Agility is Fun – Right?Agility, Obedience, Tracking
Agility is always assumed to be fun for the dog. Why, then, do we see some dogs who started out well and then seem to slow down, avoid situations (think: sniffing) or stress up (think: zoomies). Some dogs when they first enter a big agility ring will run all over exploring and romping around. This is not bad or unusual, but the dog who constantly leaves and runs all over because they would rather avoid the handler and the course is not having fun. I have seen some dogs sniff through the entire course painfully trying to avoid the handler who insists on pressuring them to complete the course while giving what they consider to be “cheerful” commands to keep the dog moving.
In order to enjoy running an agility course, dogs need to understand the information we are attempting to give them. If they cannot understand our information they will make mistakes on course or decide to leave because they don’t know what we want from them. When we fail to communicate successfully, our stress level goes up and sometimes we try too hard or become overzealous in our attempts to make the dog happy.
So, how do we fix this? First, work on your basic skills with your dog: run with me, run away from me, come to me; pay attention to your body language as you work on these skills with your dog. Practice brilliant name recognition. The fastest way to turn your dog is to use your dog’s name. Practice the cues you will use to pick up your dog, to turn your dog and to send your dog. Be consistent with your cues. Support the work of beginner dogs; do not just assume they will take a tunnel or a jump. A little support and praise from you can go a long way to build confidence. Use a reward system the dog clearly understands and reward often. Have a plan in practice before you start – define your goals and what and when you will reward. Don’t just start and then realize things are not going well. Work on short sequences and communication with your dog until these are strong and your dog is confident and willing to work. Gradually chain sequences together -building you and your dog’s mental stamina.
When you feel you have strong skills and a confident dog, you can begin to introduce distractions. Your dog should learn that working with you will pay very well and distractions never pay.
Use your training to build a proud and confident dog, not one who merely tolerates the activity. Work to create a dog with a joyful attitude towards the task – one who says, “hey, I like this, let’s do more!”
Work to build confidence through patience, consistency and having your dog succeed.
Carolyn Fuhrer has earned over 90 AKC titles with her Golden Retrievers, including 2 Champion Tracker titles. Carolyn is the owner of North Star Dog Training School in Somerville, Maine. She has been teaching people to understand their dogs for over 25 years. You can contact her with questions, suggestions and ideas for her column by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.