing in a trial. I’ve seen the two of them in training, and they are a lovely team when working  in a quiet training situation. In a trial, though? They’re both unhappy at trials. Her dog wishes she’d stay closer and let her know earlier what she wants; she wishes her dog could relax more at trials so that she could relax and run.

Watching them has made me think about trust and agility. I trust Rush to do his best to do exactly what I ask him to do–which is sometimes not what I wanted him to do (if I gave him an incorrect cue, for example). In turn, he trusts me to pay the entry fees and get him to trials on time. Well, partly that, but mostly, he trusts me not to get upset if he makes a mistake. He trusts me to make sure he doesn’t get approached by small dogs (who worry him, because he’s been bitten by several small white fluffy mix-breeds dogs). He trusts me to make sure big fluffy German Shepherds don’t bug him. At least, these days he trusts me about German Shepherds. For a while, he was convinced they were all out to rip his head off, and he got quite defensive about it. These days he’s much more relaxed.

So I’ve been thinking about how you build mutual trust with your dog.

Back when I was in high school and college, “trust-building exercises” were very trendy, and we would have games we’d play, like closing your eyes and falling backwards into someone’s arms. Or walking holding hands with one of us blind-folded. These were supposed to build trust, but always made me worried. Frankly, I didn’t really trust many people. It took building a true relationship with Jay before I got to where I trusted someone absolutely.

There are times when I don’t trust Rush. Around golden retrievers, for example. He’s had so many bad experiences with goldens that he has a tendency to assume they’re all nuts. Or around cats, all of who should be chased and treed, as far as he’s concerned.

In the agility ring, however, I absolutely trust Rush. I know that I can put him in a start-line stay and walk away from him. So I can walk away confidently and just toss his release word over my shoulder, no worries. I know he can get pretty much any weave entry. I know he almost never knocks bars. All of that means that if he makes a mistake, I don’t get upset–because I know he’s doing the best he can. How could I get upset with a dog that’s trying so hard?

All of which makes me think that trust-building with your dog is about a lot of things. It’s about protecting him from things he worries about. It’s about providing enjoyable exercise and good food and good vet care. It’s about consistent rewards and a consistent message in training, so that the same behavior gets the same response every time. You can’t tell the dog that taking the tunnel if your feet are pointing at it is wrong if yesterday you trained him to take the tunnel when you pointed your feet at it.

Lately when I go to the training barn, I’ve been thinking about building mutual trust, not about training the dog to obey orders. It’s a different approach, and I’m enjoying it.

 

Changing how I train

As a result of quite a bit of reading on what constitutes effective practice, I have changed how I train dog agility.

First, what is effective practice? Back in November, I read this book and found it left me with a lot to think about. I’d heard a Freakonomics podcast on learning new skills (this one) and also discussing the “10,000 hour rule” (from this book by Malcolm Gladwell). These sources collectively introduced me to the idea of effective practice and got me thinking about how I learn new skills.

Effective practice, as I see it, introduces new skills carefully and deliberately–not necessarily slowly, but definitely thoughtfully–so that they’re learned without error. In agility, it would be the idea of teaching a tunnel-contact discrimination as follows:

  • Tunnel and contact are ten feet apart and you’re standing between them, closer to the obstacle you want, with the dog on the side closer to the desired obstacle. You release the dog, say the name of the obstacle, and take a step toward the desired obstacle; in short, you make it fairly easy for the dog.
  • Next, you move a little closer to the middle, then repeat.
  • You move closer to the “wrong” obstacle, then repeat.
  • Gradually you make it harder for the dog, but you still keep the dog on the same side as the obstacle and take a step toward the desired obstacle.
  • Next, you put the dog on the other side and repeat the steps.
  • Now, you start moving the two obstacles closer to each other and repeat the steps.

For the dog, you’ve built the skill of differentiating the two obstacles by name very slowly and in a logical step-wise fashion; the dog’s practice has been gradually getting more challenging, but in small increments.

Now, let’s say that, you–the person–have identified skills you need to improve. You want to work on your timing of blind crosses, or the footwork of your front crosses, or giving cues to your dog earlier. Effective practice dictates that you break it down into steps. By working a sequence without the dog, in slow motion, you can learn how the steps feel without confusing your dog. Once you’re comfortable walking through a sequence–or doing that front cross–slowly, you can move a little faster, then faster the third try–and then add your dog. You can look at course maps and visualize how you will move through a course before you run the course; visualization has been proven to improve performance.

When I started thinking about effective practice and how I learn, I started breaking down the long sequences presented in my lesson and only doing seven or eight obstacles at a time. I tried different handling methods and different dog paths at critical points.

Today Daisy had this sequence in the middle of the course:

course mapThe question, of course, was which path to use for Rush when going from 13 to 14 to 15. I walked three different methods of setting Rush’s path* and Daisy timed the three methods. We worked on what to do with that segment, in detail, for about fifteen minutes. Then, we moved to the next segment. The course as a whole had 21 obstacles; it took an hour of analysis and testing to determine the optimal path for Rush. We worked entirely on the single course, without trying to do more.

 

We analysed it one segment at a time and I refined my handling one segment at a time, deliberately working my way through the course rather than flinging myself at it and biting off more than I could chew (to use a dog analogy). Rush repeated each sequence without getting frustrated–short sequences mean a higher reward rate for him–and paid attention to the differences in handling as well.

As a result of this change in my practice sessions, I have improved my course analysis skills, become more confident with using blind crosses, gained confidence in Rush’s abilities and his understanding of agility, improved Rush’s focus (which was considerable)–and improved my Q rate.

*For the curious, the fastest path, by more than half a second, was a front cross on the landing side of 13 followed by a push (“go round!”) to the backside of 14 on the side closest to the teeter (the top of the diagram above) followed by a push to the a-frame with the verbal contact cue (“climb!”), with dog-on-right over the a-frame. (The next obstacle was a weave-tunnel discrimination, believe it or not, with the entry to the weaves (the desired obstacle) about five feet from the tunnel entrance. Challenging course!)

Agility ladder…. for humans

I went to trail running skills clinic #4 this morning (at 6:30 AM… in the dark… in the cold (45 degrees F)… but not rainy, thankfully!) and wow was this one revelatory! We did technical-trail skills, up and down a rocky little section of trail, after warming up by doing agility-ladder drills–stuff like the drills in this video (ignore the ads, sorry about that, but the video is actually pretty good).

Anyway, doing the drills really revealed to me just how weak my left knee is and how much I favor my right knee. I could move right well but not so much on the left side. I’d heard that from Daisy, but I thought I’d been working on it… apparently not. Or at least, not enough.

The drills also made it abundantly clear to me just how much I routinely lead with my right foot. When we did a drill that was left foot out, right foot in–I could do that, but I really struggled with right foot out, left foot in, and in fact I tripped over the tape a few times.

While I enjoyed the drills and immediately found them useful for the trail running part–I ran down a bit of “technical trail” (which means: lots of rocks and roots) much more easily by thinking about “light feet, left foot, right foot” and so on–I can also see where they’d be very useful for dog agility training. We all use ladders to help teach our dogs to understand where their feet are; the drills helped me understand how my own footwork could be improved.

One of the other exercises we did was skipping down the trail. I surprised the coach who’s leading the skills clinic by being quite good at skipping; that’s because it’s my usual warmup for an agility run. I find skipping really gets all those muscles firing and ready to go. It’s a lot more fun on a soft trail, though, than in the concrete areas outside the arena!

Human rewards: challenge vs. fun

Back when I was a high school chemistry teacher, my students would fairly often come in and ask if we were going to “have fun” that day. I’m pretty sure I never answered “yes.” I’m not a big believer in the idea that education should be “fun.” I expect it to be challenging, exciting, rewarding, enjoyable… but not “fun.” That may be a distinction without a difference, but to me “fun” is a matter of moments, and moments that don’t much matter at that.

When people tell me they do agility just for “fun,” I’ll be honest: I cringe a bit. I love doing agility (most of the time, anyway) but I’m also pretty serious about it. I put time, effort, money, hard work into being good at agility. Sometimes I don’t meet my own standards, which is discouraging, but I’m fully present when I compete, and I want to do well.

All of that said, I do find agility rewarding. I find running rewarding, although sometimes running is very hard work indeed.

For me, creating a challenge and then meeting it and then trying to do better next time creates a reward cycle. Karen Pryor–whose book Don’t Shoot the Dog is a classic of modern dog training, puts it this way: “what gets rewarded gets repeated.” We reward our dogs for behaviors we want them to learn and repeat. Sit, lie down, run through a tunnel, stop at the bottom of the a-frame.

As humans, too, like other trained mammals, we repeat behaviors that have been rewarded in the past. Enjoy a bite of chocolate? That taste is its own reward, and we’ll eat chocolate again. Find brussels sprouts bitter? We don’t like them and don’t want to eat them. Run a 5K race and the volunteer puts a honking big medal around your neck? You’re more likely to run another one. Or maybe you run to try and run faster in the next race. Or farther. Or to see those numbers on the scale go down. Or to see that Q on the results sheet. Or to see that your dog placed ahead of your friend’s dog for the first time. The cliche of human rewards is “whatever floats your boat.” Humans are better than dogs at anticipating rewards; we all know people who’ve worked for years to get that huge ribbon and title that we call a MACH (or CATCH or CATE).

And yes, some people call agility “fun.” For me, agility is way more complex than fun. It’s about challenges: challenges that are hard–can I get to that blind cross?–challenges that require analysis and experience–how can I best handle that line?–challenges that require training–leaving Rush in the weaves while I peel off and get farther down the course. I find meeting challenges inherently rewarding.

Goals, sub-goals, measurements, tracking

I have been pondering the role of measurements and goals in improving fitness. My friend Bonny Baker has been working toward a goal of a sub-30-second Time to Beat run with her small poodle DeeDee; when she told me about that, I started thinking about measurable big goals and measurable small goals that add up to that big goal (thanks, Bonny). I’m trying to run a sub-29-minute 5K (and after that, a sub-28-minute 5K) (and after that? guess!). I know people who want to get more MaCH points for each run and so are trying to run faster with their dogs. (For me, as far a MaCH goes, what I want is to have run every run all-out-trying-to-win, not trying-to-Q.)

These are measurable goals. There is a current measurement and there is a measurable goal. I can tell you what I weighed on pretty much any day of the last three-and-a-half years, and I can tell you what I weigh now. I know my body fat measurement, my BMI, and my weight goal. With those measurable outcomes, I know if I’m making progress toward that goal, and I will know when (not if) I’ve met my goal.

I have lots of goals, in agility, in running, in cycling, even in swimming. My goals vary in their level of ambition, but they are measurable. In swimming, for example, my goal every week is to swim at least once, for at least a half hour; speed is not an issue here, but showing up is. In cycling, my goal is to complete the 45-mile wine country bike ride the last weekend in July, preferably without whining too much. (There are sub-goals to that, because that goal involves training for it.) There are multiple steps in meeting some goals–for example, I’m currently working on running a little faster (and yes, I measure my speed and heart rate every run) and a little longer (of course I measure that too) in my daily runs. I have switched from saying “I think I can, I think I can” to myself as I run up hills–right now, what I say is “no junk miles”. “Junk miles” (as I’m defining it) is running without pushing myself just a little; “junk miles” is running without being conscious of how I feel and how hard I’m working.

There was an article in the New York Times a few days ago about tracking how you spend your time, with the goal (of course) of becoming better at spending time on the things you really want to spend time on. The author pointed out that she also recorded how long it took her to track her time expenditures. Yes, tracking goals takes time. However, I’m pretty sure it’s essential to track, that without tracking, you don’t make progress.

Training….

Me, not the dogs.

So I started running again (I was a competitive runner in my twenties) so I could get to where I can keep up with Rush. Now I’m running because I enjoy it, because I feel restless if I don’t–and I really enjoy the occasional race, too,. I started swimming again (I swam on my high school team and my college team–I was an “also swam” but I showed up and occasionally came in third (if there were only three swimmers in the event) and sometimes that single point for third meant we won as a team, so not all bad)) to balance out my muscles from running and agility and reduce my likelihood of getting injured. I started biking again (after spending my elementary school Sunday mornings wandering the countryside on my bike while my parents and sister slept in) because I want to bike with Jay and because I wanted to bike the beautiful Oregon Coast and find out about bike touring.

You see where this is going, I hope? I’m running and competing, I’m swimming, I’m biking. Yes, I signed up for a triathlon. Triathlons, it turns out, come in different distances. The Ironman is a sufferfest of a 2.5 mile swim (usually in a lake or ocean), 100 mile bike, full marathon (26.2 miles). I’m not doing that. I’m doing what’s called a “sprint triathlon”. That’s the shortest version–kind of the triathlon version of Couch-to-5K. This one is a 500 yard pool swim (20 lengths, that’s all), 12 mile bike ride, and a finishing 5K run. It’s the first weekend in May. I signed up for it partly because I had that weekend off from agility, so why not do a triathlon?

The only part of this where Rush–my personal trainer–is helping me is the 5K run. Fortunately, I have human friends who are meeting me at the pool and biking with me, and Jay and I are biking too.

I find that many people react to these things by saying, encouragingly, “you can do it!” which always makes me wonder if they secretly think I can’t. I’m pretty sure my friends are not that two-faced, so I think it’s just sincerity speaking. Still, it makes me squirm a bit. I don’t think I’ve ever failed to finish a competitive event I’ve started (well, I’ve walked Rush out of a few agility runs, but I’m not counting that, because that’s about our teamwork, not my fitness), and I don’t really commit to things I’m not prepared to finish. I have scratched out of events before I started–illness or injury–but that’s common sense.

So yes, I can do this.

But when I signed up, I stupidly really didn’t understand about the training involved. The hard part of triathlon, as I’m given to understand it, is the consecutive nature of it. You swim, and then–when you’re done swimming and your legs are tired–you get out of the pool and you go bike. And then–when you’re done swimming and biking and you’re even more tired–you run. So in training, you don’t just go to the pool and swim, you go to the pool, you swim, and then you bike. Or you go for a long bike ride and then you run.

I’m working on this concept, and I’m stunned by how fast my fitness level is improving. I took last Thursday off and “just” walked the dogs (three times, but not long any one time). Friday I ran with Rush, then biked over to the pool, swam, then biked home, including up the hill from hell (Yamhill St. from 78th to 72nd). Saturday I ran a 5K race on Mt. Tabor, despite being tired from the day before, and still finished well under my previous best time for a Mt. Tabor 5K (the courses are all slightly different, but they all involve a long downhill and a long climb). Sunday Jay and I biked from home to Gresham, out the Springwater Trail, twenty-four miles total (and the hill from hell at the end), and then I changed quickly–four minutes total–and ran Rush… and my pace was better than Friday’s. Apparently it does make a different to have thoroughly warm muscles… Who knew?

In other news, I had my body fat level tested last week. I’m composed of far more fat than I’d hoped, so I still have a good bit of weight to lose. At a pound a month… well, this could take a while. That’s okay. At least, today I think that’s okay.

Dealing with Feeling Discouraged

It’s Monday morning after a fourteen-run three-day AKC trial, and I’m feeling more than a little discouraged. In fact, I’m thinking cinnamon rolls and hot chocolate (it’s cool this morning).

Why so discouraged? Well, I’m still struggling with those last five pounds, but this morning, because I ate rather less carefully over the weekend, it’s not those last five pounds–it’s those last seven pounds. Yes, my weight is up, not down. I have reasons (not excuses, which are different): I had the flu, my weight was way down (3 pounds from these last seven), I felt horrible, I nourished my soul and I ate too much. The flu kept me from running much (not at all for multiple days, in fact). I’m pretty much over the flu, and now I have to get “back on track”… Back onto my I’m-losing-weight-so-fucking-slowly-I-can’t-stand-it track. Seriously, I know losing a pound a month is better than gaining a pound a month, but really? I want it to be easy (don’t we all?!) and it’s just not. (Screaming in frustration.)

And then there was the agility. Okay, I’ve spent four years now working toward being the handler Rush needs and requires. And on Friday, I managed it for two runs, one in FAST and one in Jumpers. We won Jumpers, beating border collies and fast Dobermans. That was great, and the run was a pure pleasure, but I had three runs with multiple faults and stupid mistakes and sometimes Rush makes me feel like a complete idiot. And then Saturday was worse, with the only clean run being in Time to Beat, and even there, we’d have had a refusal if refusals were called in T2B. I just wasn’t there for him. And Sunday was worse than that. I felt like a train wreck, dropping old rusted pieces on the tracks as we went. Rush jumped over the a-frame contact for maybe the second or third time in his agility career; he had not one but two flyoffs from the teeter, which he has never done before. (Sunday he did a perfect teeter.)

Sooooo…. not on track on the diet part, dropping rusted parts on the train tracks in agility. Feeling old and fat and slow. And unsuccessful. And did I say slow and fat? And old? Especially old. (My son reminded me that he’s turning thirty–which he considers old–in September. Yeah, if he’s old, what am I?)

Feeling desperately discouraged, in fact. Like what I’m doing just isn’t enough, and I don’t know what else I can do. I log every bite I eat and I mostly eat pretty carefully, and I’m running and swimming and biking to get fit and fast enough for Rush, and he just keeps getting a little bit faster and a little more insistent on perfect handling.

I can catalog a few really good things about the weekend: my knees held up, despite walking a total of 72000 steps over the three days (and I biked and ran on Thursday too). I was fast enough to make it to a blind cross before the last jump–a triple–in Jumpers on Sunday (but I only pushed for it because I’d already blown the Q). I successfully sent Rush to his leash on every single run of the 14 runs. I won a free three-day entry to another trial. Pieces of every single run were good. Our last run on Sunday, despite not Qing, I managed to set a really nice line for the first 15 obstacles. Of course, then he took an off-course tunnel and then missed his weave entry, but… fifteen obstacles is pretty good, right?

From here, where? Well, I guess I’m back to doing what I’ve been doing. I’m going to go for a run, to burn calories, keep Rush fit, try to get faster, and enjoy some time in the woods on my favorite bit of trail. A short run, then off to the barn to try to get Rush to fly off the teeter again, just so I can remind him that he’s not supposed to do that. And then reward him when he does it right the next time. At least, that’s the plan for this morning. I can plan for success, right? Even if I’m old and fat and slow, with a fit fast dog who needs me to be a much better handler than I am.

Havin’ some fun tonight!

This post is part of the Dog Agility Bloggers Network series on FUN. After you’ve read this article, go to this link to read more articles.

A few years back, my daughter Stacia introduced me to the idea that there are three types of fun. In Type 1 Fun, you have a good time, but it’s kind of an ordinary good time. For example, Type 1 Fun might include a nice dinner with friends with a chocolate brownie for dessert. It’s fun, but it’s readily accessible fun and requires no special effort. Type 2 Fun includes some element of challenge and difficulty. Perhaps you make the dinner as a group and you try a complicated recipe or two, something like Chicken Kiev with a molten chocolate Lava Cake for dessert. Type 3 Fun? Well, Type 3 Fun involves some danger, it might not be all fun during the actual event, and part of the fun is the story you tell afterwards. To continue with the dinner-with-friends analogy (which just might be getting a little strained, but oh well, we can all deal with it), the three of you get mugged while coming home from the store after buying the ingredients for dinner, one of you ends up in the emergency room and meets the love-of-her-life while waiting for treatment, and then you have a late dinner at the best restaurant in the area and the chef hears the story and makes you a special flaming dessert, which sets the tablecloth on fire, so you don’t actually get to eat it. That would qualify as Type 3 Fun: great story, some pretty awful bits during the actual event.

Personally, I try to avoid Type 3 Fun.

Incidentally, this is a photo of some Type 2 Fun I had with my daughter last summer. Anything that involves wading through icy water is automatically Type 2 Fun. At least, that’s my opinion. I did like the effect of the ice water on my knees, though. Alleviated the soreness a bit–it was quite the hike. (However, the story is not epic, no one was hurt, so not Type 3 Fun. Now, if I’d slipped and floated downstream a bit, maybe then.)

Photo by Stacia Torborg

Photo by Stacia Torborg

I have been competing in dog agility since sometime in 2005, when my Elly–my Novice A dog, who barely finished her Open titles–was two. She was indeed a challenge to run, between her sense of humor (several judges burst out laughing at her antics during her agility career) and her health (she had multiple health issues and died at not-quite-nine as a result (three years ago) and I still miss her). I have good stories to tell about Elly–she stopped in the middle of a run to play bow to the audience, she thought contacts were electrified, she left the arena to go ask the hot dog vendor for a snack (and that’s just the beginning)–and it was never dull. I learned, with Elly, that a sense of humor is key to enjoying agility.

Photo by Joe Camp

Photo by Joe Camp

My second poodle, Dancer, is very serious about agility. She wants very much to please me. For her, the fun of agility isn’t about the course or the challenges or the jumps: it’s about me. She wants to run with me, hang out with me, be my companion. I had to learn how to make agility fun for her, and it was a challenge for me. A good challenge, though, as she taught me a lot about dog training. Dancer will do anything I ask her to do… if it doesn’t scare her. For a long time, the teeter scared her so much that she just couldn’t do it. Not no way, not no how, not even for rotisserie chicken, her personal favorite. It took me three years, and I wrote an article for Clean Run about how I did it, and that? That was rewarding because it was challenging and it took a lot of thinking and because I learned so much from her.

And long-term difficult challenges that you meet and beat? Those are fun.

Photo by Joe Camp

Dancer expresses her opinion about the teeter: photo by Joe Camp

My Rush, my big boy dog, the one I chose as a puppy even though I swore I wanted a small girl from the litter right up until the moment Rush stole my heart? His proper poodle name is Alchmys Absolut Pleasure. Alchmy is the breeder; Absolut is a tribute to his father, a white poodle from Russia; and the Pleasure? That’s all mine. I’m superstitious enough that I believe that dog names can be self-fulfilling prophecies. I’d never name a dog Chaos, as just one example. So I was hoping, with Rush, that I’d get that excitement, that surge, that incredible feeling you get when you give it what you’ve got… and it works.

From the first day with Rush, when I insisted that he wait for his dinner, just like the big poodles, I knew where I was going.

puppy Rush waits for a treat with big poodles

What I didn’t know, when I started with Rush, was that he would enjoy agility every bit as much as I do. I didn’t know that he would be fast and long-strided. I didn’t know that he would change my life completely. I had to learn how to handle, how to run, how to give it all I’ve got every single run. I didn’t know how thoroughly he would live up to his name. He has truly been an absolute pleasure to have in my life. Type 2 Fun all the way: it’s not easy, it’s not simple, it’s challenging, and it’s exciting.

Rush? Here’s how Rush approaches agility (article continues below photos).

Photo by Zoe Zimmer

Photo by Zoe Zimmer

Photo by Joe Camp

Photo by Joe Camp

After finishing the first draft of this and letting it sit for a few days, I found myself thinking: “from the dog’s perspective, is agility Type 1 or Type 2?” My first thought was: “of course, for a dog, it’s Type 1, because all fun is Type 1 if you’re a dog.” But as I thought more about it, I realized that many dogs bring problem-solving skills and anticipation to their agility careers (and to herding and hunting, as some other examples)–and that, for those dogs, agility is Type 2 Fun. I know that Rush anticipates his agility run; he grows very intense as we move closer to the gate. When he watches a dog we’ve been following all day, he starts pulling to go into the ring. He hunkers down and stares at the first jump and his eyes flick back and forth from me to the jump and back to me and back to the jump as he tries to understand what I want. He tries to read what I want, and he barks in frustration when I’m late or confusing–and still does his best to follow my lead.

I find myself thinking about Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire: as Ann Richards (Texas politician of note) said “after all, Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did. She just did it backwards and in high heels.” From the dog’s point of view, running agility (without a map or any way to know the course in advance) must be like that–and for a dog that likes a challenge and finds excitement in challenge, what could be better? Type 2 Fun, for sure.

The latest on shoes…

I was looking through the “most popular posts” part of my blog statistics, and noticed that one of the most popular posts lately is one I wrote more than two years ago about shoes for agility and for running. So I went off and read it… and found that I had moved on from almost all of my recommendations.

I’ve changed to a completely different shoe for agility. About a year and a half ago, my daughter suggested that I try the Skora Core trail running shoe. They’re lightweight, incredibly comfortable; the goat leather molds to your foot, like a glove. They’re not completely waterproof–I think Skora describes them as “water resistant” and even that is a bit of a stretch–but the comfort and the ground feel are great. Not a lot of padding… but I can feel the surface and I feel confident when I wear them that I can run well and easily. Sizing is a little odd; I wear a 9 in Inov-8s, an 8.5 in most shoes, and an 8 in Skoras.

I am wearing the Hoka One One Clifton 2 for some of my running these days. It’s wide in the forefoot, and my foot goes deep in the shoe so that it feels comfortable and secure. The generous padding of the Hokas is a wonderful thing for my knees, which have enjoyed my weight loss but are still the relative weak link in the chain from foot to hip. The Hokas are great for days when I’m running on sidewalks and streets more than on trails.

I do my trail runs in the Altra Lone Peak 2.5 . Altra shoes are zero-drop (which I have come to love) (the Skoras are zero-drop as well, and the Hokas have a relatively small heel-to-toe drop) and the Lone Peak has excellent traction, even on muddy trails. It’s not waterproof, which is a shame. I’ve tried their waterproof version of the Lone Peak (this one: Altra Lone Peak 2.0 Polartec Shoe), and it’s good, but not great. I’d rather wear wool socks and try to avoid puddles while wearing this shoe. Note that the Lone Peak keeps changing in subtle ways from version to version; I’m specifically recommending the Lone Peak 2.5.

Finally, I still recommend Inov-8’s lightweight Goretex boots for the winter. Warm, dry, comfortable. Inov-8 Roclite 286 GTX Boot is an Amazon link. But there are lots of Goretex boots these days, and frankly I wouldn’t be surprised if there are others that are more comfortable. Mine have lasted 8 years now, though.