FUn. Because whether you win or lose, you still have to drive home.

by: ffluffy

for: Dog Agility Blog Action Day

Do we do dog sports because they are inherently fun?  Or for some other reason?  Fun (when used as a noun) is defined by the Oxford dictionary as – enjoyment, amusement, or lighthearted pleasure.  I am not sure I would describe the average dog sport venue in this way.  A better way to explain what is going on is to say dog sport X is a journey.  Journey (when used as a noun) can defined by the Oxford dictionary as – a long and often difficult process of personal change and development.

Dog training for me is inherently fun but competitions are another matter.  I feel the need to compete; I’m not sure I do it because it is fun.  And that might be a bad thing.  Am I searching for something that is lacking in my life when I step to the line?  Could I walk away from competitions and just do the training that I enjoy so much?  If there were no titles, would we still compete with our dogs?  I would, I think that would actually make dog sports better; competition for the sake of competition.

Competition should be about practicing what you know, learning about things you need to know, and teamwork with your dog. That might be fun; but it also might be a a long and  difficult process.

Getting in the car to drive home after a competition where you almost made the podium or exploded miserably is not fun. Getting in the car to drive home after winning definitely feels different. But in each case you still have to drive home.  And you better be ok with the process that got you there: the practice, the learning, the teamwork, the endeavor, THE JOURNEY.

Think about this – the first two letters of FUn are also an abbreviation for a common slang term that can be found in Urban Dictionary.  Journey on the other hand is a good, clean, G rated word that helps me get from here to there and keeps me company on the long drive home.

It's the Journey

It’s the Journey

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