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!