Sunday, January 29, 2012

Lithe, Limber and Light of Foot

Cleo and I started agility class a few weeks ago.  I figured this would be a natural for her.  I’ve seen the YouTube videos of Bedlingtons whipping around agility rings, ears flying, tails extended in pure joy.  They are sleek, they are fast, they are, in a word, agile.  Plus, I’ve seen Cleo tearing around the field at school, and she is nothing if not a fine example of her breed.  So it felt like a no-brainer to test out the sport at our local indoor Zoom Room.

I had no idea.  Natural doesn’t even begin to describe the way she has taken to this activity.  As usual, the trainer greeted us with, “You’re my first Bedlington Terrier!  She is so cute!”  The first task we had to learn was to sit in the exact center of a black square painted on a small raised platform.  Cleo gave the little table a thorough examination, hopped onto it and placed her butt, boom, right in the center.  She looked at me as if to say, “That was easy.  Now what?”  And to be perfectly honest, it was easy.

The first real apparatus was the weaving poles, but as we are beginners, they were set wide so all the dogs had to do was run down the center aisle.  Cleo shot through them so fast she took me by surprise and I got the leash tangled on one of the poles. 

“Okay,” said our trainer, “now we’re going to try the A-Frame.  This is really high for some small dogs, so be patient and give lots of coaxing.”

Cleo’s response was an almost audible, “Cool!”  She was up and over that thing as if she’d done it a hundred times.  The trainer and her assistant were giggling as Cleo came down the ramp.  “She’s so good!” they exclaimed, almost in unison.

Shoot through the tunnel.  Shoot through the tunnel combined with a hop over a jump.  I’m running to keep up.  Up and zip across the Dog Walk, a waist high, balance beam-like structure.  Again, she took to it so much faster than anyone expected that I was caught flat-footed and nearly dragged her off of it when the leash went taut as she ran ahead of me.  The trainer is no longer giggling.  She’s open-mouthed.  “She’s really fast!” she exclaims.  Then, “Keep up, keep up,” she yells at me.  Believe me, I will; I don’t want to be the one who lets Cleo down.

There are six or seven dogs in the class, depending on the day.  There is a yellow Lab named Bella.  What is with the sudden bounty of Bellas lately?  Is it the Twilight series?  Cleo and I know three: two in our obedience class and one at the agility class.  Really, I could understand it if any of these dogs was Italian, but all three are Labs.  And fairly stout Labs, at that.  I don’t suppose I should talk, though.  Who am I to criticize Canadian dogs given Italian names?  After all, I’m the one with an English breed named after a Greek queen of Egypt. 

Also in our class is a Boston Terrier named Thor and a Poodle whose name I’ve blocked.  By the way, why is it, and forgive me for this obvious show of prejudice, that Poodle owners seem to think they own the world?  At the end of every class, we get about five minutes to practice on a piece of equipment we need extra work on.  If there is one dog going the wrong way, cutting in line or charging around harassing other dogs, you can bet it will be the Poodle and its oblivious parent.  Anyway, there’s also a very sweet Border Collie named Lucy.  Then there is a lap dog of some variety with long white fur and very short legs.  It’s name is Bronson, I think.  Or Brewer.  Something like that.  You’d think I’d remember it.  We’ve all heard it enough.  Bronson-Brewer is the dog who enters the tunnel, gets half way in and curls up for a nap.  He is the dog who is helping us all to perfect our sit-stays on the tables as we wait for him to totter across the dog walk.  I am not exaggerating when I say that during the last class, Brewer-Bronson’s parents (and both of them eventually came into the ring to try to coax him through) lured him up the A-Frame by placing a treat on each foothold.  They lured him down the same way.  It was one step at a time with lots of waiting in between.  There was lots of “C’mon, Brewer.  Good Brewer.  Good A-Frame!  Yes!  One more step!  Good A-Frame, Brewer!  No, Brewer, not that way, keep going forward!  That’s it!”  I’m not sure if the dog is ancient, dimmer than a doorframe or just not very interested.

I’ll tell you one thing, though.  There isn’t a single hint of impatience in that class.  We all applaud his success when he toddles off whatever apparatus he’s just torturously navigated.  There is a chorus of “Yay!  Good dog!” that is both heartfelt and sincere.  I’d like to say it’s because being dog owners has made us all so much better human beings.  And while that’s probably true, I think the real reason we are so patient with Brewer-Bronson and his parents is because we know that at any moment, that could be us.  At any moment, our own dog might have a bad day or get bored, say.  At any moment, our own dog may become distracted by the puppy out in the waiting room jingling his collar as he dashes back and forth after a Frisbee so that she barks her fool head off through half the class and insists on slamming her feet against the wall in an effort to see if the stupid puppy is still there, then is too excited to even want a treat or to focus on the mini teeter-totters, and before you know it, someone else could be in the embarrassing position of trying to deal with an uncooperative dog that is holding up the whole class.  I’m not going to mention any names.  Plus, I plead the fifth.

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