Dances With Wolves by Susan Kamen Marsicano, Apu’s Basenjis, Woodstock, NY ~ apubasenjis.com (edited by Brenna Fender, Natalie Culver, and Bonnie Henderson)
To run agility is to move through space and time with a dog, merged by the body and spirit. Both the dog and handler need to be trained, equally, and they both must be sound, and fit. photo below ©2005, Ben Rosen
Although I have lived with basenjis since 1973 (count back to 1959 if you figure in my Apu dog, who was 1/4 basenji), I have never experienced so clearly seeing these dogs' souls as when we are running together. They will go do an unexpected maneuver, and show me who they are as "people," with their own uniqueness (redundancy for emphasis) in an awesome and shocking way.
I bet they think the same about me after we finish a course.
What I’m going to do here, is just tell you about what I do, and how it goes to run one Excellent Standard course with M, and then, if you can bear with me, I’ll do the same for an Open Standard course with Occhi. You can see the difference in the beings of the two basenjis if you come along with me.
You should know that the handlers are allowed to “walk” the course, for about 15 minutes in advance. This is amusing to watch, what with some 30 people waving their arms, twirling, and/or talking to imaginary dogs. I make sure I understand my dog’s path in the course, and how I need to move to get her/him there.
Before we run, I do my best to replicate the same routine, every time. Since I know that dogs don’t generalize well, and Sight-hounds perhaps don’t generalize at all (Temple Grandin, “Animals in Translation,”) I set a pattern of behavior which is sort of like bringing a safety net along with us. I will even go around the trial site and hide tidbits of treats here and there. I bring a “blankie” ringside, which is always the same “blankie”.
When our turn is near, (making sure the dog has been exercised- pee and poop) I will say, “Want to go to school?” and expect the dog to come toward me in his/her crate, to get into his/her “work” collar. I never “go get” them. I ask them to come to me. M changes from her wide Sighthound street collar, with her tags, to her narrower leather buckle collar, made from an American Indian belt. At the same time, I give her some Bach’s Rescue Remedy, just incase that helps her. That done I say, “Let’s go,” and put the collar up high on her neck, walk as tall as I can, my head way up, so she looks up at me “Good girl!” We walk that way to the ring, and she finds a treat, maybe hidden by a winch of a camper, and then her “blankie,” where she automatically sits. If we are nervous, I will yawn and blink and nod my head at her, which she, in turn, is doing to me (Turid Rugaas, “On Talking Terms With Dogs: Calming Signals.”) When we are close to being “up” I will do some Rally-Obed. maneuvers, for focus. The one I use most often is, “Come Front, One Step back, sit front, Two Steps back, sit front, Three Steps back, sit front.” I have very good treats in my pocket, sometimes upping the ante to Genoa salami. No treats or toys are allowed in the ring, so I empty those pockets before we go out there. Lots to do, isn’t it, for a minute or less of ring time?
The above it the first course I’ll talk about. You’ll see it goes from Obstacle 1, all the way to the Finish line, at Obstacle 18. The ring is 100’ X 110’ with a course time at 72 seconds. A clean run is required in the Excellent Class. This was outdoors, on grass, on a chilly, wintry feeling day. (M is Ch. Apu Little Red Lentil RN OA OAJ CGC TDI)
So, here we go:
We enter the ring when the dog ahead of us is entering the weave poles – those 12 dots are upright poles that the dogs weave through, with the first pole on their left shoulder. I tell M, “Sit on your dime,” which means plant your tusch right here, in this case right by the number (1), so she is facing the chute tunnel, which is (2). I say, “Wait,” leave her with her on my left, make a diagonal in front of her, and then face her, SMILE, give her my left hand, in a sort of “Ciao” gesture, say, “Come jump,” instantly followed by curled right hand, and “GO tunnel.” As she is coming out of the soft chute (sort of like tunneling under the covers J,) she sees me heading towards the inside of the ring, my right arm straight out, hand up and down, flat, “Jump,” at (3), then fast, I say, my hands move, “Jump, TUNNEL.” (4) (5). I cross behind her entrance to the tunnel, and as she is emerging, “MMMM, Jump,” a curled left hand, for the tire jump (6). Up goes my left arm, palm up, my shoulders turn, “SCRAMBLE!” for (7,) climb the A-Frame. I watch her up there, as she sometimes “sight sees.” I run past, saying, “Box, DOWN!” for the Time out Table (8). She says, my darling M, “Down who?” We are near the road, in that corner, and it is a bit stressful for her, so she doesn’t think she can do a down. I tell her calmly that, she can, yes she can. She DOES! The judge counts, “Five and Four and Three and Two and One, and GO.” My left hand shows her, and I say, “Walk on,” to the dog walk (elevated plank,) which is (9). I move at a steady fast pace along the dog walk, but start curling my shoulders to the right as she is coming off the dog walk, and say, staccato, “MMMMM, Here Jump, SEESAW!” (10) and (11). I am using emphasis to stop her from taking the tunnel entry that is right ahead of Jump 10). She likes tunnels! I stay on the side of the seesaw near the dog walk and my hand and voice push her to ”Jump,” the panel jump (12). Moving towards (14), I say, “M, come Jump to me,” over (13), quickly, “Jump,” (14), then curl my left hand back, “M, WEAVE!” She, as we call it, “nails” the weave entry (15), I cross behind, chasing her, secretly in my heart, thinking, “We’ve GOT IT!” I curl my shoulders and my right hand, “M, TUNNEL!” (16), then do a “blind cross,” meaning that when she emerges from the tunnel she sees my back and my right hand out. “BIG jump,” I say showing her that (17) is a triple jump, and tell her, “Gooo Jump!” (18)
She then sits and smiles at me, and I, right back at her. A Q! - Qualifying score. In fact, a First Place. Actually, out of around 36 dogs, no one else qualified, so don’t tell me basenjis can’t do this!
Want to try one more?
Above is the Open Standard course Occhi and I ran recently. He got a 95 (out of 100.) I was surprised, as he had never tried an indoor agility trial and he handled the building easily. He was calm and happy to be with me, out there.
(Occhi is FC Apu Occhi Belli NA NAJ MC LCM FCh CGC TDIA)
So, here we go again:
In this course, I told him to sit and stay at the start line, (1), and walked out past jump (2), turned around to face him, and then asked him to jump, jump (1) (2). I made a mistake and gave him the wrong lead, - my right hand instead of my left, and so he missed the entry to the weaves, which are (3). I told him he was a good lad, switched my lead, and asked him to weave again, and he did. That is 5 points off, a refusal, with only one of those allowed in Open, so I knew we had to be "clean" after that. He tore through the weaves, with me running behind him, giving commands, from a distance. I just said, “Occhi, jump, go jump, jump. box, sit.” (4) (5) (6) (7) He did. I got near him at the table, “Sit,” waited as the judge counted, "one, and two, and three and four and five, and GO," and sent him on ahead. “Occhi, Tunnel, and big jump, and Walk On,” (8) (9) (10) and then, “Occhi, jump, HERE - go Tunnel, SEE SAW, go jump.” (11) (12) (13) (14) “Jump, walk on.” (15) (16) I front crossed at the end of the dog walk, told him, “Jump, and Jump”, (17) (18) and I knew he had a Q!
The dogs need a calm center from the other end of the leash (Patricia McConnell, “The Other End of the Leash.”) At one trial, the young man who was leash running (the leash runner takes the lead after you drop it at the Start line, and brings it to the Finish,) stepped on my Occhi's tail, just as we were next up. Note that Occhi has the curliest basenji tail in the entire world. I am sure of that! It looks like a soft ice cream. It can't uncurl. Therefore he has never had it stepped on. Occhi screamed and I said, "Look," and he raised his eyes to mine, and he was fine. He ran a title run.
This is a matter of breeding for health and temperament, as well as endless hours learning how to train dogs, and training each of them, every day, in every gesture. Also, of course, these athletes need to have functioning thyroids.
Most important is listening to their souls, and sharing ours.
What a great pleasure!