Don’t worry, this is not some rant about how crazy we can be, throwing ourselves and or lives into this crazy sport we call dog agility.  This post is about dog agility training and the importance of keeping in your mind a clear goal or end result for all the time we spend training our dogs.  There are so many different theories, ideas and schools of thought on agility training these days that it is difficult to decide what to train that next puppy and more importantly how to train it.  There is a lot more emphasis put on “foundation training” before obstacles, lots of words like “relationship”, “motivation”, “desire”, “control”, “value” etc.  There are so many skill sets and behaviors you could teach a puppy as part of your “foundation training” that it is easy to lose site of the bigger picture.  Summit is the first puppy I have focussed on training a foundation and a set of skills separate from the equipment, this is mostly due to all the time I have spent at Say Yes learning about the science of animal training and the foundation program they have created.  In my mind what I am aiming for when I am raising Summit is a fast, athletic, agile dog who can get around the course faster than any other dog out there.  Of course I want him to be able to do this safely and easily so that he will be able to run agility and be a normal dog for a long, long time.  I also of course want that good family pet at home so that living with 5 dogs does not drive me over the edge.  Accomplishing this goal may include training fast, independent obstacle performance, a great jumper, and a dog who responds to my body and handling with ease, but most importantly a dog who enjoys playing and chooses to work with me over anything else.  There are always many different ways of obtaining any goal, I am training Summit the best way I know how using what I have learned through the Say Yes program, what my four other dogs have taught me and everything I have learned from teaching classes and instructing seminars to many, many different types of dogs and trainers.

I am assuming for anyone who want to be competitive in the sport their goal for a new puppy would be something similar to mine, the sport is about speed while maintaining accuracy and consistency.  I challenge everyone out there to evaluate all the time they spend training their dogs and ask themselves if the skills they spend time teaching are leading them to their final goal or if you have somehow found yourself stuck on some  useless tangent.  Let me digress, not too long ago I really had a good laugh at myself, I was so proud of Preston’s see saw performance after his first season of trialing.   It was my first time training a nose target for the end behavior and I had trained the many, many layers of understanding to create that all important nose touch at the end of the contact.  It took me about 4 months and then anther 2 months trying to fix issues (foot movement, freezing rather than touching, coming off straight, etc.)  I maintained criteria (almost always) for his first season and although the behavior did change a little I still had it at the end of his first season which is not always an easy feat.  When timing obstacle performance a while back I compared the contact and weave times for all my dogs and lo and behold Preston’s see saw performance with its perfect nose target was the slowest performance of all my dogs!  Yet I was so happy and impressed with all my hard work and dedication, how funny is that!  I got so caught up in the challenge of training this new behavior that I lost sight of what really mattered…speed!

It seems silly and far too simple to screw up but I see it so often when teaching.  Do you really think that spending time training body awareness is that beneficial to a dog that rarely breaks a trot round the course?  Or how about the dogs with the perfect, proofed start lines, I mean you can throw toys, food, run past, leave the room, yet the dog does not care to LEAVE the start line to play the game?  And all those dogs who have zero speed and motivation around the course yet when the handler is done the drill says “get in yer kennel!” and all of a sudden the dog flies back into the crate?  Or how about the dog that has been trained to stay in their crate with the door open for the entirety of a class yet the dog would prefer to never come out?    I think you get what I’m saying.  There are many, many skills that are beneficial for training an agility dog but try not to lose sight of the end goal which generally centers around the word “speed” and in order to gain speed you need “motivation”.  So before you think about training any specific skill to your agility dog, ask yourself what it is that will lead you to the end result you are looking for.

In regards to Preston’s see saw, don’t get me wrong, his lack of speed over the contact has nothing to do with the method itself, rather the way I trained it. Rather then being so concerned with perfection I should have been focusing on desire, fun and speed so that he wanted nothing more than to get to the end of that contact…lesson learned, Preston’s loss is Summit’s gain 🙂

Happy Training!

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A very busy month!

October 9, 2009

We have had a busy month, starting with the trip to Austria for the world championships then flying out to Vernon, BC for a week of seminars, then directly to Moncton, NB for another 4 days of teaching and finally back home to starting my very own classes at a new arena.  In the middle of all of that I have been attempting to raise and train my now 4 1/2 month old puppy Summit.

Worlds was fun, I was happy with the way Riot was running and although I wanted to do better over all we had many good moments.  I will definitely need to work more on Riot’s ground speed if we want any chance against all those medium border collies.  Vernon was fun, got to catch up with friends and met lots of nice new people.  Summit got to go swimming at the lake and be a demo dog for the foundation workshops.  Moncton was as always a great trip, this years groups have many great people and lots of talented dogs.  The puppy group was a blast with 13 puppies in the group, it will be tonnes of fun to see each team progress each month.  Although I hate leaving the older dogs at home the trips were great to get Summit into many new environments and meet lots of new people and dogs.

Summit is now 4 1/2 months and yes, he is still perfect 🙂  He is such a confident, happy puppy and is always so much fun to work with.  Training him has taught me so much about high drive dogs and motivation.  I have been trying to build more strength in all of my other dogs weaknesses:

-I have put way more effort into building value for tugging and just playing with me before building any new behaviors

-more focus on creating desire and drive in control positions rather than just proofing distractions

-We have made sure we have built equal drive and speed on recalls when I am standing still as when I run

-not barking EVER!

-if we work on shaping any behavior with food I have been very picky about keeping the desire in each behavior I teach him

-lots more jump grids!

We don’t know a whole lot more than what we posted last time, we do know how to swim and have been doing lots of socializing with other people and puppies.  Because I have been so busy we havn’t started too many new things, but we have been building a stronger understanding with all the foundation games:

start line: he can hold a sit, stand and down without any paw movement throughout any distraction – throwing toy behind, running past him, running circles around him, kicking soccer ball, dogs recalled past.  Just need to wok on dogs tugging and retrieving past him, then in front of equipment.

circle work – working on proofing handling manouvers with the toy ahead as a distraction.  We have been running circles around toys and using the table as a distraction.

recalls- calling off people feeding him, tugging with him, while running to a toy, while eating supper, while chasing the shelties, while playing with other puppies…no problem!

Tugging – can tug on a low value toy while I play with and tease with his favorite.  Can tug while shelties run circles around him and retrieve a ball, can tug with cookies practically up his nose, while fast dogs do tunnels, while children are near, while preston is tugging on another toy beside him (thats a tough one!  While I grab the collar, blow in his face, pick him up and shake him upside down 🙂

Crate games – have been working on staying in crate while I send Chase and Bounder over equipment

Walking on a leash – gentle leader is being faded, occationally we have to put it back on but he is very good.  We get lots of practice up and down the aisles of the pet store now that the snow is here

Body awarness – I was holding off on too much shaping in order to balance control with more craziness but we know the balance disks, perch faded, lift back legs, bow, yoga…

Sleeping – I have seen him sleep! Just once….

Sum 4.5 months