September 29, 2021

Episode 290: Speed vs Accuracy

In this episode (29:17)

In this episode, the BDA team talks about the relationship between speed and accuracy in dog agility.

You Will Learn

  • Why many people believe speeding up a dog will decrease accuracy.
  • How techniques for improving your course time depends on your situation.
  • The #1 easy thing to fix to improve your dog’s course time.
  • Why it’s easier to speed up your dog if you’re a really bad handler.


- You're listening to Bad Dog Agility, bringing you training tips, interviews and news about the great sport of dog agility. (happy piano music) - I'm Jennifer. - I'm Esteban - And I'm Sarah. And this is episode 290. Today's podcast is brought to you by and the Teeter TeachIt 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. Go to for the new Teeter TeachIt and other training tools and toys. Use discount code BBA10 to get 10% off your order. That's Today, we're gonna be talking about the relationship between speed and accuracy in dog agility. And we've touched on this, I'm sure in many podcasts, different aspects of speed or accuracy or the combination of the two. But I

wanted to just have an entire podcast just about speed versus accuracy, how they're related, which one's better, which one do you want. And this came from an email. When you join our mailing list we ask, what's the one thing holding you back. What, you know, what could we help you with at Bad Dog Agility and somebody emailed. And they said they wanted to increase our speed without sacrificing

the accuracy. And, you know, I think that's a goal that a lot of people have. And I think that it is possible with some caveats. And that's what we wanna talk about today. I think that people need to have some expectations setting when it comes to changing their speed versus accuracy mix. - Yeah. I one a hundred percent agree that setting expectations for making that transition is super

important. You know, a lot of people will say, "Okay, I wanna increase my speed." And I tend to find that with my students live, it happens a lot after they've kind of gotten their feet wet with that particular dog or in the sport in general, they've done novice, open, you know. They're in excellent, maybe masters and they're feeling pretty good with the courses and the handling. And they

say, "Okay, I'm ready to take it up a notch. I'm ready to try to work on my speed," but they are not prepared for what's gonna happen along the way. And that is often you will see a decrease in the accuracy and that can sometimes be hard to cope with. Say you have a 50, 60, 70% success rate on the weekend and you now start to do things

to work for more speed. That cue rate is gonna drop and there might be that part of you that goes, "Oh no, this isn't what I want. This isn't what I wanted to do. Let me go back to the accuracy part," but you're gonna have that drop down, not every team, but you need to be prepared for that drop down. Potential drop down in your training. And that

might affect things like timing when you wanna play with this change, right? Maybe deciding four weeks before a national event is not the time to start to try to push for some of this speed in case that accuracy drops. And now, your confidence is lost. So I think a lot of it is about setting the expectations, knowing that there is potentially going to be a change in, you

know, your accuracy and your cue rate. - Right, exactly. And let's take a step back and kind of explain, well, why are you likely to lose some accuracy? You know, why does it go hand in hand that when you increase the speed, you're going to decrease your accuracy? Well, when you think about it, as you increase speed, there are a couple of different things that are gonna happen.

First of all, you have less time to give information. Everywhere on course. You may literally have fewer number of strides for the dog to react. So less time gives you more opportunity for error just in your timing. You may not be giving the information to the dog when they need it as that speed increases. And then I think there's just a more general notion of your overall timing.

And you may not have a very good sense of with this new level of speed. And I can make a front cross when I'm am gonna have to do a rear cross. So you may have to make some handling changes that you just don't have the experience to be able to look at and know that you're gonna be able to put in a front cross here. You're gonna

be able to put in a blind cross here and you're gonna...You don't have that, like that rapport with the dog where everything just feels nice and easy. It's gonna feel rushed. It's not gonna feel natural. - Yeah, I have a tiny border Collie. She was a little under 18 inches. And so way back in the day for International Competition, these ISE classes, she jumps 26 inches. And then

towards the end of her career, she runs 16 inches. - Which is her natural height. - Which is a natural height. So you're dropping 10 inches. And I found that even though she was older and a little bit slower, she was actually much, much faster. So even though she was slower, she was paradoxically faster. That makes sense because of course, she's jumping 10 inches less. So the handling

has to change a little bit. You're gonna do rear crosses in a couple of spots where you might do front crosses. So I think that's what we think of traditionally, but I wanna even step back and say that it is not that easy to suddenly be so much faster. Like when I think of someone who comes to me and says, "Well, I wanna get faster." It's not as

easy as just snapping our fingers. And then the very next week they come back to training and, you know, I tell them to do X, Y, and Z, and the dog's gonna run say 20% faster, right. So usually these are things that have been built in the dog over a long period of time. Right? And I think you can also even split it into obstacle performance and handling,

right? So I think one of the best ways, and I'll see if Jen agrees with me here, to get your dog faster is to fix some of the issues you're having on contacts, weave poles, maybe even wide turns out of... I guess that's more handling but I wanna hear what Jen thinks about contacts and weeds as a way to quote unquote, make your dog faster. - I was

just thinking about context and weaves actually, as Sarah was mentioning some of the things that will change and she talked about the timing and having less timing and starting a lot of that pertaining to handling. And I thought, well, the other reason that you will often sacrifice accuracy is one of the ways that you may increase speed is through obstacle performance. So for example, maybe you are attempting

to speed up the weave poles. For some dogs, that's maybe like a change in their foot work. And even just the retraining of that, when all of a sudden you go to take it to a trial, or you try to increase that speed. Even in training, you may have mistakes, right? A dog who's doing like a two-step and then trying to switch to like a hop. They get

a little carried away and they get a little ahead of themselves and they might pop out at pull 10 or pop out along the way, which is another sacrifice of accuracy, but not pertaining to handling. Same thing, a lot of people... I find one of the biggest go-tos in my experience for people wanting to increase the speed is contact training, right? So either trying to retrain or improve

their contact speed or what we've talked a lot about in the past is that switched to running contacts. So they'll take a stop A frame and they'll switch to a running A frame or a step dog walk and switch to a running. And that is certainly gonna be a way to increase speed but you also have to remember you're retraining. So there is the potential that taking it

to a trial situation, taking it to a new situation is going to sacrifice the accuracy, but answering your question specifically. Absolutely, obstacle performance is a great way to look at increasing speed. And in some cases can be easier than other options of trying to improve the handling or change the handling. - Yeah, I think that's a really good point, especially when you look at dog walks, if your

dog's running at three and a half, four, even five second dog walk and you have an idea that you can get it down to two, two and a half seconds, depending on your natural speed. You're saving a lot of time, two seconds per run. Now multiply that over. Say 50 runs over a year, that's a hundred. So that's like a hundred extra points, if you're working toward your

mock in the American Kennel Club. To help you to qualify for a big event. So, you know, just fixing your dog walk can be a really big deal. Go ahead, you were gonna say something. - Yeah, I was also thinking that, you know, beyond obstacle performance, I think another way that a lot of handlers have room to increase their dog's speed is that when you have been focusing

on being right, you may allow your dog to make some pretty wide turns in spots because it is safe and because it gets you the cue. And so it's not a matter of like... I think it's that attitude of a cue is a good run. And I think the three of us would say, not every cue is a good run, right? Sometimes it can be a pretty bad

poor run with some, you know, significantly wide turns and a very confused dog that ends up being a cue. But the reason why some of those handlers allow those wide turns is because it lets them get into a position and they... You know, maybe they're going for a front cross that they really can't make but they kind of force it in, force the dog wide, managed to hold

it all together. They get the cue, but they create this wide turn and the alternative would be doing some other handling that is not as fail safe but as much clear to the dog, creates a tighter turn, but maybe, you know, some percentage of the time, you mess up that handling because you go for a maneuver that you're not as comfortable with. And so that, you know, that's

a place where you lose accuracy but you were actually handling better. And with...and that's where I think you can over time, bring that accuracy back by building up the skills of other handling maneuvers. So if you've been forcing in front crosses in bad places, taking wide turns, but not getting the off course, then when you replace some of those front crosses with rear crosses, then yes, you may

mess up some of them, you're not as comfortable with the rear cross. Maybe you push your dog off but as you build that rear cross skill, then when it all comes together, you're getting tighter turns. Your dog knows where they're going and you end up with those faster times. - It often to me is thinking about it in terms of kind of risk reward analysis, right? So you're,

you're saying, okay well, this is safer, but it's gonna cost you a little bit of time. Or you can go with what is maybe more outside your comfort zone or higher risk, but if you can pull it off and that might not happen on the first, second or third try, but when you do get it nailed down, it is in fact going to be the faster option in

the end. And I think for a lot of people it is really asking yourself, how much of a risk are you willing to take? Are you a gambler? Are you not? And I think that kind of goes back to the setting the goals and the expectations of, you know, what might happen when you go to work for more speed. I think a lot of people say they want

more speed. Oh, I wanna work on more speed. But when it comes down to it, are you really willing to give it up? You know, it might mean an oh for four weekends and in one over oh for four weekends they're going, no, no, no, no, no. I wanna go back to my accuracy, I want my cue. I want my points or, you know, whatever. So being realistic

and setting those expectations, but knowing that there is some risk that comes with it and like you just said, you know, it might not happen right away, but keep working on it and it will pay off in the end. - Yeah, that's such a good point. That context is key, context is everything. It really depends on where you're coming from and where your dog is coming from. And

just understanding that in standard, in my opinion, you know, as we just talked about fixing your contacts, that's gonna really save you a lot of time, especially if they're struggling on the teeter, A frame, the table, you know. These are all spots that the time really adds up. And you can add in quite a bit of time there. What about if you already have a very fast dog?

So if you have a very fast dog, I think one thing that you run into... I think in all levels of agility is that rear crosses are not a winning strategy. That's what people think. I think it's false. To me, it's obviously false. And one of the first things I'll do when I'm working with a handler who says, "Look, I have a really fast dog. I have these

wide turns. I'm losing the dogs that I know are slower than my dog." Right, well obviously, because you're dog keeps turning wide and you keep trying to force these front crosses, occasionally blind crosses, in where a simple rear cross would give you a very nice tight turn, an excellent line and you would win easily. We make these changes and the dog ends up going faster. But from their

perspective because for years they had been hit over the head with front cross is the fastest winning strategy. Right? And it's so not intuitive to them to do these rear crosses. I think if you're kind of in that group and you're getting these wide turns, you wanna think about that. Maybe I can add some rear crosses and I think that's number one. And then on the flip side,

right? If you're, if you can run much faster than your dog, right? Your dog is a dog that maybe is just coming just under course time and then like every once in a while, they don't make course time, right? When they're tired, they're hot. It's the third run of the day and you're like, okay, I wanna get them faster, but I wanna get them faster so that we

can consistently come under course time, right? I think this is a really good goal. And then it turns out that, you know, they sent me some videos and then they're doing a lot of things like a rear crossing when they don't necessarily need to. Like, clearly, they can outrun the dog in this specific sequence. Or they... For me, this is a very big offender. They're pushing into the

dogs line. Like the dog thinks they need to go straight. Suddenly the handler's pushing on them to make a 90 degree turn. And the dog thinks what have I done wrong? - Like running on the outside? - Yeah, yeah. You know, I'm very sure we're going straight. And now suddenly you're pushing into me and tell me it's wrong. Not only do you get the wide turn, right? But

you get the sense from the dog that they have made a mistake. And some dogs feel like when they made a mistake, they're gonna slow down, why? Because they don't wanna be wrong. And so maybe the next time, if they slow down a little bit, mom will be able to get ahead of them. And instead of pushing into them, guide them a little better for that next obstacle.

So you are in fact training your dog to be slower. So for these people, it might be a great idea to try and speed up a little bit, as the handler, to get to some fronts and blinds that maybe they wouldn't ordinarily do, but even doing something as basic as rear crossing at the proper place, you know, before a certain jump instead of after a certain time just

changing where you rear cross can have a really big impact on the dog's speed, not just for that run where maybe you gained five one hundreds or maybe one 10, but in terms of the dogs attitude. So now when you look over a six month period or several year period, the dog begins to speed up because they have confidence in your direction. - Yeah, that's the word that

I was just about to bring up is confidence. Like confidence is king. And when you kill the dog's confidence, you kill the dog speed. And so I think you've brought up two very, very good points that I wanna make separately because I think they can be related. But I think also there's people that are an offender on one side versus the other. So on the one side, I

think the running the outside of the curves, as you were saying is, you know, can be damaging to a dog speed because of that sense of being wrong. Cutting off the dog and hurting their confidence. But I think the other thing that people will do that is related to something else that you said is, you know, maybe they do do front crosses. but they don't always... They're not

always in the right place or their timing isn't right and so when their timing isn't right, that's when I think that any timing, when any timing is wrong, that's when I think you see dogs literally slowed down to give you the handler more time to be more clear. As another way of saying what you said, right. The dogs like, you know, when I'm going fast, I'm not very

sure where you want me to go, but when I slow up, you are able to get to your spot handler. They're like giving you time to make your front cross so that they can be right more often than not. And so I think that is the danger of over focusing on accuracy. If you... And this goes back to those first... the expectation in those first couple of times,

when you try something new and you say, I wanna, you know, I'm gonna try to put in this front cross and because I want my dog to be faster. And then you go and you, the handler don't do it very well. And the dog makes a mistake and then they don't get their reward. And then they slow down as a result. So we have to be very careful

when we're trying to increase speed that we still keep our rewards up. Because if you... If your dog is used to a certain amount of rewards and now, through no fault of their own, they're getting fewer rewards, then that also is going to hurt their drive, their confidence and ultimately their speed. So, you know, I think we have to be careful about the rewards when we're increasing that

speed. You have to reward effort a lot of times or you have to find something else to reward in the sequence to keep your dog in the game while you, handler, figure out your timing. - And I will add into that, that I think importance of verbal timing. We talked a lot about positioning and being on the dog's line and the outside. I feel like the shift onto

verbals now, compared to where it was seven years ago. Seven years ago, it was like, move in the direction you want the dog to go, let him follow your motion, let him follow your speed. And I feel like in the last several years, we've seen such a high emphasis on verbals to the point that we see a lot of training of if I haven't cued it, don't take

it right, running right up to a tunnel and stopping. And if you haven't cued it, they're not going. Well, that puts a lot of priority on you as a handler to make sure you give the verbals on time. I had a lesson just this week that the handler was late on their cues and I could visibly see the dogs slow down and wait for the verbal. So they'd

come out of the tunnel and they're waiting, okay, walk it, okay. Now I can go and they can run up. So same thing with all of the body cues and the body position and giving information. I'm seeing more and more dogs lose their speed because of late verbal cues than I saw say 6, 7, 8 years ago. - Yeah, that's a really, really good point and... - It's

pretty interesting. - I think, I mean, from my perspective, I would say that you want like... Agility is a game where you need speed and accuracy, like it just is. And so I think focusing only on speed is a mistake. And I think focusing only on accuracy is a mistake. And I think that the best dogs are the ones who are gonna have been brought up where there

are a lot of rewards for being right. And there are a lot of rewards and opportunity to be fast. So you have to set them up so that they can do things fast and you have to build up that speed and then build up the accuracy also. And so I think part of the problem is exactly the mentality of let me teach my dog all of agility. And

then when we get to master's and get our mock, now I wanna focus on speed. Like, I think that is a lot harder than kind of focusing on a balanced approach from the very beginning with the dog, understanding that you may not get the first mock. (chuckles) - Well... - You know. - Do we really need a balanced understanding? Maybe we all disagree. Let's take a straw poll

here. My opinion is speed is more important than accuracy. That's gonna be a reflection of my personal beliefs. The dogs I've run, the competitions I optimize for. Certainly but I'm going to argue that even for the weekend warrior with their, you know, largely pet dog, that you're gonna wanna emphasize speed over accuracy, especially at first. Because even though that's not very reinforcing for the handler, right. It's so

easy to lose speed and so difficult to teach it later. - Okay, I 100% Agree with you, right. Like if I... - You have accuracy from the start and you train the speed out of it, it is not easy to... - Okay, I totally agree, but cause I was also... - I don't think there should be a 50, 50. - I don't think, no, I don't think it's

a 50 50 balance but I think that there needs to be... I think you can go all the way on the speed where the dog stops, like paying attention to the handler. Now that being... - To me, that's just bad training. - That being said... (laughs) That being said, if my choices are a highly accurate dog who isn't very fast or an extremely fast dog, who's not paying

attention, I take the extremely fast dog. Every single time. I can teach that dog to pay attention. I can teach that dog handling. - We need the tiebreaker. - Yeah, yeah. Well, now I feel like you're saying what I say. - I am saying. - Okay, what's the tiebreaker? Jen, what do you think? - I think you all have very accurate points. I would agree some elements on

both sides early on. - So diplomatic. - Early on, I definitely want the speed early on. And yes, that a dog with speed, that's not paying attention is probably more dog training. You know, I don't know. I think at the end of the day, it really is a personal decision for what a person's goals are. I think, you know, you're talking to one extreme on each end, right?

So a dog who is accurate, but not super speedy, how not super speeding? Are they just only getting four and five mock points? - Right. - Are they not making course time? And the dog who's fast but not accurate? Are they cuing one out of six or oh out of 15, you know? So you have a little bit of a balance on each end there, you know, I'm

always a little bit better, I think, at the team run than the individual run. That's the way I think about it. I'm much better at the team run. Get it, get run clean, get it done. Than I am the individual run. You know, there is no prize for the fastest end cue but there's also no prize for running clean if you were over course time, so... Individual goals,

individual teams. - Yeah, I think that's a really great point. - Yeah, yeah. All about context. - Yep. - I have one more thing to say. - All right. - And that's that Jen... You can tell me if you've had this experience as well. You'll get two different kinds of videos from people who wanna make their dog faster. So in the first video, someone hands you... And let's

say both dogs are just a little bit under course time, two, three seconds under course time. There're about the same speed. But in one of those videos, right, the dog is running. The lines are like pretty good. And the handler is definitely good. In fact, this is probably a handler who has other dogs, who's competed at a high level, maybe one stuff, right? And they're in there running

this dog and they're two or three seconds under. And they come to you and they say, "Hey, I need help." And the handling looks very good. You know, they're not doing things like pushing on the dogs line, they crossing the right places. And you've seen them run fast dogs at a very high level. And then you get the other handler whose dogs also two or three seconds under

time, right. But there's lots of wide turns. They're spinning the wrong way on rear crosses. The handling is not well timed. The cross selection is poor. Like even though you have two dogs, two to three seconds under course time, like we're talking about vastly different situations, right. And that's what I mean by everything being contextual. And I think that's probably the most important thing about this podcast, you

know. We started with something that seems so obvious that, you know, speed and accuracy have this inverse relationship where the more you have one, the weaker the other one is gonna be, but you know, that's not absolutely true. I think we've explored a lot of that, Jen. In this situation, like what are some things that you're going to do or say when you're working with people on these

two sides. - The first thing that comes to mind in this scenario hat about you're describing is we're really solving these issues with two different things. On one hand, we're solving them with handling for the dog that is turning the wrong way and having wide lines and having wide turns. And then we have the other scenario, which is the handling is looking good, that the handler, again, maybe

more seasoned. So there has to be some weakness in the dog training element, whether it's the reinforcement, whether it's the markers. - Right. And in my experience, dog training is significantly harder to teach someone to do and requires a lot of very extreme diligence and consistency then handling. - Yes. - So as an instructor, as somebody said, teaching agility, seminar, and agility, handling seminar, or teaching dog training

seminar, I'm teaching the agility handling seminar because you can often get quicker results, right? Hey, you need to apply lateral pressure sooner. They rerun, they apply lateral pressure sooner. Boom dog's switched leads, problem solved, but dog training that can take weeks months of even hen handling. handler is perfect immediately. You still have to train, you know, some of those bad habits out of the dog or rebuild their

confidence up or go through an entire protocol of, you know, reinforcements and consistency on reinforcements and variable reinforcements and reinforcements outside of the ring, you know? - Absolutely. - So in terms of which one I'd prefer to deal with from an instructing standpoint, the one who we need to clean the handling 'cause I can teach the handler to change that modify that I feel like on a much

quicker scale with much quicker results than dog training. - I feel like we've added ourselves a little bit. Cause when you were describing that, I was just thinking about how excited I get as an instructor, when somebody sends me a run and they're like, "I don't know what I did wrong." And they made like five gross errors and I'm like, "Wow, I'm gonna blow their mind so easily."

(laughs) - Then their dog is gonna be amazing. (laughs) - And this is why I don't do... I don't do contact and weave seminars because contact and weave seminars are never a quick fix. You will never see me be teaching contact and weave seminars. I'm never gonna your weed poles in two hours. I'm not gonna fix your contacts in two hours. It's always dog training, but I'll teach

handling seminars. All I want is jumps in tunnels and in a perfect world. My seminar is jumps and tunnels. - This could lead like right into the next topic, because this has such a huge impact on the sport. If you have instructors across the board who are all about teaching the agility, but they're like, "Hey, you know, the start line issue you're having, I don't wanna work on

it in class with you," You know, like do that away from the field on your own time, you know, your dog's speed, we're not really working on that today. We're working on backsides from a distance or front cross footwork or getting your blind cross done early or whatever. You know, then no one kind of addresses those issues. And they show up with these dogs who always run slow,

they start really slow. And then the last five obstacles they speed up and the amount of work and effort, like just those things that Jennifer was just saying, if she... If you don't understand half the things she said around variable reinforcement, right, reward placement, and just good old fashioned dog training, right, that's probably where a lot of your deficit lies. If you have a dog and you're thinking

to yourself right now. I'm listening to this podcast 'cause I want my dog to be faster, right. You know, that that's, what's happening there. So very, very interesting perspective. Yeah. - Alrighty, well, I think we have covered all the points that I wanted to cover today. I guess the last thing that I would just say is that I do believe that you can have both, you can have

speed and accuracy. You know, I think about a swift winning all four, like try out rounds at the world team tryouts. Right and also swift is a metal, you know, silver metal winning dog at worlds. So literally like, you know, the number two dog in the world at that height and also four for four at tryouts. So it's not impossible to have both. We just want you to,

you know, think about your own expectations and how you approach speed and accuracy and kind of what you want out of the sport so that you're making the right decisions for you and your dog, making the right decisions for you and your puppy as you bring your next dog along and getting what you want out of your time in the ring. And that's it for this week's podcast.

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