December 9, 2020

Episode 270: Winter Training

In this episode (26:00)

In this podcast episode, Sarah, Jennifer, and Esteban help you prepare for winter training!

You Will Learn

  • How to create a plan for your winter season.
  • Why you should tailor your training to the individual dog.
  • Which agility behaviors can be taught without equipment.
  • Why top competitors focus on conditioning.
  • How to develop drive, focus, and motivation away from equipment.
  • When you should take a complete break from agility.

- You're listening to "Bad Dog Agility," bringing you training tips, interviews, and news about the great sport of dog agility. (cheerful piano music) - I'm Jennifer. - I'm Esteban. - And I'm Sarah, and this is episode 270. - Today's podcast is brought to you by and the new Teeter Teach It!, an easy-to-use tool that controls the amount of tip on your teeter so you can introduce motion

to your dog in a gradual way. Just in time for winter training, order one now to receive a free feeding tray. You can also get $25 off a Hit It! Board and $50 off the Move It! Go to to get the Holiday 2020 promo codes. That's - Today, we're gonna be talking about wintertime training. We are well into winter now, I think some places of the

country or of the world more than others. You know, people are covered in snow. People are putting away equipment, and people are wondering what kind of agility training they can or should be doing during this time. - Obviously, this really depends on where you are and what the weather situation is like, and so, you know, this might not be the podcast for you, but if you live in

one of those cold climates, we've been getting a lot of emails in the past week or two from people who wanna know how they're gonna get through the winter. What should they be focused on? And I think you have to answer two questions. Number one, what do you have access to? And number two, what are the needs for your particular dog? So let's address the first one there.

What do you have access to? - Yeah, and I think here, you wanna be looking at what do you have access to at home? So what kind of space do you have at home? What kind of equipment do you have at home? Is that equipment indoors or outdoors? Do you have an indoor space where you can do some single-obstacle work? Are there spaces that you can rent to

supplement your training? Do you have classes that you can attend? Maybe you don't even normally attend class, but maybe during the winter months, you might wanna enroll in a class if that's available in your area, but just, you know, where are you going to get access to the equipment for agility? - So here in Ohio, we have a lot of our competitions and our training classes inside, but

a lot of people that are training at home are using outdoor areas: fields, yards, and so, what we see in the summer months is a decrease in class enrollment because they'll take, you know, maybe one class a week, but then they can go home and supplement with what they're doing in their yard, but then we do see an increase in rentals and an increase in class enrollment in

the winter months. So just this week, we had our first snowfall. The schools canceled on a Tuesday, actually. It was quite a bit of snow. Ethan went sledding. He was very excited about that. So we do have people that will maybe try to get in two classes a week, or they'll get in a class, and now, the demand for rentals is more significant, so I think even though,

you know, in Ohio, we compete inside, so outdoor agility isn't a thing for competitions. It very much is still the primary means of how people are training. You know, most people don't have access to a 60 by 80 or whatever area to do a lot of handling. They might have a garage that's heated, or they put mat down, or a little bit of space in their basement, so

there definitely is a big shift in what people's demands are this time of the year. Again, at least here in Ohio, where we are starting to see, you know, the snow, the cold weather, the dark in the morning and dark at night and quite a bit of a shift in our training. - For our international audience, Ohio's practically Canada to us. (cohost laughing) It's way up in the

northern, central part of the United States. Texas, we're here in, you know, possibly the most southern part of the United States except for Florida, and so, the wintertime, we actually get quite a bit of training done. - Yeah, it is our prime time for training because- - It's the summer where we can't get a lot of work done because it's simply too hot - Exactly. - for the

dogs and for the people as well. - But it's also a really point that Jennifer made, that it's not just weather. It's the shortened days, so for people who train outside, there are fewer daylight hours, and if your field isn't lit. - Especially if you're working. - Exactly, if you work, - In a nine-to-five job. - and if your field isn't lit, that's one thing where we have

run into problems, is we have the beautiful weather in the winter, but no sunlight to do the training, and so, we're still a little bit more constrained in the winter than other times. - Yeah, great point. All right, let's address the second issue, which is what are the needs of your dog? And so I think that's a question you need to think about, and it's gonna be very

different. So if you have a dog who's been competing for a couple of years, you can think of this as kind of a break, and I think this is a natural break that a lotta people use. Jennifer, when you look at big competitions, they seem to be mostly in the fall, mostly in the spring, and not too many in the dead of winter, kinda January, at least here

in the United States, so how do you, how do you differentiate, I think, between your up-and-comers, who maybe haven't debuted yet, and your dogs that have been around the block for a few years? - It's interesting looking at the timing of big events because this is something I've talked about with several other people because AKC Nationals being right at the very end of winter, right, so late March.

So us in the Midwest, we always talk about how we feel like we're going into it with such a disadvantage compared to, you know, West Coast Californians, Floridians who are, as you mentioned there in Texas, kind of coming off of your prime time. You know, January and February is kind of a downtime. It's naturally when I let my dogs have a little bit of a break, and then

all of a sudden, I'm trying to be ready for a national championship in the middle to late March, but I always kinda feel like it comes full circle because then, when you do look at the events in the fall, it's the opposite, right? So I'm coming off of July, August, September, which are great months for me, going into USCA Nationals and UKI US Open, where it would be

the opposite for them. As you mentioned, that's being very hard. So for my dogs, I tend to give 'em a break in kinda late December, going into January, a lot of that having to do with the holidays as well, you know, staying busy between Thanksgiving, December. Ethan's outta school, so my schedule and ability to train is a little bit more limited, and then kinda mid-January picking back up.

I will say that when I say break, it's mostly a agility break, not necessarily a complete and total break from agility, or excuse me, from training, and making sure to keep them in shape and keep them in condition. I don't wanna take all of January, part of February off and then try to be ready in March for them to be in their prime, so the scheduling and that

periodization of my training does really play a role in what I'm doing with them this time of year. So my younger dogs, I am still doing more active agility training. A lot of jump training, that can be done with one or two jumps. Even though I do have access to a indoor training, I do tend to adjust my training a bit this time of year, but the seasoned

dogs, the older dogs, I do tend to use this time to work more on their conditioning: keeping them in shape, getting them in shape, muscle tone, you know, even looking at jumping, where the young dogs are learning how to jump and how to do the mechanics of what they need to. The older dogs know how to do it, but I'm making sure that the muscles stay in tune

and the muscles stay in check for needing to do those types of things. - (hums) I think those are really great points. So you mentioned conditioning, and things like rear-end awareness, I imagine, would fall into that category, and conditioning's a very important part of dog agility training. I'm totally with you on the breaks. The two breaks I have during the year are mostly, you know, during the summer,

where it's brutally hot, and kind of you've finished all your big events, all your tryout events, all your championship events, and the winter, like you said, for all of the same reasons. You know, we have two kids, and they're in school, and the holidays are a big deal, and the kids have time off, and, you know, very often, it's family time. A lotta people travel, and they're maybe

not traveling quite as much, so certainly on the conditioning side, but what about when people say, "Okay, now, what are some concrete agility-type things that we can do?" And I kinda look at three big, big areas, and actually, they're all very much related because they don't depend on equipment or lots of space for, like, actual running, and so the three areas are start lines, tables, and your end

contact behaviors. So at least when you're first teaching stop contacts, this is for the dogwalk, the A frame, and the teeter, if you use a stop contact on the teeter, you can teach the end contact behavior, and it doesn't have to actually be on the equipment, right, so you might do it on a plank, on an elevated platform, on some stairs, and so those are things that don't

require as much space because you don't have necessarily a lot of motion coming into those things, and so those are things that you can work on. - Yeah, and I think that a lot of people, when they think of agility, they think about running agility, and they think about handling, and it is probably the most fun part of agility is handling and running with your dog, but I

think if we took a poll, an anonymous poll so that nobody has to put their name on it, and we asked everybody, "How confident are you that your start line is 100% in all situations, and you can get whatever lead-out you need or want on course to give yourself the best possible start?" Right, and looked at the number of people that feel like their start line needs no

work. It's perfect, right? I think that number is relatively small, and so then, here we have a period of time where you, even though you want to be doing the fun agility handling stuff, you can't. It is the perfect time to go and work on these behaviors that you need that are important that maybe aren't as fun for you, but, you know, we can work on making those

more fun for you and your dog, but are things that you need, and when you get back to handling, are gonna give you such an advantage so that your handling improves not because you worked on handling, but because you have more confidence in the start. When things fall apart in the first couple of obstacles, you know, things fall apart, (laughing) right? And so having that really, really solid

start can really make a huge difference in the entire run. - Mm-hmm, I think this applies both to your veteran and novice dogs, right. So your novice dogs are learning kinda for the first time the importance of these behaviors. So let's say you're getting ready for a trial. You know you're gonna debut in maybe February or March. You wanna have that confidence that the dog's going to stay

at the start line, that they're gonna hit their contacts, right, and now's a good time to make sure that you're prepared, but if you've got the veteran, and their behaviors kinda fell off a little bit there in the fall, and they were missing some contacts, and their start lines were getting a little pushy, this is a great time to invest in some retraining so when you come back

out in the spring, you're going to have better performances. All right, the other thing that I think is very neglected is this idea of attention, focus, motivation, drive. We can kinda take several of these related concepts, throw 'em all in one bucket, and say, "Getting my dog ready to perform in the trial environment," and so when we talk about veterans, I think you're gonna be talking about dogs

who naturally struggle with this. Let's say that you have a dog. They've been doing agility for a couple of years, but they are much better at home than they are at trials, right, so this is a nice opportunity for you to work on and focus on some of these things. Let's say you're getting ready to debut a dog. This is something that you don't know how your dog

is going to react in a trial, but maybe we can do something about that. Maybe there's a trial near you. Pick a day, several hours that you can go and invest, take your dog over there, and get them in that environment, being outside of the trial site, having other dogs around in the distance, being in a place where there are going to be other competitors, and so this

is also the time to focus on skills like tugging so that your dog can play in any environment, and it doesn't have to be tugging specifically, but you need your dog to be able to do, in my view, basic simple behaviors. You know, hand touches, nose touches, or rolling over. What are some other things dogs do? Sits, downs, spins, these simple behaviors, you wanna make sure that your

dog can do them in many different places, not just at your house, right. So if you spend winter break, and you wanna invest in a little bit of dog training, I would try and take my dog to different places. Now, this is very difficult, one, because of the winter, certainly, but two, because of COVID, right, and the COVID not just restrictions, but regardless of restrictions, you want to

make sure that you're limiting your risk, right, that you're out there with a mask, that you're staying away from other people, but you don't need people coming up and petting your dog or standing right next to you or anything like that. There can be people just around, you know, in the building. You know, maybe, I think for us, for example, you can take your dog to Home Depot,

right, those kinds of places, and you can find a place where you know that there are people. It's this huge, big, strange building that actually strongly resembles many of the indoor facilities where we hold agility trials, right: the high ceilings, the echoing noises, the foot traffic, and without getting near any of those people, wearing your mask, you can do some things with your dog, right, so I think

that's a good opportunity to work on some things and help prepare them for the environment and trials a little bit better. - The one that's near us that's also good is the parking lot of a dog park. I actually live on a road that has a dog park about two miles down, and while I personally am not a fan of taking my dogs into the dog park, in

order to create kind of that stimulation and that excitement of other dogs running around, people moving around, I have gone down there and just worked some of my attention and a little bit of focus there, so not using it to go in and run my dogs, but using that as a practice for those types of things because something like a Home Depot or a Lowe's, once you start

that, maybe you get comfortable with the environment, you comfortable with the people, and it's dogs that really set your dog off. That, you know, going to something like a dog park is usually even better than a pet store. At a pet store, I find it very small, and you get into an aisle, and maybe that dog isn't well-behaved, but if you go into a parking lot, you get

the space, and all the other people are taking their dogs into the fenced-in area. They're not coming up to you in the parking lot, so it kinda gives you some distractions, often at distance, to work through, so that's an option that's always worth throwing out there as well. - Yeah, that's a great point. I don't really like taking my dogs into the PetSmart-type situations, but I do want

them in situations where there are dogs, and that's a really great idea. The next thing that people should think about, or might think about, is working on your verbal cues, and so I think this depends a little bit on access to equipment. Jen, what kinda verbals might you do in a winter scenario? - Yeah, this is huge for me, and I'm really trying to put a stronger emphasis

to my students on verbals, but verbals and verbals against motion, and I'm not even talking agility verbals at this point, but having your dog be able to respond to a verbal when the motion doesn't support it. So if we do think of an agility setting, this is the scenario where maybe you're falling behind, so your motion appears to be running straight at the front side of a jump,

but you want your dog to kick out to the backside. You would be saying, you know, your backside verbal when your motion doesn't support it, or a dogwalk tunnel discrimination, where you need to fade to the right, but you need your dog to take the opposite on the left. So when we talk about how do we apply this to winter training or kinda that living room, spall space

training, I'm just talking about a scenario of can you walk a straight line, and while you're walking, tell your dog, "Sit," and you continue to walk, no hand cue, no change in pace, no pause, and have your dog sit? And I can tell you with absolute certainty, the majority of the people is no, and maybe if they can do it with a sit or a down, can you

ask your dog to spin left? Can you ask your dog to spin right? I try to encourage my students to have at least six non-body-cued verbals by the time the dog hits a year. I don't really care what they are. The ones that I recommend are sit, down, stand, spinning left, spinning right, and backing up. Those are the ones that I pick, and I like six because we

do some games where we roll a dice and have to ask for a verbal. Six works out well to match the sides of the dice. Stuff like sit, down, and stand, I mean, those verbals also come into play in my conditioning, right, being able to get the dog to do a kick back stand from a sit or be able to do those behaviors on a FITbone, so it's

really handy to have those, but, you know, even just you're standing in your living room. Your dog's staring at you. Start jumping up and down, or start doing jumping jacks or jogging in place. While you're doing these actions, ask them to do something that you otherwise view as a pretty strong verbal, so ask them to spin left, or ask them to lie down. You would be shocked at

the number of dogs that look at the handler like they have six heads. You know, as they're standing there doing jumping jacks like, "You want me to do what?" Or they're so distracted by the motion that they cannot focus on the verbal, and then that's exactly what I see carry over to the agility ring. They are so distracted by the motion that they're not responding to the verbals,

so if you can't walk through your living room and ask your dog to spin left without a change in motion, it's going to be difficult when you're running down a line of jumps, going into a 15-foot U-shaped tunnel discrimination, where your motion is equally supporting the left end and the right end, and you need your dog to come in and do the threadle entry. So there's a whole

lotta direct correlation in my mind to verbals and verbals against motion or verbals against distraction and the dog's understanding of it as we apply it over to agility. - Yeah, I think that's really great, and I think that the thing that people need to keep in mind is that people tend to want to kind of jump into the agility application, but if your dog can't do something, you

know, quote, as simple as a sit when you're walking, right, that is a way more, a simple version of this compared to what we ask of them in agility, and so you just have to remind yourself that this work that you're doing that isn't directly agility is teaching your dog a lesson, a lesson that, you know, will carry over, and at the very least, it lets you practice

working through that with a behavior that you are a lot less emotionally invested in versus trying to get this same behavior on something much more complex in your beloved sport of dog agility. - And tying that directly over to start lines, one of the things that I will often challenge my students or ask my students to do is as they've led out, and the dog's on the start

line, ask for a variety of behaviors that aren't always the release to the jump. So the dog is in a sit, ask for a down. The dog is in a down, ask him to back up, keeping the variety so that the dog does not anticipate the release to the jump. Well, if you can't even just away from agility get verbals at 15, 20, 25 feet away, you're not

gonna be able to do 'em in front of agility equipment, so kinda going back to what you said, these things that we can train, start lines, you know, verbals, they all kinda actually kinda tie together, so can you work on over the next several months being able to ask for these behaviors, not just right in front of your dog, but 20 feet away so that then, when you

get back out in agility, you can do a lead-out, and, you know, once you get out there jump and a half away, ask for one of those behaviors, so it kind of all comes full circle on the verbals also tying in directly with start lines. - Mm-hmm, I think the last point to make is that it is okay to take a break, so we've made that point before

on other podcasts, and I think this is a similar situation. There have been some winters where, you know, I've taken a complete break from training, even up to four to six weeks, you know, but usually, I'll get at least, at least two weeks off during the winter, typically around Christmas to New Year's. That's stretched to overlap it with family time, but breaks are okay. You know, your young

dog, it's okay. You're gonna just delay a training or a debut by a few weeks, and for your veteran, they can probably use the mid-year break. I think it's perfectly okay to have two downtimes during the year, during the calendar year, after all your spring events, during the summer, and then, you know, again, during the winter, I think that's fine. A lot of sports, human sports, work that

way, so I think it's something that makes a lot of sense. The other thing to think about is while you're on this break, while your dog's on this break from trialing and training, you don't necessarily have to be on a break, and so that is where online instruction is very helpful. So for example, our VIP members, right, they have access to run analyses, where they see us break

down another handler's run, and map analyses, so you can look at trends, what's going on around the agility world, maybe a little bit less so this year, but it's a great opportunity to kinda sit down and think, "Well, where do I have deficits? Where do I need to get better?" And kinda coming up with a plan, and oh, by the way, January 1st is right around the corner

for everyone, right, and that's the big time for New Year's resolutions. - And goals. - Goal-setting, right, and so this is the time to kinda take stock of what's going on, and none of that requires, you know, 70-degree weather and an outdoor snow-free field. So you can do all of that now. A lot of your mental prep, your mental game stuff can happen right now, even though you're

not training, and this is something people do in all sports at this time of year. All right, so let me summarize for everyone what we have talked about. You wanna first think about what you have access to in terms of equipment, facilities. You wanna think about your dog, what your dog needs. You know, are they a veteran? Are they an up-and-coming dog that's getting ready to debut, so

you'll have different programs for those two dogs? Specific agility behaviors you can work on include start lines, tables, and end contact behaviors. You wanna be thinking about conditioning, conditioning your dog. It's a great time to do that. You also wanna think about their attention, focus, drive, motivation. Those are all things, whether they need to tug in a distracting environment or take treats and food in a distracting environment,

those are things that are gonna be very, very helpful when they get to the trial setting, especially for dogs that have not yet debuted. You also wanna work on verbals. Verbals is a big point of emphasis, I think, worldwide, especially over the last couple of years. You know, Jen's made it a point of emphasis for herself. You know, I'm going to expand my own verbal cue repertoire for

this next generation of puppies as well, and topping it off with it's okay to take a break, and now's a good time to kind of review. Plan for the next year if you're gonna be taking that break, or even if you're not taking a break, it's a good time to do that, but there are mental game-type things that you can be working on during the winter. - And

building on that idea of a break, I will also throw out there a little personal planning on my part. Winter's a great time if you have any procedures for the dogs. I have a spay and a dental scheduled. - Good one! - I have a spay and a dental scheduled on the week between Christmas and New Year's because it is a good downtime with the holiday and events,

or also, I had somebody who's thinking about switching foods but was worried about, like, what if their stomach doesn't go well and they have a competition or they have class? So that could also be something to think about, so not really super-directly tied to agility, but thought I'd throw it out there. You have a dog that needs a dental or a spay or a neuter, or you've wanted

to try something that you, you know, a change in treats or diet that you were worried might mess 'em up, now might be a great time for that too. - (hums) That's a great one because it happens for people too! - Oh, yeah, (laughing) I know I was thinking that. - I'll tell you as a doctor, one of the times that everybody comes rushing into your office: end

of the year. - That's right, you gotta use that health insurance money and, you know, get your deductibles and all that. All right, perfect, that is a great last point, and that is it for this week's podcast. We'd like to thank our sponsor, Happy training! (cheerful piano music)

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