Goals vs Life

I am mightily trying to revamp my agility goals.  The biggest question that pops into my mind is how agility fits into my life mission.  Agility is important to me, but it can’t be as important as the bigger things in life: people, relationships, connections, teaching, learning, sharing, and compassion.  The problem is that when I start thinking about how to fit agility competitions into the bigger life mission thing and it’s like smashing a square peg into a round hole.

The scenario that keeps coming back to me is Grand Prix semi-finals at Cynosports last year.  I had the run of my life with my little dog and knocked the last bar; it doesn’t change the connection that my dog and I had on the course, the subconscious movements, the lines, the teamwork or the energy that was expended.  But the bar does mean that no placement happened on paper.  I want to feel proud about that run, but since there wasn’t a placement there is some incongruity to the whole predicament.  If I just want to feel connection and teamwork I can do that on the training field.  So why compete?  The mental torture playing that run over and over again in my mind was certainly a bad way to spend my time.  Yet, in reality that run was fucking awesome; best run ever!  And if you can feel that it was the best run ever even with the bar, what is the point of going up against others?  Why go to competitions if failure is acceptable?  At an agility trial am I trying to prove something?  Satisfy my ego?  Fill my time?  Competing at agility shows don’t meet my life mission to help people and have compassion for myself and others.  It costs a lot of money and takes a large expenditure of time and energy.  I am exploring these ideas.  Is there a way to go to competitions and enjoy my time there?  Reward myself for the awesome but not quite perfect runs?  Can I fit my life mission into trialing by whittling the corners down on the square peg?  

The absolute best thing about all of this is that my dog doesn’t care one iota about what I decide.  He is happy just to do stuff with me, he could care less what it is.  I am so thankful to have a training partner that brings 110% to everything we do together.  I want to honor that commitment.  I want to satisfy my goals without stepping on my bigger ideals.  I want to have my cake and eat it too.peep kiss

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

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