Losing Sight of What Matters…

October 19, 2009

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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2 Responses to “Losing Sight of What Matters…”

  1. Katie said

    Thanks for keeping me thinking Justine! I’ll write down my ultimate goals and try to make sure they are part of our regular practices. Our is definitely the motivation issue…

  2. Jo said

    Thank you! I think that was exactly what i needed to hear for my next weeks of training 🙂

    /Johanna & aussie Rally (Sweden, we met at klickerklok this summer and I’ve been checking your blog from time to time since)

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