Stage Fright and Being Naked!

I was listening to Ted Talk the other day and Joe Kowan was discussing stage fright; the next day I was experiencing stage fright first hand as Bob and I did our first REAL disc demo.  I do agility every day, I run in a trial some weekends, I have trialed at the highest level in agility; I can do agility in my sleep.  Disc on the other hand, is new to me.  And even though I practice, I find it hard.  And even though Bob likes it, he is not perfect.  We have a looooong way to go.

Performing in front of other people causes anxiety and stress, for both the DOG and the HANDLER.  Don’t deny it!  Embrace it!  I knew that doing a Frisbee demo with Bob would be hard.  I had run through my routine a million times in my head, I had done it a few times in real time.  I like to visualize my disc performance or agility run from start to finish, including getting my dog from my crate, pottying them, warming up, doing the run, finishing, rewarding and cooling down.  While this set of steps can help you be successful, don’t get too caught up in the “routine”, you have to be prepared for the unexpected and be flexible with your habits.  Esteban Fernandezlopez discusses this in a Bad Dog Agility Podcast on Improving Mental Game.  I like to plan what I am doing before an agility run but I am not going to freak out if I don’t have my special toy or certain treats.  A routine is a great way to generate confidence at a trial!  Read my post on getting organized for your agility run called Crate to Crate.

The disc demo went well because I trusted Bob to do what we had already done!  And NO!  I didn’t have treats out there!  Just discs and my dog!  We had also trained for this, practicing disc with the treats over on the table (although most of the time the Frisbee is the reward, some tricks like roll over, were taught with treats).  It was hard to step out there in front of a crowd of people, my heart rate was elevated, and my breathing was faster, my thoughts were not clear; I couldn’t even remember all of the steps in our performance!!!  But I took a deep breath, threw the first disc, and FAKED it!!!  And I was naked!  And so was Bob!  No treats!  No collar!  Just trust and love for my dog and doing disc together!

Make sure you practice you AND your dog being naked!  Train like you show, show like you train!  Nothing is worse than your dog going through an extinction behavior (like not releasing from the dogwalk) because they are suddenly not getting treats at the rate they gets treats in training.  Set up your training so that it is similar to how you trial!

When you are new to agility, obedience, flyball, schutzhund, tracking, fill in the blank with your dog sport of choice, you need a list of steps (called steps to perform) that you are going to mostly follow from start to finish, you need a positive attitude and a smile, you need a love for your dog and a trust in what you have done during training and you need to remember that you are doing this because it is FUN!  Force yourself to smile if you have to!

If it isn’t fun, if it is too stressful, if your dog checks out and you can’t get them back, if you are vomiting in the bathroom (Cynosports 2009, not me but some unknown GP finalist), you should probably reassess your goals.  We are NOT curing cancer!!!  It is a dog sport!  It is a hobby!

Here is a worksheet to help you design your own list of steps to perform, .  This is just one of many worksheets that help my clients and I to be successful on our agility journey!

bob disc demo

bob disc demo

Agility Dog Punch Card!

Written as part of the Blog Agility Action Day on Health and Happiness

My friend and orthopedic vet, Dr. Jessica Waldman, VDM, of California Animal Rehabilitation, told me, “Your agility dog came with a punch card!”  Agility dogs are athletes, and as with any athlete, there are a finite number of years that they can compete.  There are a finite number of times your agility dog can do the a-frame, the weave poles, 26” jumps, etc.

Luckily if you lost your dog’s punch card, you can get another one!  Be thoughtful about how many times you do the a-frame every week.  Work weave entries and exits on less than 12 poles, train foundation and new skills on jumps with no bar or low bars.  Develop focus and relationship skills using fun tricks and body awareness activities.  Go for a hike!  Find as many ways as possible to keep your dog’s mind and body fresh for their agility job without doing agility.

Many handlers want that last QQ at the expense of an older dog’s body.  Their dog’s punch card is used up but they still enter every trial in search of that MACH/ADCH/NATCH/Etc.  I know a few people who have quit while they were only a few QQ’s or points, or whatever away from that last title.  I know many more handlers who are still out there, with dogs who shouldn’t be, still plugging away at another championship.  I’m pretty sure when the time comes; you aren’t going to remember your dog has 13 MACH’s.  You are going to remember the hikes! And your dog’s companionship, and having them next to you at night, and hugging them when you were sad, and how they kept your feet warm in winter, and, and.

If you use your dog’s punch card up doing agility they aren’t going to having anything left when it comes time for going up and down the stairs, or getting in or out of the car, or going to get the paper.  I miss doing agility with my retired dog Pickle, but I cherish walking around the block with him, looking for sticks and just hanging out!  Pickle’s punch card is worn and tattered.  I could have quit sooner; I’m glad I quit when I did!

Happy Pickle

Happy Pickle

Snooker 101: How To Play USDAA Snooker With FLOW & FUN!

***Disclaimer- I am teaching you how to play Snooker with your dog’s happiness as a priority and to get a Q.  If you want to learn Snooker strategy to win and get Super Q’s, please read Dave Hanson’s Snooker article at

Snooker is a game played in USDAA agility.  It involves an opening of the handler’s choice and a closing of the judge’s choice.  Red jumps are taken, and IF completed successfully, allow the opportunity of taking a numbered/colored obstacle.  In the opening, numbered/colored obstacles, earn points if completed successfully.  If NOT complete successfully in the opening, you earn no points but can continue.  In the closing, if a numbered/colored obstacle is NOT completed successfully, the whistle blows.

ALWAYS read your Snooker course map and go to the briefing so you will know if it is 3 reds, 4 reds OR 3 or 4 reds, (or 4 of 5 reds, or…)!  You also need to know the time set for the course, as well as any other judge specific rules (#6A and #6B must be taken in flow, or combo #5 is any jump weaves, etc.)

It is best to look at designing your Snooker strategy by working BACKWARDS from the closing.  Always look at the closing, determine where number 2 is and how is the best way to get there from your opening.

Pick an opening sequence that utilizes FLOW.  Even a Super Q can happen with a course that runs smoothly.  In Advanced and Starters, FLOW should be the number one priority!  Get your minimum points on a course that allows your dog to work in extension, keep it safe and fun!

You only need 37 points to qualify in Snooker.  If you make it through the closing to number 7 you have earned 27 points; you only need 37 to qualify, so that makes a total of 10 points needed in the opening.  Or you could plan on getting through number 5 in the closing, and then you would need 23 points in the opening.  Or. Or. Or.  Get out a calculator!!

Red jumps are worth 1 point and if taken successfully, allow you to take a numbered/colored obstacle for points.  YOU CAN ONLY TAKE A RED JUMP ONCE IN THE OPENING.

Start with the hardest to get to red jump and end with the red jump that flows into the number 2 of the closing.

Your course needs to consist of the following: red jump, numbered/colored obstacle, red jump, numbered/colored obstacle, red jump, numbered/colored obstacle, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7.

Think of the opening and the closing as a course!  Renumber it on your course map starting with 1 and ending with whatever number gets you to the last part of the closing.  I know you are allowed to “think on your feet” in snooker, but some dogs can’t handle the stress and will shut down.  I do not “think on my feet” with those dogs.  I run my course and leave if a whistle sounds!  I do not sacrifice my dog’s happiness and speed for anything!

Technically you can go to another red if your dog has performed a red incorrectly by knocking it.  I reserve this strategy for DAM/PVP.  Again, I run my course in flow and if the whistle blows, I leave!

**Try to plan a course that is do-able for your dog; don’t plan on 3 weave poles when your dog misses entries.  Make sure you can complete the course in the time allotted, weaves and contacts take longer than jumps and tunnels!

Refusals do not count in the opening, and do count in the closing.

If you fault a numbered/colored obstacle, you MUST complete it in the opening.

Snooker Checklist

  • Find hardest red jump, start your opening with that jump
  • Find #2 obstacle, plan to end your opening close to #2
  • Walk the closing
  • Plan an opening with flow
  • Re-number your course map
  • Memorize the opening and closing as one course
  • Plan a reasonable course for you and your dog’s skills
  • Leave when the whistle blows

Here is a fun course from cynosports 2014 to study and come up with a plan that has FLOW and is FUN for your dog!

Snooker Course

Snooker Course

Here is Eric’s briefing:

Start jump is bidirectional, must be taken to start your run and if taken again, ends your run!  The finish jump is live at all times and will end your run!

3 or 4 reds!

Combos are bidirectional in the opening!


  1. Champ 26/22 and P 20/16    45 secs
  2. Champ 18/16 and P 12         50 secs
  3. Champ  14/12 and P 8          55 secs

Agility Game called “It’s MY choice!”

The other day we played a game in class called, “It’s MY Choice!”.  It was designed to “mess” with my students heads a little bit, make them think on their feet, and keep things fun and sassy!  The way it worked was I numbered a course and the immediate obstacle after a contact was “my choice”.  In this photo, the jump after the teeter is “my choice”.  I called what they were going to do before the teeter.

Agility Game "It's MY choice"

For example, a tunnel  after a contact could be left side, right side, do it twice, front cross after, skip entirely, etc.  A jump could be backside, rear, front before, blind before, skip entirely, do it twice, etc.  It was fun and made for some quick thinking.  Handlers also had to walk all of these options during their walk through so they could be ready for what I called.  I do think accessing the mental image of the course as we are running in real time is hard for a lot of people.  The practice of memorizing multiple scenarios and executing “on the fly”, made the handlers use their brain in a meaningful way.

Here is the course we ran.  It’s in a small building, I recommend less obstacles for such a small space but I do not own the building.  Luckily you can use any course with contact obstacles!

"It's MY choice" course

Are You Nagging Your Dog?

I have been thinking about dog training lately; specifically about how we communicate with our dogs.
In the basic essence and over simplified philosophy of dog training you are rewarding what you like and ignoring what you don’t like.  Although negative reward markers MIGHT have their place in training occasionally, I do see them being over used.  Things like “eh”, “ah”, “no”, a heavy sigh, slouching of shoulders, blaming the dog for a mistake, etc can turn your dog off from their task.  And corrections certainly have no place in our made up “fun” sport of agility.  Instead, try ignoring what went wrong, or laugh like a silly goose as you say “let’s go try again” in a happy voice!
These two articles (links below) are great at describing how things we do as trainers can shut a dog down.  Nancy Tanner’s article says “Wanting or expecting a behavior from your dog that is perfect, and not allowing it to happen with time and maturity, will in fact shut your dog down.”  And the Dogwood article says “Imagine if every time you raised your hand and tried to answer a question in class your teacher screams at you “NO YOU ARE WRONG”. No matter how many ways or times you tried to answer the question, you were told that you were wrong and never told what the correct answer was.”
Anecdotal evidence from my experience training Bob tells me this is true (my friend Amber was present and can corroborate this story).  Bob is VERY soft, and doesn’t have inherent drive for agility.  When I was teaching his weave poles he started out awesome!  And then we had a session where things went south, I responded in a “eh” sort of way, put too much pressure on him, slouched and sighed, as I tried again and again, and he was done.  It took many sessions to regain what we had.  And I created even more worry for agility in his mind.  I re-experienced this with him training a Frisbee trick just the other day!  I was teaching a backwards circle through my legs.  He didn’t quite get it, and started to worry (I can see it in his eyes and body posture).  I decided to go all the way back to using food and going step by step because Bob was not having fun.  I took my time, NEVER marked anything with a negative, ignored when it went bad, and partied when it went well.  IT TOOK 2 WEEKS!  Which, in my mind is a really long time.  But that is Bob.  And now???? You can’t get him to not to the trick, and he slams through it like it is the funnest thing ever (ouch, my poor knees and calves).  But if I had made those “no” noises, I doubt if we would have gotten the trick to happen.  And we just did our trick in public, Bob was HAPPY to do it, no worries!!
Bob backwards circle through legs

Bob backwards circle through legs

In a Bad Dog Agility Podcast Denise Fenzi used a great example about negative reward markers by describing the of teaching of math to a little kid.  If you are going through the multiplication tables and you get to the sixes and the child starts having a hard time with 6 X 3, do you say “NO that is wrong?” and make them repeat it 5 times?  They probably aren’t going to get it right no matter how many times you do it.  Better to go back to the basics, talk about 6 X 1 and 6 X 2, do the three’s, show a number line using sixes, etc. And praise the child when they are correct, even if it is a small piece.  Those pieces add up over time!  Would you want to work for someone who only told you when you were wrong? Or verbally pointed it out every time you made a mistake?

Try it!  Go run a small sequence, and notice if you are correcting, using “no”, making the dog repeat, slouching, etc.  If you are, try to ignore the things you don’t like, just be quiet and focus on the things that are AWESOME, reward those things!  And then go back and break down the things your dog is struggling with, chances are you were causing the mistake anyway 🙂 so why would you correct or negatively mark something that was your fault?  Agility is a game we play with our dogs.  We are NOT curing cancer.  And no body died.
Here are the two articles:

Hug your dogs!  Run EVERY run like it is your last, because you just never know. 🙂

Agility is Just Dog Training

A while back I posted a question on facebook (I thought it was rhetorical) about dog training and agility.  I got some pretty strange answers.  Been thinking about it ever since…

Using rewards during agility training is very important in order to motivate your dog and to reinforce WHERE you want your dog to be.  I am a dog trainer first and an agility handler second.  All of my agility handling is TRAINED AND REWARDED with my dogs.  I am not a fantastic handler; my dogs are well TRAINED to do what I want them to when cued by my handling.

Agility (as with most dog sports) is based on training a dog to do a behavior.  When in doubt, stop and reward!  I probably reward my dogs too often.  I break sequences up into very small pieces; I reward a tight turn or a nice rear in the middle of a course (even with my Masters level dogs), I jackpot amazing weave pole performances and contacts and start lines and keeping the bars up and running fast and, and, and…….

A reward is defined as “a thing given in recognition of one’s effort”.  Notice that in this definition the reward is “given”, it needs to come from you or be done with you and therefore should be controlled by you!  If the reward is something the dog can just help themselves to (sniffing the ground, running around and doing equipment) then it is not a reward that is coming from the handler.  I have used a “let’s go sniff” reward, where me and my dog get to go to a designated tree and the dog is allowed to sniff there, but it is not a “sniff anywhere you want” sort of behavior, it is a conscientious behavior that my dog and I go do together in a specific spot.  Also, the dog needs to find whatever is being used to reward rewarding.  The dog chooses what is rewarding, not the handler.  To quote Suzanne Clotheir “A reward is always unexpected, unseen and comes after the appropriate behavior or response.” So when doing agility the reward needs to come from the handler after a good effort has been put in by the dog, it needs to be something the dog likes and needs to be done in appropriate timing (quickly) after the dog did the good effort.

You can also use WHERE the reward is placed to reinforce specific behavior.  If I want my dog to turn tight around a jump, I will place the reward on the ground near the wing.  If I want my dog to learn to go away from me, I will signal and toss the reward away.  If I want my dog to learn to finish the weaves no matter what I am doing as a handler, I will toss the toy in the dog’s path as they finish the weaves as I continue to run.  If I want my dog to love the table I will reward ON the table, not after they get off.  The list goes on and on.  WHERE you reward is important!!!! So, it is important to use a reward that your dog likes, that you control, and is easily placed where you want it.

Using a reward when training your dog allows you to control where, when and how much/how long the reward happens.  Agility is just training your dog A LOT of behaviors and then chaining them all together!  Frequently reinforcing those behaviors, in the correct location, with rewards will help your dog understand each piece so that when you string the behaviors together you get ROCK SOLID performances!

There is NO Magic Pill

Border Collie

I had an interesting week to reflect on and think about dog training and its trials and tribulations.  I know that as humans we are very “I want it now”, oriented towards instant gratification with no impulse control. There is no potion, juice or magic pill that will fix a dog’s behavior problems (for the dog OR the owner).  I am NOT a pet behaviorist.  All I can do is try to identify the problem in a situation and suggest ways for the handler to reinforce the dog for doing something different and better.

“My dog barks all the time, how can I make him be quiet?”  My new response: “How would you make a crying baby be quiet?”  First of all, you wouldn’t MAKE the baby do anything, so why do we want to make our dogs do something?  Second, WHY is the baby crying (dog barking)?  Are all needs being met?  Is there too much commotion in the house?  An incompatible behavior to barking is chewing on a (fill in the blank with whatever your dog likes).  Maybe even have your dog chewing in a crate.  MANAGE the behavior.  Your dog barks when they see children walking to school at 8:15 AM.  Sounds like the perfect time to do some 1 on 1 training, play fetch in the back yard, or chew in a crate.  Your dog barks when your grandkids come to visit after school at 4:00 PM.  Chew in crate!  I wonder if you provided your dog with a chew at 3:55 PM EVERY day in their crate if your dog would eventually meet you at the crate door at 3:54 PM with a demanding “I want my chew” look?  I think so.  Dogs are predictable and they like consistency.  That is why they are easy to train.

“My dog doesn’t like all the dogs in my house, how can I make them get along?” Some dogs don’t like other dogs.  It sucks.  I’m sorry.  Some people don’t like certain people.  Can you force your dog to like the other dogs?  Or is it better to manage their behavior?  People have thumbs.  Use them.  Doors, crates, gates, etc. all work well with thumbs.  Use them.

There is no 30 minute Cesar Milan solution to the issues your dog has.  There are no magic potions or pills or collars or whatever.  You need to reinforce the behavior you like and find other behaviors to take over the ones you do not like.  And manage your dog.

“My dog doesn’t want to go in the pool, how do I teach them to swim?”  A lot of people would just throw their dog in.  Would you throw your child that is afraid of heights off a cliff?  Would that experience make them unafraid of cliffs?

“My dog breaks their start line.” Have you broken down the behavior and trained it from the bottom up?  Have you rewarded it 1000+ times? Have you taken it on the road to proof and generalize it?  Have you set clear criteria and stuck to it?

“My dog has problems jumping.”  How did you train jumping?  Oh you didn’t???????  80% of all agility courses are jumps.  Just sayin’.

The list goes on but I will stop.

I give a lot of homework in my classes because I believe in dog training.  It is your choice to not do your homework.  It will be reflected in your dog and your dog’s behavior(s).  I will not change my behavior and stop giving homework because people are lazy and complain, or don’t do it, or laugh about it.  I know that rewarding your dog for the behaviors that you like will make you and your dog better at whatever it is you are trying to do.  Period.  There are people out there that will take your money to “train” your dog with short cuts and force.  Let me know how that goes for you.  And now I must go drink some magic juice…..

Crate To Crate

This blog post is part of Agility Nerd Steve’s Dog Agility Blog Action Day on the topic of Outside The Ring.

Your agility run starts the moment you take your dog out of their crate and ends when you put them back in. The entire time in between can affect your mood, your dogs attitude, your teamwork with your dog and in turn can affect your run.

Every dog is different, what you do with one of your dogs will differ from what you do with your other dog which will differ from what your friend does with their dog.  Experiment and find a routine that works and then stick to it.

Some things to think about when you open the crate before you run:

Are you organized? Get all your treats, poop bag, toy, etc ready before you get your dog out.

Are you warmed up? Do your stretching and jogging in place without your dog sniffing around on the end of the leash.

How much time do you need with your dog before your run? I always measure this in terms of dogs in the run order.  One of my dogs need to get out 10 dogs before their run and one of them only needs 5 dogs or so (give or take depending on JWW vs STD vs snooker). Sitting around and waiting is the kiss of death for some dogs, while other dogs need those moments to get connected and warmed up.

What do you do ringside? I teach my dogs a mat behavior on a chair and take the chair ringside while we wait for our run.  This is a great way to keep your ADD dog focused on hanging out instead of scanning the environment. I know some people who let the gate steward know they qare going to be waiting for their run “over there” out of the excited atmosphere.  There are many different ways to use your time before you enter the ring, get creative and find something that works. Watching runs with a dog sniffing at the end of their leash is not my idea of good ringside protocol.

If our agility “pre-game” procedure is important, the post-run procedure is even more important. Yet this is when I see the most disconnect between dogs and handlers. You just finished your best run ever, do you turn to look at the timer display? Or meet your dog at their leash for some joyful praise and play?

Some ideas to improve your relationship with your dog after your run:

Go straight to your reward and reinforcement. DO NOT check your scribe sheet, or ask about a missed contact, or question someone about why your dog did so and so. Reward your dog! Celebrate that time together! Congratulate you and your dog on acheving something positive (every run has something).  Those handlers who are mad that their dog “fill in the blank”, and do not reward, withhold praise and walk their dog back to their crate are only undermining relationship. The mistake happened so long ago (you probably kept going after the mistake, the dog finished the course and has no idea something went wrong) that withholding reinforcement only leads to confusion on the dogs part. Reinforce your dog for finishing the run with you, going to their leash, leaving the ring happy, doing their cool down, being your dog, etc.

Is cool down important? Cool down and stretching are important for me after I work out, it isn’t any different for our canine partners. Again, every dog is different and may take longer to stop breathing hard, or need specific stretching activities.  Go for a long slow walk, have a sniff in the bushes, do some passive or active stretches or another activity that allows you and your dog to come down off of the excitement together.

When your dog is cooled off, put them back in their crate with something to chew. This will give them time to relax and recharge for the next run. Most dogs do well in their crates and are able to get more rest than wandering around with you shopping, talking or watching ringside.

Be creative and make your crate to crate experience custom tailored to you and your dogs needs. Some handlers run 2 dogs close together in the same jump height; you might need a good buddy and an even more creative plan! All of us and our dogs have different needs, just make sure your crate to crate protocol puts your dogs needs first and includes rewards and attention to maximize the relationship and teamwork between you and your dog.

peep kiss

Train Like You Show, Show Like You Train

When I first started doing agility, a local instructor told me “train like you show, show like you train”.  Take that mantra and apply it to everything you do to prepare yourself and your dog for your agility career.  Because dogs don’t generalize, the more you can recreate that trial environment when you train, the better prepared you will be when you step into the ring.  There are many things you can do to train smarter for agility trials.

Of the three main agility venues, only AKC allows collars, and that collar can’t have hanging tags.  Train in the collar you are going to show in, train with the leash you are going to show with.  Go the line of your handling sequence in agility class with that leash on and go through the process of taking it off and throwing it off to the side.  Trust me, those steps affect some dogs!  I have seen dogs take off after their leash, it’s a toy right? (except in NADAC, no tugging on the leash allowed, have you practiced that??)  I have also seen the handler project stress to the dog as they remove the leash because they are not used to grappling with a slip lead, handler gets in a hurry, dog gets stressed, not a good situation at the start line.  And speaking of leashes, have you practiced putting it on after the run?  Some dogs need to practice the ritual of coming to the handler, getting caught and having the leash put on.  Don’t lose that first Q because your dog runs out of the ring (in AKC) or grabs the leash and has a big tug fest (NADAC).  I know handlers who have taught their dogs to target the leash, to keep an over aroused dog from jumping up and taking them out with excitement (can’t do this in NADAC).

In a typical AKC or USDAA course there are approximately 15 – 17 obstacles per a 100 by 100 square foot area (give or take).  That’s an average of 16 obstacles per 10,000 square feet.  How big is your training facility?  If you are training in a 60 by 60 square foot facility, you should be using 6 obstacles or so.  There should be a distance of 15 – 18 ft (AKC) to 20 ft (USDAA) between obstacles (possibly more for NADAC or USDAA snooker).  More obstacles does not equal a better training situation.  Cramming too many obstacles into too small of a space does not replicate the trial experience and is potentially unsafe. Off course options should be a minimum of 13 ft (AKC) away.  That includes the dog walk legs, side of the chute, etc.  Setting up a short, meaningful handling sequence that allows for reinforcement when the dog is correct makes way better “train like you show, show like you train” sense.  If obstacles are crammed into a too small space, dogs don’t get a chance to open up and make choices based on handler movement.  You may find that when you go to a trial, you can’t get to where you need to go and your dog is busy taking the next obstacle in their path instead of paying attention to the handler.

On the topic of obstacles, look around at your training facility, do the jumps have wings? Fifty percent of an AKC course and the majority of an USDAA course must have wings.  If you do NADAC, none of the jumps have wings.  It makes a difference, visually to both the handler and the dog to run a course of winged jumps vs non-winged jumps.  Set the course to mimic what you are going to trial on.  Are the contacts at your training facility slatted?  Rubberized?  AKC and USDAA have a slatted a-frame and dog walk, NADAC is slat-less.  Have you looked at the surface of the contacts you train on?  Although I am not a fan of slats, it does affect a dog to do a slat-less dog walk when they are used to a slatted dog walk, some dogs get confused and think it is the teeter (the teeter is the only slat-less contact obstacle in AKC and USDAA).  Also, be aware that the length of the yellow contact zone is different in AKC and USDAA for both the dog walk and the teeter.

Reinforcing and rewarding behaviors is a key part of dog training but can’t be done in the agility ring. It is important to fade rewards in preparation for trials.  Leave the food hidden somewhere and run to it after a successful sequence.  Have a friend hold and throw a toy.  Stop rewarding every contact (don’t want to go through an extinction behavior on the dog walk because suddenly you are not rewarding the 2O/2O), use verbal praise, change the number of obstacles you do before reward (don’t just do more and more, jump around from 2 to 6 to 3 to 14, etc).  Verbal markers are allowed in the agility ring, you take your voice into the ring with you, so if you have been training with a clicker, consider switching to ‘yes’ as your marker.  You can mark contacts, weaves, tight turns, etc on the agility course.

I could go on and on with different scenarios.  Dogs don’t generalize!  You need to teach them to handle the environment they will encounter in a trial situation.  Have you had a judge stand in the ring while you train?  The judge will RUN next to the dog walk in USDAA, in FAST, Snooker and Gamblers the judge is calling out numbers, and don’t forget the leash runner, pole setters and other ring crew.  At some big venues, music is played while you walk the course, the crowd might cheer very loudly, and people might be standing ringside or reaching over the ring barrier.  The more situations you can expose your dog to as you are training, the more situations they will be able to handle as you are trialing.  Be smart!  “Train like you show, show like you train!”


Human nature vs dog training

As I continue to help people with their dogs, I do believe, as humans, we tend to LUMP and SKIP steps that our dogs are not ready to LUMP or SKIP.

The Dr. Karen Overall Relaxation Protocol is an awesome tool to help your dog deal with stressful and stimulating situations.

This “mat” behavior, as we call it, needs to be proofed beyond all doubts.  Generalized, tested, etc.  AND THEN YOU NEED TO USE IT!  Please do not show up to any class, trial, training, etc without your mat.  It is a tool.  Your dog may need it for the rest of their life.  And just when you think your dog “gets it”, they don’t.  You need to proof more.  You need to take it to a trial and see if your dog can do it within sight of the ring.  You need to take it to class and use it instead of your start line, or as an obstacle.  You need to take it to a busy, crowded area.  You need to throw treats and toys around it.  You need to do it at night, during the day, in the rain, and in the sun.  And you need to do it with other dogs or kids or people working near it. And, and, and.

IF and WHEN you find that your dog is not coping or functioning you have over stepped your training.  WE want to do agility.  BUT what if our dogs aren’t ready?  What is the point of being able to do 20 obstacles if your dog can’t function around other dogs or people??????  Is it better to train more agility at that point?  Work handling?  Or help your dog cope with different situations?  I say that it is better to help your dog cope.  Deal with stress.  IT DOES NOT MATTER HOW FAST YOUR DOG IS OR HOW AWESOME YOUR HANDLING IS if your dog can’t function around other dogs, or step to the start line and stay focused.

Anecdote: I paid for and attended multiple sessions of an obedience class with Hunda when I lived in Little Rock, CA.  The class cost was $20 per class for 1 session of 10 classes ($200 total) and was 1 hour away in Lancaster.  I did multiple sessions.  Hunda couldn’t function inside the fenced portion of the class.  I think we went inside once or twice.  Mostly we did short behavior chains outside of sight of the ring.  He was so overly stimulated that we couldn’t go near the other dogs.  I worked and worked and worked, and some days he was ready to go near the gate, loose leash waking all the way (don’t think your instructor doesn’t notice when clients let their dogs pull  😦 this is a VERY sad comment on our dog training skills and your relationship with your dog), and if Hunda could let me open the gate and step inside without spazzing out we would go in, do a behavior and leave.  That’s it.  Very rarely we actually worked on LLW or something more complicated within the ring.  He just couldn’t do it.  BUT it really helped him with self control and stress.  And I learned to recognize when he could and couldn’t work.  And I took that with me to the agility ring.  If Hunda could bark on command and do a trick on the start line I had a dog, if he couldn’t he was too stressed and we would leave the ring.  And even if he did bark on command and do a trick, we would do 2 – 3 obstacles and leave having fun, being happy, focused on me and not stressed and visiting the ring help or judge.  It was very $$$$$$$$$$$$ and worth every penny to do 6 months of trials without actually running a full course.  My first actual Q with Hunda, as well as his Novice titles, mean WAAAAAYYYY more to me than going to South Africa with Ho because I had to work so hard for them!

So sit back and think about your goals with your dogs.  And keep their stress and your relationship in mind when you start choosing agility over calmness, agility over relaxation, agility over teamwork, etc.  Which is more important?  Agility or your relationship with your dog?  The sad part is, I am seeing A LOT of clients choose agility  because agility is fun for the human and dog training is hard.

I leave you with some quotes:

Someone once said to me, “It doesn’t matter how fast your dog is if your dog drops a bar”

I say, “It doesn’t matter how fast your dog is if you can’t function at an agility trial, do a start line stay, etc”

I love my Hunda Looney Tunes, he teaches me soooo much!  Our teamwork together has taken us many places!  Granted, my goals with him (like the AKC Invitational) had to CHANGE significantly as our training progressed (he will never be able to attend due to running in Performance at 8″) BUT that first agility title hangs on my wall, right next to our CD title, HUGE accomplishments that we both worked very hard for.  And this year, Hunda placed 3rd in JWW at Westminster! You never know where your dog training journey will take you (and that’s why my business is called Journey Agility)!!!  Hunda just turned 7, Happy Birthday Looney Tunes and here’s to many more journey’s together!Hunda snuggleHunda bdayHunda titles