Daisy Peel
Daisy Peel

Author Archives: Daisy Peel

Daisy has been on the forefront of the trend of online agility education, and her Online Classroom is one of the leading sources for those seeking to improve the quality of their participation in the sport from afar. Her instruction, whether online or in person, is widely sought after as some of the best instruction available for those at any level, with any type of dog.

The 3 Biggest Agility Mistakes People Make

Today I want to share with you the three BIGGEST mistakes I’ve made in my own agility journey – mistakes you absolutely have to avoid if you want to succeed with your dog in our sport!

I’ve helped thousands of agility handlers over the years, and I’ve noticed the same three mistakes crop up again and again. The best thing you can do now is to save yourself from frustration and heartache by learning from the past mistakes of OTHER agility handlers, including me! Don’t repeat these mistakes – save yourself a ton of pain and frustration! Read on to learn what those three big mistakes are!

MISTAKE #1: Skipping over ‘obedience’ training for agility training

When I first started agility, I didn’t know what I didn’t know! And, foundation training was something that wasn’t really talked about much, and when it was, it was stuff like “you need to make sure you do some obedience first” or “you need to have basic manners first” – and of course, my reaction was that that sounded really boring and lame and I didn’t want to do obedience, darn it, I wanted to do agility!

Well, I’m here to tell you, if your dog can’t walk nicely at your side, there’s just no way your dog will be able to RUN nicely beside you on an agility course! You may be thinking “but my dog is way faster than me and I’m gonna need distance skills.” Well, the same logic applies. When I say your dog needs to be able to run nicely ‘beside’ you on an agility course, that could mean three feet away, or thirty feet away.

When we’re on course with our dogs, regardless of how much space is between us, we need them to decelerate (slow down) when we slow down. We need them to accelerate (speed up) when we speed up. We need them to move toward us when we move away from them, and we need them to move away from us when we start to move IN to them. They need to be able to move in a circle when they’re on the outside, AND when they’re on the inside!

They need to know ALL of that before they are asked to do ANY of it in a super exciting agility environment. They need to know ALL of that before they’re even introduced to a single agility obstacle! One of my biggest mistakes with my earliest dogs, including Solar, who was on the World Team MULTIPLE times, was not paying enough attention to this idea – both at the beginning of our training AND as an ongoing part of our training!

Now I recognize the importance of all of that flatwork, and the coolest thing is that simple stuff like heelwork, inside circles and outside circles, speeding up, slowing down, moving away laterally, etc. – is stuff that requires virtually no space at all, requires no equipment, can be played around with any time, and now that I recognize how IMPORTANT it is, it’s FUN.

MISTAKE #2: Skipping over foundation training to get to the ‘sexy stuff’

As with mistake #1, I can attest to having made this mistake with my own dogs. Many many MANY novice handlers don’t recognize the importance of foundation training until their second, third, or even fourth agility dog or beyond! Running full courses is fun, and a thrill, and it’s something that all of us are looking forward to doing with our dogs at some point! When you’re a novice, or maybe before  you even start agility with your dog, you see others DOING agility and think “man, it looks so easy, I want to do THAT with my dog!” – many of us have been told about our energetic young dogs that they’d be ‘great at agility’ – based on their ability to counter surf, jump fences, etc. And so, we dive in, with the goal of getting on a course ASAP!

I was that way too, when I started. Waaaay back in 1998, with Fly, my first competitive agility dog, I was so hot to trot that I just dove in headfirst to the deep end of the pool. Jump training? I’m not even sure I knew about it at the time, and if I had, it would have looked so tedious and boring that I doubt I’d have seen the value in it. Give me agility courses!! I wanna RUNNNNN! Contact training? Who needs to ‘proof’ contacts, and what does that even mean? Faster is better, why would I STOP? Isn’t proofing something you do with bread dough?!

Well, Fly sure could have used jump training. Many a time I would be stuck with “well, he had the fastest time, I guess” when we would have a great run with a dropped bar. Getting our ADCH in USDAA and our MACH in AKC took a lot of trips in to the ring because of so many knocked bars. It was hard on his body, too – not having a solid jump training foundation meant he was more often than not throwing his body around haphazardly, instead of moving with skill and fluidity. We had a lot of will – not as much the skill!

And contact training? Oh man. “But he stops at home” was my mantra. Uh huh. Sure. I got those contacts passable and went in to the ring ASAP. As a consequence, I always had to hover over those contacts to make sure he was ‘in’. I had to be close, almost facing him, to keep him from flying off the seesaw. One time, a judge gave us a refusal for something on course, and when I asked later, she said Fly had stopped after coming off a contact. I had to laugh out loud. That dog NEVER stopped on course, and certainly never on a contact – and yes, he was ‘trained’ to stop on the contacts!

Fly was the first dog I ever went to USDAA or AKC Nationals with, and let me tell you, when just trying to run clean at a local show takes all your effort, it’s not better at Nationals! I had to babysit bars, and babysit contacts, and babysit…well, pretty much everything.

In the beginning, it can be tough to see the trees for the forest – a lot of the time foundation training doesn’t seem sexy, and it doesn’t seem fun, and it doesn’t LOOK like real agility. But, take it from me, if you want to GET to the sexy stuff (and look smooth doing it), don’t skip over foundation training! Nowadays, I know from experience that if I spend 90% of my time on foundation, instead of on running courses, when I DO run courses, my dogs and I are a lot more likely to enjoy the smooth and connected teamwork that translates to success on a course!

MISTAKE #3: Not making it worthwhile for your dog to play the game with you

Regardless of the breed of dog you’re training, assuming that your dog will just learn to love the game on his own is a mistake – and it’s a mistake that can be easy to make, and here’s why.

When you see a skilled handler at a competition, they’re making it look easy. Their dog looks effortlessly focused on them, watching their every move. The handler isn’t begging the dog for attention. They’re not jumping around or dancing like a crazy person or making crazy noises. So, the easy assumption to make is that without ANY effort, their dog just LOVES the game.

That is SO not true. Just because you don’t SEE that top handler putting in a lot of visible effort to help their dog love the game at a competition doesn’t mean that they haven’t already PUT in a MOUNTAIN of effort. When you me at a competition, for example, I’m pretty chill. I don’t spend a lot of time amping my dogs up. I might be moving around to make sure we’re getting warmed up physically, but I’m not trying to get my dogs MORE excited, in general.

  • This is because for MONTHS prior to our first steps in a ring together, I’ve been spending time behind the scenes doing all of that stuff you DON’T see at the show, like:
  • Running around my arena screaming like a wounded ground squirrel to make sure my dogs LOVE chasing me (this involves a lot of sweating and sore throats!)
  • Playing all kinds of structured and unstructured games with and without toys to make sure my dogs LOVE playing with me with toys
  • Teaching my dogs to play with toys even if they prefer food
  • Teaching my dogs to play with me without toys at all!
  • Doing thousands and thousands and thousands of recalls that end in tasty treats, lots of affection, a fun game of toy play, or anything else my dog really loves
  • Learning what my dogs’ likes and dislikes are – making lists, ranking treats according to value, ranking toys according to value, and working to equalize all those treats and toys as much as possible, so that even the most uninteresting treats and toys can be MADE interesting by me
  • Breaking down behaviors in to tiny rewardable bits so that my dogs’ rate of reinforcement is always high
  • Working on cognitive skills games to ensure that my dogs have a love of learning and problem solving
  • I don’t like calling all of that stuff ‘work’ – work is something you do for a paycheck. BUT, it does require EFFORT. It’s an effort, a labor of love, to get a dog to love the game so much that when we get to a competition I can ‘coast’ a bit on the effort I’ve already put in to motivation and relationship building, so that I can focus on all of the other things that require my focus and attention. Stuff like course memorization, strategy, and oh of course the actual EXECUTION of all my plans on course!

This can be a big problem because we don’t SEE all the behind-the-scenes work a handler may have put in behind the scenes to develop their dog’s love of the sport. But I assure you, even if I have a puppy with a world class pedigree, who comes from a family of high performing dogs, I’m STILL going to put in a TON of effort to help my dog love, love, love the game, and that effort is messy, and sweaty, and silly. It involves a lot of rolling around on the ground, silly noises, and there’s no room for pride that might keep me from doing any of that silly stuff!

I have seen people commit these mistakes over and over again…and the first step to improving your agility game is to be aware of what you’re doing and make a commitment to move forward.

You may be thinking now: “OMG, your’e right, I need help to avoid these mistakes!”

First of all, this blog post is a great starting point because you’ll learn proven tips that will save you a lot of frustration as you work toward your goals with your current agility dog.

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For those of you that want something more, let me take a moment to quickly tell you about The Agility Challenge – it’s an online program that I’ve used to help thousands of agility handlers over the past three years. Not only do I provide content every month that will help you address all of the three mistakes above, I provide FEEDBACK on your efforts that will help you continue with your handling and training well beyond the above fundamentals. The Agility Challenge includes content for all stages of your training – from motivation and relationship games all the way through international level handling challenges! BUT, it all starts with a solid foundation, and of course a solid foundation relies on constant attention being paid to keeping those fundamentals strong!

Click here to learn more about The Agility Challenge

Thank you for reading this email, and for reading that quick introduction about The Agility Challenge! I really appreciate it.

That’s all for today! I hope you enjoyed learning about the three mistakes above will help you on your agility journey with your dog!

Training In Ten Minutes, Episode #9 – Tricks For Agility

If you’re one of those people who, while at work all day, dreams about what you will do with your dogs when you get home, only to find that the time you had slips away from you between chores, children, spouses, and the other little necessities of life, then you’re not alone! In this series of articles, following the Bob Bailey motto of “Think, Plan, Do”, I’ll outline plans for skills that you can train in ten minutes or less, so that you can find the time you didn’t think you had to train your dogs!

In this episode of the 10-Minute Trainer, I’m going share some tricks that I use for keeping my dog engaged while waiting for my turn to go in to the ring at a competition. I find that it can be very helpful in this situation to have at least a handful of tricks that meet the following criteria:

  • Tricks that don’t require props (other than your leash, perhaps), or much space
  • Tricks that keep the dog looking at you, but don’t require you to look at your dog.

Obviously, I don’t want to have to take lots of props to the collecting area with me to keep my dog engaged, although I know I’ll have a leash, so that prop is alright! And, the reason I want to have at least some behaviors that don’t require me to look at my dog is that I need to be able to look around while we’re waiting – either to see where we are in the line of dogs waiting to go in to the ring, to see if anything has changed in the ring since I walked the course, or to be able to make sure that things are safe around my dog and me. I also like tricks that help keep my dog’s muscles warmed up while we’re waiting for our turn.

I like to have 5-10 tricks that I can cycle through while my dog and I are waiting for our turn, so that neither of us gets bored. Tugging on a tug toy ringside can be a rewarding game for many dogs, but for some, it can be too arousing, or even unsafe, if the collecting area is filled with highly aroused dogs. And, as is the case with one of my dogs, Juno, tugging may be an activity that your dog does not want to engage in “in public”, due to being over aroused, or not feeling safe enough to engage in a game of tug with you ringside. I like tricks that give me lots of opportunities to engage my dog’s brain, and to reward Juno for focusing on me and trusting that I will keep her safe in a busy environment.

Teach your dog these tricks away from the agility competition ring first, and get comfortable with a few different ‘routines’, and then when you get ringside, have fun passing the time by cycling through all of your options!

Jump Up

This is a fairly simple trick that most dogs will do with almost no prior training. I like it because it can easily take the place of a warm up jump, if none is provided, if it’s outside in inclement weather, or if I don’t have time to use it.

I’ll simply use a piece of food, and hold it high up against a wall, or up against my own body, to entice my dog to jump up and put his front feet up on the wall, or me. While my dog is eating the treat, I’ve got a brief opportunity to look around, see how things are moving along, and then look back at my dog and ask him to return to the ground for another treat.

Stand Up

This is another fun trick that mimics jumping at the warm up jump, keeps my dog engaged, and doesn’t take much time or space. I’ll hold a treat high above my dog’s head, and when he rises up to get the treat, I’ll simply say “yes” and then reward my dog with the treat still held high, so that he is standing on his hind legs to get the treat. For this one, I don’t encourage my dog to rest his front feet on me, and so it’s a little more difficult. I’ll only ask my dog to do this for a few seconds at most, and then I’ll move on to another trick, although I may come back to it.

Where’s Your Nose

I admit, I “cheat” when training this trick. At home, I’ll use a piece of strong duct tape, and put it on the side of my dog’s muzzle. I’ll have my clicker and treats at the ready, because as soon as my dog paws at the tape, I will click and treat! After only a few click/treats, I’ll pretend to put the tape on my dog’s nose, and after pretending to rub it on his nose, I’ll be ready to click/treat. After a few more click/treats, I’ll pretend to put the tape on my dog’s nose, and as I move my hand away, I’ll give the verbal cue I’ve chosen for the trick (in my case, “where’s your nose?”), and as my dog touches his paw to his nose, I’ll click/treat. This does require you to watch your dog carefully to make sure you’re rewarding for paw contact with the dog’s nose.

Foot To Foot

With my dog sitting in front of me, I’ll take my foot, and reach under one of his front feet, and lift his foot on to my foot. As I do so, I’ll mark and reward my dog for that foot-to-foot contact. As long as my dog’s foot is on top of my foot, I’ll keep giving him treats. And, since I can tell that his foot is on my foot by feel, rather than by looking, this is another trick that allows me to look around and keep tabs on the environment. I can also switch feet, and encourage my dog to put his other foot on my foot, so I have two tricks in one!

 

Dance On My Feet

This is a great trick to use when space is tight, and you want to help your dog feel a little safer by defining a space around him. It’s also a crowd pleaser, and, another trick that doesn’t require you to look at your dog – you can reward based on feel.

 

For this one, cue or lure your dog between your legs so that the two of you are facing the same direction. Put your feet as close together as you can, and continue to lure your dog forward, so that he must step on your feet to come forward from between your legs. You’ll probably want to point your toes toward one another, or you’ll end up squeezing your dog with your legs!

 

When your dog makes contact with your foot by putting his paw on it, mark and reward. Be sure to reward a little high, since rewarding your dog with his head slightly elevated will encourage him to pick up his front feet, and will increase the chance that his other front foot will bump in to your other foot.

 

When you’ve got both of your dog’s feet on your feet, keep rewarding him for that contact, and then start wiggling your toes, to see if he’ll maintain that contact. If he comes off your feet, stop rewarding, and try again, and begin rewarding heavily for foot on foot contact.

 

Once your dog can keep each of his front feet on your feet (one paw per foot), start shuffling your feet forward in small increments, rewarding all the way, until you can take a few steps, with your dog’s front paws on your feet, the two of you progressing forward together.

Put Your Mouth On The Leash

I’ve had dogs that like to tug, and dogs that don’t like to tug. Some of the dogs that don’t like to tug ringside absolutely love tugging at home – they just don’t feel comfortable enough ringside to tug, and me pressuring them to tug in that environment isn’t going to do anything to help them. However, one of the nice things about tugging is that it does allow me to steal short moments to look away and survey the environment while waiting for our turn in the ring. This trick can accomplish the same thing as tugging; it keeps my dog engaged, earning rewards, and allows me to steal glances at the environment. I’m feeling when to reward my dog for putting her mouth on the leash, rather than looking at her to see if she is.

 

Start at home with this one, because at first you may need to look at your dog. Take your leash, and make a 6-8” loop out of it, so that the loop comes out of your fist. Make sure that the end of the loop is big enough for your dog’s mouth to fit comfortably.

 

At first, reward your dog for nose touching the loop. Then, progress to rewarding your dog for mouthing the loop. Usually, a dog that is enthusiastic about nose touching the loop will mouth it if you “forget” to give a cookie for the nose touch, as if to say, “hey you, can’t you see I’m touching this thing?!”.

 

Hold the loop loosely enough that you can progress to rewarding your dog for pulling a short length of the loop through your hand (maybe just 0.25 inches at first!). Then, withhold treats until your dog pulls a half-inch or so through your hand.

 

Work up to being able to hold out a loop of leash, while you are looking away, and reward your dog when you feel the loop being pulled through your hand! You can progress to holding the loop a little more firmly to encourage your dog to pull harder, or not, your choice! Dogs that are more food than toy motivated can sometimes learn to enjoy pulling on the loop of leash just for the sake of pulling – however, if you use the power of random reinforcement, you’ll find that your food motivated dog will keep pulling and pulling on that loop, hoping for a cookie, keeping her occupied, and giving you a chance to survey the environment. Don’t forget to pay up, though!

Hand Targeting

This is one of the more obvious tricks, and there are perhaps a lot more creative tricks out there, but it’s a classic for a good reason – it is a great trick that you can train and reward by feel rather than by look, and you’re most likely going to have your hands with you when you head to the ring, and so it fits the criteria at the start of this article perfectly. You can do this trick quickly, repeatedly, with either hand, and while you’re doing it, feeling your dog bump your hand with his nose, you can reward your dog and simultaneously survey your surroundings. And as with some of the other tricks mentioned here, it’s a two-for-one trick, because you can switch hands and ask your dog to target your other hand as well!

Touch It

Nose targeting is another classic trick, and you can use anything that is readily available as a target for your dog to touch her nose to. One of my dogs, who is not terribly confident about going in to the ring, has benefited greatly from repeated nose targets on the ring gates and ring fencing. While we’re waiting our turn, we’ll approach the gate, and she’ll get rewarded for touching her nose to it, and then we’ll move away and approach again when we’re able. Now, instead of looking unsure as we approach the ring gates, she’s pulling to go toward the opportunity to get a cookie for touching the gate with her nose!

 

Also, at a recent trial, my puppy was a little unsure about a man with two knee braces on. With his permission, we spent a little time working up to nose targeting the braces on his knees, and soon, my puppy was looking to poke everybody he could find in the knees!

Lift Your Leg

With this trick, I’ve taught my dog to lift his or her back leg, moving it toward a target. If I reach my hand back toward my dog’s back leg, he’ll usually lift up his hind leg to target my hand. If he’s near a chair, a wall, or another person, he’ll try to target them with his hind leg.

 

To start with this trick, I typically start on the floor, with my dog in a stand near me. I’ll reach back to touch a back toe, and when he moves his foot, I’ll click and treat. Since I’m typically touching his back toe with one hand, and holding food for him in the other hand, I’ll often put my clicker under my knee and click with my knee, or some other body part other than my hands, which are otherwise occupied. With button-style clickers, you can get creative with how you make them click!

 

Eventually, as my hand is reaching back toward my dog’s back foot, he’ll raise his toe up to meet my hand, particularly if I’m making sure to click when I see motion upward instead of waiting for downward motion. If I do this near a wall, or a chair, and his back leg bumps in to the object, I can reward for that contact. I always make sure to do this trick on both sides, so that my dog develops muscle strength in the rear equally from doing this trick!

 

At the show, I can ask my dog to target my hand with his rear foot, or a nearby wall, or a chair, or pretty much anything I can come up with.

Weave Through My Legs

This trick can be a little tricky (no pun intended), because as your dog weaves through your legs, his leash is going to get wound up, and pretty soon both of you will be tangled up in one another. However, it’s a great game to play with at the warm up jump. It keeps your dog focused on you, helps warm up his back and spine for weaving through the weave poles, and it also keeps him physically near to you.

 

At the ring, you can still do this trick, if you’re careful to thread the leash through your legs as your dog goes, and if you’re careful to maintain control of the leash and not let it slip out of your hands.

 

Come Up With A Routine

What other tricks can you come up with that meet the criteria at the beginning of this article? Work on all of your tricks at home, when you just have a few minutes to spare, until you can go through your routine of tricks ringside without thinking, and in some cases, without looking! Work on your routine in class, while you’re waiting your turn to go, so your dog gets comfortable doing tricks with other dogs around. A tricks routine a great way to get a connection going with your dog ringside, as well as any other time!

 

Until next time, happy training!

WANT MORE GREAT TRAINING LIKE THIS, AND MEMBERSHIP TO A GREAT ONLINE COMMUNITY?

The Agility Challenge is Daisy’s online agility training program that includes all of her online courses, as well as monthly challenges in 11 different categories, AND League Play! For just $24.95/month, it’s the BIGGEST library of content for the lowest price you’ll find anywhere. AND, it all comes with FEEDBACK!!

 

Training In Ten Minutes, Episode #8 – Collection

In this episode of the 10-Minute Trainer, we’re going to work on collection cues. Collection cues are different than turning cues; most of the time, turning cues are sufficient to let your dog know where to go next on a course. However, there are some times when you need to more specifically cue your dog to collect, or slow down. Some of the cue combinations you do with your dog on course may be causing your dog’s response to your collection cues to be dulled (or nonexistent!). In this 10-minute trainer, we’re going to take a look at whether or not you can cue and get collection. Remember, you get what you reinforce – so if you cue collection, and your dog does not give you collection as a response, and you continue on, you’ve reinforced something other than collection as a response to your collection cues!

 

Download a PDF for these free weave pole games!

 

WANT MORE GREAT TRAINING LIKE THIS, AND MEMBERSHIP TO A GREAT ONLINE COMMUNITY?

The Agility Challenge is Daisy’s online agility training program that includes all of her online courses, as well as monthly challenges in 10 different categories, AND League Play! For just $24.95/month, it’s the BIGGEST library of content for the lowest price you’ll find anywhere. AND, it all comes with FEEDBACK!!

 

Training In Ten Minutes, Episode #7 – Fun with weave poles

In this episode of the 10-Minute Trainer, we’re going to have some fun with weave poles. I’m going to assume that your dog already knows how to weave, and that, in your 10-minutes today, you’d like to spend some time working on weave poles in a way that’s quick, fun, and productive! So, here are a couple of weaving games you can play, alone, or with a training partner.

W.E.A.V.E.

This is a weave pole game that you can play with a training partner. If you have more time, you can get even more people and dogs involved and have a really fun time! This game is based off of a basketball came called H.O.R.S.E., in which the first person with the basketball attempts to make a basket. If that person is successful, every other person has to try to make a basket while using the same technique, stance, and location as the first person.  As long as you make the basket, there’s no penalty. But, if you miss, you earn an H, or an O, etc. The last person to spell out H.O.R.S.E. is the winner! Applied to the weave poles, you can do the same thing. We’ll spell out W.E.A.V.E. instead of H.O.R.S.E!

 

Figure 1

Since you’re just working on entries for this game, stick to a set of six weave poles. Whoever goes first determines the approach angle in to, and handling of, the weave poles. So if that person is standing on one foot in a particular spot, asking their dog to weave from a particular spot, so must everybody else. If the dog makes the weave entry and completes all six poles, no penalty is applied. But if the dog misses the weave entry or fails to complete the poles, that handler is assessed a letter (starting with W, and then E, A, V, etc.).  When each person has had his or her turn, the round starts over, with the next handler determining the starting location.

This is a fun game because it will force you to attempt the weave poles in ways you might not have thought up! Of course, if you and your dog have trouble with a particular entry, you can put it on your list of things to work on for another time.

Weave Pole Passing

With this game, you’ll want to make sure that you keep the environment safe for all people and dogs, since you’ll be using the motion of other dogs as a distraction. So, you may need to start with more distance between sets of weave poles, or a fence or other temporary barrier.

You’ll need two dog/handler teams for this one – or, if you’re feeling ambitious, two of your own dogs! You’ll also need two sets of six weave poles.

Figure 2

Two dogs will be weaving at the same time. To start with, have both dogs weaving in the same direction, but then, to make it more difficult, have the dogs weaving in opposite directions, to really test your dog’s ability to stay in the poles even with lots of moving distractions. See the figures below for more variations on this game. Figures are shown in increasing level of difficulty, although you may find a different order to be the case for your dog!

Figure 3

Figure 4

Figure 5

If you have two of your own dogs, you can work on weave pole passing on your own; it will be a test of your dogs’ ability to weave, and of your ability to keep your eye on multiple dogs at one time, as you’ll have two dogs you’ll be needing to reward or repeat with! I do this with my own dogs periodically, and it’s great fun.

There’s one more variation on this that I do with my own dogs, that requires twelve weave poles, which is the most fun of all, and is highly motivating for my dogs. Check out Figure 6!

Figure 6

For this one, you’ll have to figure out which dog should go in front – is your dog more distracted knowing there is a dog behind, or in front of him? And, you’ll need to make sure that you space the dogs out so that the dog in the rear doesn’t overtake the dog in front. I have to hold on to my dogs’ collars tightly for this one, as they’re usually screaming to get to the poles, one after another.

One dog, one handler games

If you’ve only got one dog (or only one dog that can weave), here are some games you can play that will challenge your dog to stay in the poles despite your distractions. Most of these capitalize on unusual handler movement and/or location, so be creative and don’t limit yourself here!

 

  • Get your dog weaving, and then cut through the weave poles in front of or behind him.
  • Get your dog weaving, and then weave after him for a few poles
  • Send your dog to the weave poles, but then, just before he enters, do something unusual: a jumping jack, drop to the ground, bend over to inspect the ground, stand on one leg, clap your hands, make an unusual noise, etc.
  • Send your dog to the weave poles and once he’s weaving, turn away from him in a full circle – spin quickly so you can see if he’s popped out of the poles or not!
  • Start at opposite ends of the weave poles, and cut across the end of the poles while your dog is weaving
  • Start you and your dog at opposite ends of the weave poles, and move toward your dog while he is weaving toward you. Try this on a set of six and twelve poles.

Move across the end of the poles while your dog is weaving

 

Move in the direction opposite your dog’s direction of weaving

Hopefully, you’ve come away with a few fun games that you can play with multiple dogs, or with a training partner or friend, as well as some silly variations on what you might be doing to pose as a distraction to your dog while he is weaving.

As always, if your dog makes a mistake, make sure that you back off with the level of distraction, and reward him when he gets it right, and then increase the level of distraction again. Make sure you’re having fun!

Download a PDF for these free weave pole games!

 

WANT MORE GREAT TRAINING LIKE THIS, AND MEMBERSHIP TO A GREAT ONLINE COMMUNITY?

The Agility Challenge is Daisy’s online agility training program that includes all of her online courses, as well as monthly challenges in 10 different categories, AND League Play! For just $24.95/month, it’s the BIGGEST library of content for the lowest price you’ll find anywhere. AND, it all comes with FEEDBACK!!

 

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Training In Ten Minutes, Episode #6 – Post Turns

In this episode of the 10-Minute Trainer, we’re going to spend our ten minutes working on a cue combination that is often overlooked, if not just plain avoided. Love it or hate it (or even if you’re feeling ambivalent), the post turn is one of those things that sooner or later, you’re going to wish you’d spent a little time on! Even though I do incorporate blind crosses and some of the “fancier” cue combinations in my handling, they are not a substitute for the simple and effective cue combinations I keep in my handling toolbox.

Post turns may seem boring, and I don’t much like standing like a post myself while on course, but, they can also be tricky with respect to proper timing. The problem with the timing of a post turn is that if you turn your shoulders away from your dog while doing it, you can actually send your dog forward in an unexpected way, rather than cuing a turn. Rotating your shoulders away from your dog is a forward cue, and not a turning cue – so if your dog is turning toward you as you’re rotating away from him, it’s likely that you’re also decelerating, and that the deceleration is in fact cuing the turn, and not any shoulder rotation away from your dog. See Figure 1.

Figure 1

In a post turn, because you need to rotate in the same direction as the dog, this can present a problem, as your rotation creates multiple opportunities to inadvertently give your dog a cue to go forward rather than turn. See Figure 2a and 2b.

Figure 2

Many people view a post turn as something to pull their dog through with their inside shoulder. However, when there is a jump involved, this means your dog is always reading the cue of you turning your back on him, which is likely to send him further forward as you execute this maneuver, rather than to wrap the jump as tightly as you had expected or hoped for.

Rather than moving your shoulders ahead of your dog through a post turn, try imagining that you are staying slightly rotated toward your dog, asking him to continually bump up against your outside shoulder, which you’ll then continually rotate away from him, so he can continue to move through the turn. See Figure 3a and 3b.

Figure 3a-b

Download a PDF for this free lesson on post turns!

The exercise

This month’s 10-minute trainer exercise is more of an experiment than an exercise – as long as your dog keeps the bar up on the jump you’re going to be using, you can feel free to reward him, as it will be you who will be finding out just how much (or how little) shoulder rotation away from your dog your dog can cope with. What you will be doing in this exercise is exploring the timing of your post turns, so that you can do all sorts of different kinds of post turns, depending on the situation.

What you’ll need

You’ll need two jumps for this exercise, and some small markers that you can put on the ground to mark the widest point of your dog’s turn (pieces of colored paper, or large coins, or similar objects, will suffice). Make sure you know which marker corresponds to which figure you’ve attempted. You may also want a video camera for this exercise so you can review your session later.

The set up for this exercise is shown in Figure 4. This will be the set up for a post turn, where your dog will start on your left, and you will be turning clockwise. For a counter-clockwise post turn, flip the set up horizontally.

Figure 4

The actual exercise

In each case, for the set up shown in Figure 4, we will be doing a post turn with our dog on our left, where we are rotating clockwise. Be sure to do this in both directions, though! And, although I’ve got the jump shown at 4’ away in Figure 4, if your dog is extremely keen to take obstacles, you may want to expand your set up to a distance of 5-7’.

You are going to perform a series of post turns as shown in Figures 5a-5d. Each time, set your dog up at exactly the same distance from the jump, and stand in exactly the same location yourself. You may want to use the markers to help keep track of these locations. Each time you perform this post turn, as shown in Figures 5a-5d, use a marker to note the widest point of your dog’s turn, and note whether or not the dog takes the nearby off course jump.

Figure 5

Do your best to keep the presentation of your body the same to your dog throughout the post turn. This means that you will have to rotate as your dog proceeds through the turn, so that your dog stays parallel to the exact same point on your body – you may need to move slower or faster to accomplish this. For example, in Figure 5a, you will likely need to move your shoulders quickly away from your dog, but in Figure 5d, you will find that you will be rotating more slowly.

Do you notice any difference between these four different shoulder presentations to your dog with respect to the quality of the turn? With little speed, and a perpendicular approach to the jump, you may not! However, repeat the experiment with these two variations (Figures 6 and 7), and you may start to see a difference!

Figure 6a

For the variation in Figure 6, locate yourself neither on the takeoff side of the jump, or the landing side of the jump, but rather, right on the plane of the jump, as shown. And again, make sure to set your dog up in the same location each time, as well as yourself. Use your markers to note the width of the dog’s turn for each attempt, and don’t forget to reward your dog, just as long as he keeps the bar up!

Figure 6b-e

Finally, since you won’t often have the luxury of doing a post turn from a stationary location, add some speed and motion on the part of both you and your dog. Start off easy for yourself, by adding speed on the part of the dog first, while you remain stationary. If you have a tunnel, use the set ups shown in Figure 7a-b to repeat the above scenarios with your dog coming in to the set up with more speed. And, if you don’t have a tunnel, simply set your dog up further back (15-20’). Again, be sure to start your dog from the same location each time, and start in the same location yourself! Note that in these scenarios, I’ve removed the off course jump– you can remove it altogether, or move it to a more reasonable distance from the first jump, but you should still use your markers to keep track of differences in the widest point of your dog’s turn around the jump as you vary the presentation of your shoulders to your dog throughout the post turn. With these new set ups, repeat the procedure outlined in Figures 5a-d and 6b-e.

Figure 7a-7b

At the end of this short exercise, you should have a little bit better understanding of how the presentation of your shoulders relative to your dog can affect your ability to execute a great good old-fashioned post turn. And, because you’ve been rewarding your dog for every single one of these post turns (as long as the bar stayed up), your dog has also been reinforced for doing post turns!

WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT POST TURNS AND SHOULDER PULLS?

Watch this video, which was a weekly webinar presented to my Agility Challenge group recently! Weekly webinars are just part of The Agility Challenge, my year long program that includes training, handling, league play, courses, and more!

 

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Training In Ten Minutes, Episode #5

In this episode of the 10-Minute Trainer, we’re going to spend our ten minutes working on an obstacle that is often overlooked….the table. Personally, I find that spending my time working on fast sits and downs on the table is pretty boring, and of course, since I don’t find it exciting, my dogs don’t either! I do, however, want my dogs to perform any behavior that they can do on the ground on the table, and with equal zest and speed.  So, I want to do a lot of fun things that revolve around the table. And, it turns out that the table can also be a great piece of conditioning equipment.

Just spending time doing a variety of activities with the table, even if it is in my living room, will help bring the table up in value in my dogs’ minds. Ask yourself – have you given your dog the same amount of cookies or toy play as reinforcement for activities revolving around the table as you have for the weave poles or the contacts?

For most of us, the answer is probably no. There’s a reason many of our dogs gravitate toward contacts and not the table – think of the ratio of cookies spent on the contacts vs. the table! The following exercises are just some suggestions of how you might spend 10-minutes with your dog building value for the agility pause table without ever even working on a sit or a down position on the table itself. Enjoy!

Jump UP

Your dog may have no hesitation in getting up on the table when he has a good amount of space and can run toward it with some speed. But, will your dog jump UP to get on the table if he is close to it, with no motion involved? This exercise can serve double duty: helping to eliminate refusals your dog might incur for failure to jump up on the table when he gets close to it, and helping to condition and strengthen those muscles needed to jump UP.

 

  1. Start your dog standing near the table, with his nose so close to the edge of the table that he is touching it, or hanging his head over the table. You may have to take some time to get your dog comfortable being on the ground so close to the table; many experienced dogs will try to jump up on the table from a distance further away, where they can use horizontal momentum to get up on the table, rather than vertical lift.
  2. Once you’ve got your dog close to the table (perhaps munching away happily on some treats you’ve got in your hand), move your hand up and away, so that your dog has to jump UP on to the table to get back to your treats. You can coax your dog however you like – waggle the treats in front of his nose, encourage him verbally, or even push him back a bit to make the treats seem even more enticing, but the goal here is to have your dog jump up on the table from a location very close to the table.
  3. Once your dog jumps up on the table, praise him heavily, and of course don’t forget to give him some treats! But, save that last treat, because you’re going to toss it OFF the table so that your dog follows it.
  4. Most dogs will eat that last cookie and turn around instantly to try to get back on the table again. Make sure you’ve got yet another treat ready to go to keep your dog on the ground til he is quite close to the table, and then repeat the process again from step 1.

 

Jump DOWN

Jumping up on the table from a location close to the table itself is one thing. Jumping back DOWN is yet another. Of course I wouldn’t do this on any sort of slippery surface, and I will take care to make sure that my dog is safe. But, once my dog is up on the table, I can also place cookies close to the base of the table, on the ground, and release my dog off the table to get those cookies. This can be a useful activity for those with larger or more enthusiastic dogs that tend to push off the table horizontally when released, with such force that they knock the table back, causing it to slip out from under them.

 

Back UP

In AKC, the dog must come off the table with all four feet in order to be faulted. On more than one occasion, I’ve been glad that I’ve played this game with my dogs on the table! Occasionally, my dogs have miscalculated their speed on approach to the table (or I’ve miscued how much speed they should have), and have hit the table only to slip off again. But, thanks in part to this game, they know how to avoid coming off entirely, and can actually back themselves up on to the table. Be advised, this is a great conditioning exercise, but it also requires a great deal of strength – so start with a low table to start, and go from there. It also requires that your dog have some experience with targeting objects with his rear legs, or that he know how to back up.

  1. Start your dog on the ground, facing you, with the table behind him. It’s helpful to start by sitting on the ground yourself, so that your dog can focus his head down, which will make it easier for his rear to go up.
  2. Move in to your dog’s space, or ask him to back up, or, if he’s comfortable with it, physically place his rear legs on the table. If your dog is reluctant to do this but does know how to back up, you can soften the edges of the table with a towel, pillow, or blanket. Many dogs don’t want to hit their rear legs on a solid surface.
  3. Once your dog has his rear legs on the table, reward low, between his front legs, so that he has to look down to get his treat. And then, move in to his space again, and reward for any movement backwards that results in more of your dog’s body being on the table.
  4. Once your dog is on the table completely, give lots of treats and praise, toss a cookie off the table to get your dog back on the ground, and start over again!

With this exercise, I purposefully don’t lure my dog forward in to a two on/two off position on the table, because I don’t really want him trying to drive forward to such a position. And of course, I’ll make sure that I’m not doing too much of this activity. As with all other exercises, moderation is the key. What I really want is for my dog to get as few cookies as possible with this exercise, until his whole body is on the table, and then, he will get a LOT of cookies.

 

Wicket/Measuring Table Games

At some point or another, probably sooner rather than later, your dog is going to have to be up on an agility table, at a trial, OUTSIDE the ring, in order to be measured. So, in anticipation of this, include some measuring games in your table training repertoire. For this game, use a hula hoop cut in half, or a homemade measuring wicket made out of three short pieces of PVC and a couple of 90-degree PVC elbows. With your dog on the table, do the following:

  • Click and treat for your dog looking at the wicket
  • Click and treat for your dog moving his head toward the wicket
  • Click and treat for your dog ducking under the wicket

In each of the above cases, click for attention or movement toward the wicket, and then deliver your cookie such that the dog has to continue to move toward or duck his head under/through the wicket to get his cookie.

 

With your wicket, you can also reward your dog for:

  • Picking up the wicket in his mouth
  • Allowing you to touch his topline or any part of his body with the wicket
  • Passing the wicket above the length of his body
  • Resting the wicket on his shoulders while feeding him

Table Tricks

In addition to the activities above, there are many tricks that I teach my dog on the ground that I might also do on the table. For some of these tricks, marked with an asterisk (*), performing them on the table adds an added element of strength and coordination, depending on the stability of your table. But for all of these tricks, teach your dog how to do them on the ground first!

  • Sit Pretty or Beg (*)
  • Touch your nose with your paw (*)
  • Stand up on your hind legs (*)
  • Stand up and lift up one of your rear legs (*)
  • Stand up and lift up BOTH of your rear legs (*)
  • Put a toy in a small box
  • Take a toy out of a small box
  • Stack one food bowl inside another
  • Bark
  • Wave (*)
  • Lay down with your chin on the table
  • Lay down with your paws curled over the edge of the table
  • Down to sit
  • Sit to stand
  • Tug on a toy (*)
  • Hand Targeting

You can make this list even longer with the tricks that you’ve taught your own dog. Some tricks, of course, are not appropriate to do on the table, such as backing up, or rolling over, for obvious reasons. And you can see that on my list, a simple “sit” and “down” aren’t really even included.

 

In Conclusion

Of course, I do teach my dogs to maintain a down position on the table until I say my release word. And, I do a lot of exciting gyrations when they’re in a down stay on the table to see if, in a playful way, I can entice them to come off the table. When they do make the mistake of coming off of the table, however, because I have done all of the above activities on the table with them, they are typically quick to get back on the table. And, when they mistakenly come off, all of my gyrations stop suddenly, and I become far less interesting. Then, when they do hop back on the table, I’m quick to reinforce in their minds that the table is a really fun place to be! So much of the rest of an agility course can be so much fun for the dogs that some time spent specifically making the table a fun place to be is time well spent – and it takes very little time and space to do it.

 

Sit or down on a table should just be one of many things your dogs might do to earn a cookie while they’re up there. And, like any other behavior you might ask your dog to do as a trick on the table, sit and down should be viewed as a trick – cued with a smile on your face and praise at the ready!

Training in Ten Minutes, Episode #4

If you’re one of those people who, while at work all day, dreams about what you will do with your dogs when you get home, only to find that the time you had slips away from you between chores, children, spouses, and the other little necessities of life, then you’re not alone! In this series of articles, following the Bob Bailey motto of “Think, Plan, Do”, I’ll outline plans for skills that you can train in ten minutes or less, so that you can find the time you didn’t think you had to train your dogs!

In this episode of the 10-Minute Trainer, I’d like to share with you a few of the short exercises that I use with my dogs to make sure that we’re both on the same page with our understanding of location cues.

My dog’s understanding of location cues, and my understanding of location cues, are critical to both of our understanding of motion and how it is relevant to each obstacle on course. After all, if my dog does not understand what my location on the takeoff side of an obstacle implies, and if he does not understand what my location on the landing side of an obstacle implies, it may be even more difficult for him to interpret what a change from one of those locations to another on my part is indicating to him.

Takeoff Side Location

My location on the takeoff side of a turning obstacle, (a jump, straight tunnel, or chute) and my intent not to cross the plane of  that obstacle should indicate to my dog that the next obstacle, if there is one, is likely to be behind him, and I expect my dog to take that turning obstacle with the intent to turn and come back toward me. Figure 1 shows a couple of examples.

 

Figure 1

In Figure 1a, my takeoff side location indicates only obstacle A. In Figure 1b, my takeoff side location relative to A, and some motion to the right, indicates A and C, but not B. Contrast Figures 1a and 1b to Figure 1c, where I am on the landing side of obstacle A, and the takeoff side of obstacle B. In Figure 1c, my location relative to A indicates A and B – but note that my takeoff side location relative to B indicates only A and B, and not C, unless I move from this location.

Where Things Go Wrong

Often, our dogs’ understanding of location cues goes awry without our even noticing it.  As I like to say, we make agreements with our dogs on course that we’re not aware that we’ve made with them, until eventually, things progress to a point where a real problem has developed that needs to be corrected. Location cues are often such a problem.

One example of where location cues get confusing between the dog and handler, is when a handler begins to cue a pinwheel and a 180-degree configuration of jumps similarly. If a handler wants a dog to execute a pinwheel of jumps, forward cues are typically given for the first jump of the pinwheel, and turning cues are given for the second jump of the pinwheel. Compare that to how the first jump of a 180-degree configuration is typically cued; turning cues for the first jump are typically given, so that the dog does not consider a jump that may be present.  If a handler begins to cue a pinwheel as shown in Figure 1b, then the dog will eventually learn that despite the handler’s takeoff side location relative to obstacle A, which cues obstacle C and not obstacle B, the handler wants obstacle B. And, the dog will also learn that the handler’s takeoff side location relative to a jump does not cue a turn, at least not consistently.

The handler, through this process of slowly beginning to make the cues for a pinwheel look the same as the cues given for a 180, will lose the ability to cue a 180, because they are using 180 cues for pinwheels!

Another place where location cues get diminished is on the approach to tunnels. If a handler starts decelerating on the obstacle prior to a tunnel, never intending to cross the plane of that obstacle, and yet expects the dog to continue on and take a tunnel, very soon the handler will lose the ability to cue a turn at an obstacle prior to a tunnel with deceleration. See Figure 2.

Figure 2

Getting Back On Track

Reinforcing in my dog’s mind, and in my own, that my takeoff side location relative to an obstacle implies that obstacle and no obstacle beyond it – as long as I’m not showing motion with intent to pass the plane of that obstacle – is a simple task.

 

What You’ll Need

You’ll need for this exercise, a jump (wings preferred), a short tunnel, some cookies or a toy, and around 10 minutes. See Figure 3 for the set up.  In your set up, the jump should be around five feet from the mouth of the tunnel. If you find that you reach the end of this 10-minute session and your dog is still having trouble, then, in the next session, double the distance, and move the jump closer as your dog becomes more successful.

 

What You’ll Do

Position yourself behind the plane of the jump, as shown in Figure 3. You’ll be behind the wing, and not more than 6-12” from the jump. Position your dog as shown in Figure 3, not more than 5-6’ back from the jump.

Figure 3

Release your dog and cue your dog to take the obstacle with a verbal jump cue only. If your dog takes the jump and turns back to you after the jump, then praise and reward your dog, and move on to the next step!

 

In all likelihood, your dog will take the jump and the tunnel. In this case, do not praise or reward your dog. Instead, reset your dog, and yourself, and try again. Typically, I’ll repeat this 5-6 times to give the dog an opportunity to change his behavior, before changing mine.

The Next Step

If my dog was successful in the previous step, or if my dog has made the same error several times, then I will change my location to show my dog where I would be if I wanted the tunnel. See Figure 4. I will repeat this a few times, perhaps 3-4, so that my dog gets to take both the jump and the tunnel, and then I’ll go back to a takeoff side location and repeat a few times, so that my dog is rewarded for taking only the jump.

Figure 4

If My Dog Has Trouble

If I’ve tried the first step (Figure 3) several times and my dog does not seem to be understanding that my takeoff side location implies only the jump, and if I’ve tried letting my dog take the jump with a location as shown in Figure 4, and then going back to Figure 3, then there are a few things that I can do to make the tunnel less enticing to my dog.

 

  • Double the distance – I can double the distance between the jump and the tunnel, and then gradually bring the jump closer to the tunnel again, as my dog gains success in his understanding of my location relative to the jump. See Figure 5a
  • Go against the grain – I can change my own location relative to the midline of the jump, so that my dog is less likely to take the tunnel, and then change back as my dog gains understanding. See Figure 5b

Figure 5a

Figure 5b

Going Forward From Here

Once you’ve gotten this exercise down, so that your dog understands that your takeoff side location implies a turn, and your landing side location implies going forward, you can begin introducing motion, so that your dog also understands that motion from the takeoff to the landing side of the jump implies going forward, and deceleration on the approach to the takeoff side of the jump, with no intent to cross the plane of the jump, implies a turn, and not the next obstacle that may lay beyond the jump.

Beyond this, it is your job as a handler to maintain this understanding, through consistent application of your location and motion cues on a course, and perhaps by revisiting this exercise periodically. It’s one that I revisit every few months, just to be sure that I have been consistent with my own location cues! Be patient, have fun, and you can get a lot of mileage out of this simple exercise. Happy Training!

20

2019 Agility World Championships – Large Dog Runs Analysis

Chispa and I just got back from Turku, Finland, here we competed at the World Agility Championship for Team USA. It was an amazing competition, and although we didn’t come home with a handful of trophies and ribbons (or even one!), we did learn a lot and had a lot of fun. She did amazingly well for such a youngster; at only three, she’s just a bit older than Solar was at his first World Championship back in 2010, and the courses and training required are far more complicated now than they were back then!

Below you’ll find the course maps from the event, as well as my video analysis for each run, including my thoughts about the course as I watched it being built, and after I walked it, as well as my thoughts on how each run went with Chispa, and how I’d do things differently or better! Each video is 15-20 minutes long, and you can watch it here OR download it to watch later (or both!).

Feel free to leave a comment or ask questions using the comment form at the bottom of this page!

 

THE LARGE DOG COURSE MAPS

RUNS AND COURSE ANALYSES

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