Let’s start by defining attitude in a useful way. An attitude is a positive or negative evaluation of people, objects, activities, or anything else in your environment. Great agility dogs have great attitudes toward the sport. They love the jumps, the tunnels, the contacts, the weave poles, the weekly classes, the trials, the travel, the snuggling in hotel beds, and the games they play with their handlers.
Attitude differs from personality. Your dog may have a shy, reserved personality and have a very positive attitude toward agility training and trialing. Or your dog may have a very social and outgoing personality but still have a negative attitude toward agility.
How do we develop great attitudes in our dogs? By turning agility training and trialing into Chuck E. Cheese’s, also known as the place “Where a kid can be a kid.” As a kid, I loved that place because it had my favorite food (pizza), my favorite people (usually a friend’s birthday party), and my favorite games (After Burner, skee ball, and more). Tasty treats, tug toys, tennis balls, and his favorite canine and human friends should make training and trialing into your dog’s very own Chuck E. Cheese’s!
How do dogs develop a negative attitude toward something in agility? Another dog may have run at your dog while he was in the weave poles and now your dog refuses to weave. Your dog may have fallen off a dogwalk and now her contact performance has slowed. Fortunately, attitudes can be changed through experience. With repeated positive experiences, dogs will recover from incidents like these.
As trainers, we often carefully examine the environment for anything that might impact our dogs, but the most common culprit for creating negative attitudes in your dog will usually be you. Avoid punishing your dog physically or verbally during your training and trialing. Look for behaviors and performances that you can mark, reward, and selectively improve upon. Develop a great attitude in your dog and he will reward you with great runs.
In summary, keep your dog hungry for the agility game by turning your training sessions and trial days into Chuck E. Cheese’s…where a dog can be a dog.
This post was written as part of the Dog Agility Blog Action Day where the topic was “Attitude”.