June 17, 2014

5 Tips for Trialing with Your Novice Agility Dog

These 5 tips will help you create a fantastic start to your dog’s agility career!

5. Train a solid start line stay before the show. You may not have access to the same equipment or running surface that will be at the trial, so your dog may refuse a panel jump or step on a broad jump or slip and drop a bar (and that’s okay as they will soon generalize behaviors to different equipment). However, among all the behaviors we teach in agility, a start line stay is not equipment-dependent and can be proofed to a very high level before setting foot in the ring. Trusting your dog’s start line behavior will let you focus on your handling and reduce some anxiety that you may feel at the start of your dog’s first run.

4. Make sure your dog commits to every line/obstacle. In particular, experienced handlers will often take a novice dog’s commitment point for granted, leaving obstacles quickly to move into certain positions, as they would with their veteran dog.

3. Utilize your novice dog’s strengths (as well as your own). If you often err during rear crosses, use a front cross instead, even if it creates a wide turn. There will be plenty of runs in the near future to introduce and proof skills in a trial environment.

2. Have a few play/work sessions during the trial, especially after each run. If there is a long break between two runs, consider having a short, intense play session in between. These play sessions will provide the exciting reinforcement your dog craves for the work they’ve done in the ring.

1. Commit yourself to creating a fun, exciting environment for your novice dog from the moment you wake up to the moment you leave the trial site. A great experience, regardless of performance, will fuel your dog’s enthusiasm and motivation for years to come!

We discuss all these tips and more in this week’s podcast!

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  • My 13 month old Sheltie (Magic Momo Superdog) has a great start line stay! In fact, so great is it, that she just sticks there even after I say, “Stead, Ready OK!” — then sometimes she turns and runs to the entry gate. Classic escape (or is it avoidance) behavior. She runs great when she gets going, but when fear sets in, she tries to run to Mommy Kumiko. It seems she is sure to get faulted for “delay of game.” 🙂 Things I am doing trying to help Momo. Nutritional supplement Bach Flower Remedy (recommended by another handler) to calm her nerves. Lots of Fun Matches. Lots of training in different environments to facilitate the adaptation process discussed by BF Skinner in the Analysis of Behavior. (Skinner was the first to introduce the concept of clicker training in his Dec., 1951 article in the Scientific American.) Lots of rewarding when she rushes out from the start line on cue. Her favorite reward is chasing and biting a plastic bag. Don’t worry I stop her before she eats it. She enjoys the chase of the bag as much as anything. Momo doesn’t care much for treats at a match; she is too nervous to eat. Strangely enough, at her first Fun Match at nearly age 12 months, she handled 20 Advanced AKC obstacles quite well before realizing (on her second run) that she should be having Mommy separation anxiety. By the way, there are lots of videos of Magic Momo Superdog on Youtube. Please have a look and comment. 🙂

  • Wow She is Fast 🙂 Such a good podcast and one I really needed to hear. Have not competed with Tessa yet even though she is 2 years 2 months old. Admittedly I did not get her till she was a year old. We are nearly there, but our Start lines and my timing with a fast dog is still a work in progress.
    Your podcasts and help have been invaluable to us. Thank you

    • I remember watching you and Tessa! It seems like everyone gets their dog out the weekend after they are eligible, but it’s just not the case. Many people, like you and like us, take longer to get there. Sometimes it’s because our standards are higher, sometimes it’s because of life’s demands. But whatever your path, success is still out there waiting for you and your dog to get everything together and start clicking as a team. Good luck when you debut – whenever that is.

      And thanks for the podcast compliment! We love being able to reach so many people and share our thoughts and our passion for agility.

  • My pup is almost 14 months old. For me #4 is the hardest thing to remember. Since my current agility partner and I have been together for 8 years, I will sometimes take lines for granted and be surprised when my pup doesn’t read my intent. But we’re learning.

  • Watched the vids after I listened to the latest podcast (luv your podcasts!!!). So cool! in the vid of day 2 we can see exactly when Miriya makes up her mind that this is about playing with the leash!!! she “locks” on the leash as you toss it after the leash runner called out loudly “over here”! I could “hear” the wheels turning in her head as she was marking the throw (yes, a good retriever mark!!!). I am just starting a Novice dog too and I think a part of the challenge and the fun is to stay connected to what is going on in their heads – which could be SURPRISING (esp to the experienced handler) – and funny and a lot like how children experience the world – I made big steps fwd in competing with my dogs practicing on my son 🙂

  • Enjoying the good advice! #1 is one I will definitely keep in mind…humans can get so focused on the task & forget the experience!

  • Directed here from AgilityNerd. Really nice article full of tips I definitely need to be aware of as I train up my new agility pup! Thanks!

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