March 14, 2023

Episode 320: What NOT to Train Right Before a Big Event

photo credit: Chantal Cornelia

In this episode (29:31)

In this episode, the BDA team talks about how we approach training as we get closer and closer to a big event.

You Will Learn

  • Why Jennifer and Esteban resist “bubble wrapping” their dogs before big events.
  • Why you should focus on rate of reinforcement if you make a mistake in a trial close to the big event.
  • Why Esteban often skips the practice run.
  • How your focus on mistakes in the past can cause additional mistakes in the future.


Welcome to Bad Dog Agility, a podcast helping you reach all of your dog agility goals. Whether it's competing under the bright lights of the televised finals at Westminster, or successfully navigating a homemade course in your own backyard. We'll bring you training, tips, interviews, and news about the great sport of dog agility. Are you ready? I'm ready. I'm ready.

I'm ready. The show starts with your host, Jennifer Esteban and Sarah. I'm Jennifer. I'm Ms. Devon. And I'm Sarah. And this is episode 320. Today's podcast is brought to you by HitItBoard dot com and the new 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 HitItBoard dot com for the new Teeter TeachIt and other training tools and toys. Use discount code BDA 10 to get 10% off your order. That's HitItBoard dot com. Today we're gonna be talking about what to train, and actually even more importantly, what not to train right before a big event. So we have AKC Nationals next week. And this,

that kind of brought this to my mind about when you are going to a big event and you're, you know, you have training the month before, two weeks before, one week before, what kind of things should you be focused on and what sort of things should you be avoiding? So that's what we wanted to talk about today. Let's talk about what,

what, like how do you plan your training before a big event? I know that me personally, I am, and, and tell me if you're like this, Jennifer, as an instructor, I'm a little bit more conservative, I think, with students than I am with myself. So I might go out and train stuff and not really worry about,

you know, how long we are before nationals or whatever. I guess I have a lot of trust that whatever comes up, I can work through it, but I get a little nervous as it gets close to nationals about people that I am advising, changing too much about what they're doing, how they're handling, you know, how they, how they deal with their contacts,

things like that. Do you, are you that way? Are you kind of more conservative with your students than you are with yourself? 100% for sure. I don't wanna be the one that's, you know, guilty if I use that word of having a student do the drill again. Okay, do it again. Fix that front cross. And on that repetition,

the dog burned their pad and we're three days from nationals. And then I carry the guilt of, oh my gosh, I've injured their dog and I hurt their dog. So it's more from the standpoint of like, you know, guilt and putting them in a good situation. Going into nationals where if I did the same thing with my own dog, spoiler alert,

it happened about two hours ago. I burned my dog's pad. Who's going to nationals? It's just on me. It's on me, right? It's on, it's on, it's my fault. Now, luckily we are, well not quite a week, almost a week away, eight, six days from the first round. So I think he will be healed and I think he will be fine,

but we did actually cut the session short and cancel the training session for tomorrow morning that was scheduled because he ripped and started to burn one of his pads. But in that situation, like that's on me. I'm not upset. I have time to recover, but I would feel way worse if I did that to a student's dog. So for sure, I'm more conservative with the students and not just from the physical standpoint of keeping the dog sound and the handler sound,

but also as you said, the skills. You know, I feel more comfortable than I'm able to work through something, a training issue if the dog makes a mistake, you know, and I have the experience to be able to say like, that was just a one off. Just because the dog went into the tunnel and turned around this one time in their eight years doesn't mean I need to go to nationals worried that they're gonna do that into a tunnel.

But it is, it is that balance of what's too much, what's not enough and what is the best plan of attack going into a big event. And I think for me it is kind of don't change too much. Like I try to not let there be any drastic changes. That's, I think what's gonna throw dogs throw handlers off. So I don't,

I don't stop training and all of a sudden put my dog in quote unquote bubble wrap for three weeks before the event. But I'm also not gonna do any CRA sessions and go out there and do three a days for the six days leading up to nationals. I just kind of do the routine I've been doing, you know, keep the status quo, keep what's comfortable for the dog,

keep what's comfortable for me. I think I see people will like stop training two weeks before nationals to make sure that they are, you know, protecting their dog. Which, you know, from, from a personal standpoint, you know, if I go to the gym two or three days a week and I all of a sudden stop for two weeks,

when I go back, I'm gonna notice it. It's like, what I don't want is to go to nationals after a two or three week break with my dog and then have the first run and they're a little sore. I mean, they may not be lame or her, but just a little sore. I also don't wanna overdo it, you know,

cramming for the exam never helped anyone. So I kind of keep the status quo as far as what I do leading up to big events with my dogs. Yeah. Yeah, I'd worry about deconditioning as well. I think you and I have talked about kind of how to map out your whole year and how that there are seasons and that you want to do the bulk of your technical training and new skills early in the season so that by the time you're approaching your big event that you've targeted,

you're tapering down a little bit, right? Maybe doing a little bit less, maybe doing a little bit more coursework, a little less sequencing. You know, that might depend very much on what kind of availability you have as far as equipment and classes and, and what, what, what the competition is that you're gearing for. So I think, you know,

the generic answer is one we give for a lot of different questions, which is it depends very much on the dog and it depends very much on the competition that you're going to. So I think it's nice, and this is where I think Sarah came up with the idea. AKC Nationals is right around the corner. Jen, you, you will be there,

Sarah will definitely be there. I unfortunately will not. So everybody listening, go say hi to Jen, go say hi to Sarah, go say hi to some of our other, other people that are gonna be out there, but someone's gotta take care of these old dogs and, and, and the kids. So that, that's gonna be me this year,

but I will be watching the streams. So for AKC Nationals, let me give you some examples, especially now that the team selection process is no longer dependent. Is that correct? Jen? No longer dependent on any runs from AKC nationals for any team European Open Agility, world championship, nothing. Right? Correct. Okay. So let me tell you what I'm not going to do right before AKC Nationals right?

In, in, in the couple of weeks before, I'm not gonna be running big huge European courses, you know, one every day. I I'm not going to prepare for AKC nationals in the same manner in which I will prepare for a tryout event, right? So I think that should be intuitive to people. I understand a lot of people out there,

they only like to run certain kind of courses. You know, international is great, AKC is too cramped, but they're gonna go to N AKC anyway. And they have a lot of opinions about that. But I think you want to get on the sequences and run the kind of courses that you are likely to see, right? And, and generally as I,

as I prepare and I, and I get a little closer, I'm doing a little bit more course coursework one or two months before the event, I want to really target the judges that I'm going to see there, right? Judges have tendencies, right? They have lots of courses that are available to see online. And when we do our NSC n AKC prep course,

this is the kind of stuff we're getting, right? And in that way you can be very prepared, right? And then you can tailor your training to exactly that. But I'm gonna take it one step further, okay? That's kind of big picture one step further. And I wanna see how Jen deals with these situations. There are two kinds of people,

and they're, they're not opposites. One, one group of people is they don't plan out their year, you know, they, they or they get really busy at work and then they've got problems and they're, they're 10 days out, two weeks out. How many days out are we right now? Like literally at the taping of this podcast? How many days?

Six days? Yeah. So we're six days out, right? Okay. So we're six days out and, and, and something's gonna happen. And you know, I think that's the first kind of person. So let me start with this very basic question, Jen, would you enter a trial the weekend right before N AKC? Why or why not?

Yes, I would. And yes, I am Sunday. This Sunday I'm going to a trial. I'm not having, I'm not running all the dogs. And there's, that's, that's back to this part about each dog, each team being very specific, but I am using it as a last chance to reinforce start line stays and reinforce contacts. So I am entered in a show show.

I am not going into that show with the expectation that I'm gonna go try to win the rounds and get me some really fast, you know, mock points and really fast yards for second. I'm going into it with the idea of some last minute ring. Reinforcement stays mean stays, if you break, we're gonna fix and go contacts, you know, waiting on the teeter for release.

So it's, it's almost more of like expensive training than really thinking of it in a trial where I want the cue and I want the green ribbon. Right? And it's interesting that, am I correct in saying you're only entering one day? Yes. Just Sunday, right? So that's interesting too, right? I assume it's a two or three day trial.

Yes, it's a three day trial. Yeah. And so why are you not entering all three days? Because I didn't feel like I needed three days to do the schooling that I wanna do. Exactly. Like I just wanted one last little prep, one last little reminder before we hit the road of like, hey, remember the things that we trained and the fact that they need to,

you know, be ring sustainable. So it's not a show I needed to go to three days where I'm trying to accumulate points and double Qs for next year's qualifications or anything like that. Okay? And so I think the second group of people are the people who are very well prepared. Maybe they're a little more like myself and Jen, you know, very analytical,

some might say anal, like very planning and, but something unexpected happens, right? So let's say, Jen, everything's going great, or maybe I'm a last second person. Either way, I go to one of these trials the week before I say, Hey, you know, I'm gonna enter a day. I normally show on turf show's, gonna be on dirt.

Here's a dirt trial in my area. Let me take my dog out there. It'll probably be helpful for nationals. I like the reasoning, I like the thought process. There they go. And then the dog misses the wheat pantry. They enter at the second or third pole instead of entering it properly on dirt. And it's a, it's that soft side 90 degree approach.

And now they're out here sweating bullets. They've been going through the course maps the judges have pulled out in the past, lots of approaches similar to that. And they're absolutely convinced they're going to see it this weekend. What do you do? And how much training do you put into these wee polls, which is, is a physically demanding obstacle, right?

So I think I would say two, two things pop into my mind as you present this scenario. First thing is don't wait until the week before nationals to review the courses from the judges and realize that they are going to present that week, voluntary. Nice. Do that back in November and December when the premium comes out. But the thing that I would say is if you,

if you are in that situation or you find yourself in that situation, I think there's a lot to be said for the rate of success being super important over recreating the exact challenge. So if we use that scenario, what I would do is I would probably try to, you know, Sunday night, getting home from the show Monday, Tuesday before I hit the road Wednesday,

like four weave poles, my dog really close to the first pole. But doing that 90 degree entry and just 90 degrees, four poles reward. Do 10 reps hope to get 10 successful ones or at least 80% not trying to rush out there and recreate a long straight line into that 90 degree entry where I know my dog has a very good chance of failing.

Because not only do I want the dog to have the high rate of success, but I need to build my rate of success back up. I need to see that my dog can in fact do it. Yes, there's less distance, there's less momentum, it's in my backyard on grass versus dirt. But the last thing I wanna do is dig my whole deeper by recreating it and setting it up and having more failure.

So I think right, increasing the rate of reinforcement, both for the dog and for the handler, will help them not only be more likely to get it in a, a trial situation, but help the handler deal with a little less anxiety. If by chance they see that on a course map, they might say, okay, my dog missed it over the weekend,

but I've done, you know, 40 sets of just four poles in the last three days. And of those 40, that dog got 38 of 'em. So I feel better about this entry. So kind of quality over quantity in the sense of, you know, shorter number of weave poles, more helpful scenario where I know that rate of reinforcement will be high versus panicking,

rebuilding that entire course, running it again, failing again, failing again, and then, you know, having to throw wires on there to get it, which you know, you're not gonna have nationals. Yeah, I really like what you said there, and I wanna point out that Jen is out there and she's perfectly willing to go back to four poles,

right? So I think there are a lot of people, especially once you attain a certain level, let's say it's your third nationals in a row, right? Your dog's been in the finals twice, you know, you are really hoping to have a big performance this year. You might be thinking, he should know this, we should be able to do this.

I'm like, whoa, whoa, whoa. Let's tap the breaks. You're six days out, you've got an issue here, take it back to kindergarten. Start from the ground up very quickly. You'll be able to get through to where you need to get through, right? Don't keep trying to hammer this, what, what is the expression? Hammer a square,

get a round hole, round hole. Yeah. So I, I think, you know, don't be hardheaded, don't be stubborn about it. Really think about it from the dog's perspective and that perspective that we want is keep that confidence high. I think this also applies to contacts. So I think contacts and start lines for people who have poor contacts and start lines are a little bit different in,

in my opinion, unlike weave poles, you can kind of train that up to the day of the event and at the event, because you have the access to practice jumps, right? You can take your bag of treats, get out there and do like a a hundred start lines and lead outs and, and, and hope you can get in enough reinforcement history there to Gitchi through the weekend.

And I think typically you'll see dogs maybe degrading like run three, run four, run five, somewhere around there. I think that's a different kind of a problem. You know, now that more people do running contacts. Jen, let me give you another tough one. They're run running contacts are pretty good, maybe like 90% plus they haven't missed in two or three months.

And then last run of the weekend Sunday, they go to both days they're doing great and the dog runs the dogwalk and just takes a flying leap. It is not even close and there's no o other opportunity for run, right? But you do have access to a dogwalk at home or a training facility. What, what are you doing that week before you take off?

Let's say you, you have about three or four days, right? If, if we're six days out, you're probably leaving to drive travel. How would you approach that? Your student calls you in a panic. They're like, Hey, so-and-so just flew off the dogwalk. I am freaking out here. I haven't slept in a day. I'm a big believer that a dog doesn't really have a problem or a chronic problem with something until they've exhibited that problem multiple times at multiple different locations.

And so if a dog just had one bad dogwalk on a Sunday afternoon, but Friday was good, Saturday was good, the previous trial was good, I would tell that student not to panic. I would say keep the routine, keep the status quo. If normally Mondays are rest day, I know that for my dogs and a lot of my students,

we all just kind of like rest on Mondays from the trial. And maybe you have like a class on Tuesday or a little bit of training on Wednesday, then keep doing that, right? One bad dogwalk out of the last 25 is not a reason to panic. Now, if your dog missed 15 of the last 25 dogwalk that you did leading up to this point,

that's a different conversation. But I think it's easy to let kind of anxiety and panic in the mental aspect of getting ready for a big event affect our training. Because if it wasn't the weekend before nationals and your dog missed a dogwalk on a Sunday, you would not necessarily text your instructor and go, oh my God, what do I do? You would say,

Ugh, bummer, we lost the queue. And then you come to class and maybe you do an extra little reinforcement on the dogwalk or an extra little session and then you get back to life and you show the next weekend or two weekends later. That's kind of what I would do. So I try not to let one bad experience define the dog's career or define the dog's training in that month.

And that's exactly what I would tell somebody is that one bad dogwalk is not a reason to panic. Yes, if you can get to some more dogwalk training between now and nationals, that's fantastic. But even if you couldn't, like even if the last dogwalk you did was amiss, but the 24 before that were solid. I don't think that's reason to panic.

It might make you want to, but that's probably your nerves talking, Right? Yeah. And that's actually, that's really good advice because everybody going to n AKC is going to have a practice run there. And so everything that we just said that applies to the weekend before applies times 10,000 when you're in the, the, the practice run at n AKC and your dog misses the last dogwalk you are going to be able to do because in literally one hour you have your first real run,

right? So just take all of what she said to heart. Interesting. You can say that I, I've been known to skip a practice run for that exact reason, Right? Cuz you're like, bad things can happen. There's too Much good, there's no Upside, right? No upside. There's No upside here. Yeah. Typically that's gonna be with a very experienced dog in my opinion.

Yes, agreed. But I think the other thing that I wanted to point out was, you know, Jen said like, you don't wanna change your training. I think what's even more dangerous than the people who might change their training is the people who change their handling or their trialing. Mm. They get out there and they are watching their dog in a way that they don't normally watch them while they're trying to do the running contact or they get in front of their dog in a way that they don't normally get in front of their dog to get them to stop on the two on,

two off. They do something different because they're so worried about this thing they do off Front process because now they wanna win or all blind crosses, right? They don't typically do that in those situations. Right? And the problem here is you are more likely to create more problems by, you know, hawking over your dog by keeping your eye on them,

not looking where you're going, not trusting them in the same way that you normally do. Okay? You are more likely to create the problem that you're trying to avoid than you would if you had just put it outta your mind and ran like you always run. Yeah. I think there's something to be said for a routine. Okay? So I think the general principles then we're talking about are like not over overwhelming your dog with a lot of volume,

right? So taking care of the physical there and for yourself, not panicking. So you need to take care of your own mental attitude there and preparation. Now, you, you said something about bubble wrap. I think that's pretty interesting because I think that there is one thing that I would change and I would probably, and, and it probably centers around freak accidents,

right? No one can, by definition an accident happens. No one, no one can really prepare for that, right? But let me give you some examples. Let's say that every day in the evening, you let all your dogs off leash and five of them tear around the yard. Okay? So you know, some people, some people do that or,

or two or three of 'em, or you, however you let your dogs play or you let 'em run out in the woods and things like that. There are some dogs that I would not do that with, right? Because every once in a while they'll have some kind of, you know, collision, non-contact injury, right? Their ankle catches on something in the yard,

whatever that is the worst time for them to be running around. And then 15 minutes later you're like, okay, this guy is on three legs now. Like, what the heck just happened? So I'm not, I'm not gonna do that with my dog, okay? But, So basically your risk, your risk assessment is different right? Before a big event For certain activities.

Now let's certain, certain activities, right? So let's say I've, and that may even go not just for running around with another dog, but even maybe you throw a ball for a dog, right? So maybe every night I throw a ball for a dog 10 times, right? Full sprints, they're going like 80 yards. I'm using one of those chucking chucket devices,

you know, I've got a lab or something. I might drop that to five or six if I'm gonna do that because that there are some dogs where it really is part of the routine or it's part of their, like I I would also say like, don't go walking in the woods or the park or in the forest or, or wherever you might possibly get lost or hurt.

But for some of them it is part of their routine so that if you have a very nervous dog, an anxious dog, a dog with a lot of energy to burn off, like you need this, right? It would be like you were saying, bad to suddenly change your routine and you know, not do something that, that the dog kind of depends on for their own like mental and,

and physical health and energy to kinda be well-balanced before the event. So again, it's gonna be very dog dependent, but in general, like you say bubble wrap, those are some of the ways I'm going to bubble wrap my dog. I'm not gonna introduce new food. Yeah. I'm gonna back off on table scraps. You know, the last thing I want them is eating bad restaurant food.

Like, or you know, maybe I give them a bite of my, what, what did Susan always give Gitchi? The from Dairy Queen, those Cokes. Oh Yeah, yeah, yeah. Soft. She, she would try and get that to that dog before the event. I was like, Susan, that, that's for after you win, not before.

Okay. Like I do not want stomach problems with my dog. I don't want them having diarrhea, right. All that kind of stuff. I wanna make sure that my dog is safe with respect to that. Right? So I'm not gonna put 'em in those spots. Absolutely. Alright, well that covers kind of what I had in my mind about this podcast.

I hope it gives people, I think mostly, I hope it gives people a little bit of comfort and, and helps their mental state. But also for those of you who are finding this after the fact, I think it's a good way to look at like how you're going to train and trial leading up to the event. Like now nationals we're six days away.

You, you know, you've handled it the way you're gonna handle it, but next year you'll have our voices in your ear reminding you what to focus on, what to avoid and how to keep your mental game straight. Yeah. You're gonna be okay. You've got lots of practice and training behind you for most of your dogs it's years, not just the,

the past year and the last week or two is not going to ruin that. And for people who really are truly cramming and because of work and injuries and other things, they haven't been in class in months and things like that, that should give you comfort, right? Because whatever happens, no matter how disastrous it is, like you, you had a really good reason for not being at your peak,

right? And so you can look forward to next year that I think for those kind of folks, you know, you just wanna have the real attitude of, I'm gonna do the best that I can. I'm gonna make sure that my, my dog has a great time. I'm gonna get out there and socialize and enjoy myself and make this a real experience that's not necessarily based on the results in the ring.

All right. And before we wrap up, there's just two things that I wanted to mention. The first is, for those of you who are on your mail on our mailing list, this will be very familiar to you, but Esteban has started a new series for our mailing list called the Wednesday Wrap Up. And I've been really enjoying this. Jen,

have you been reading it each time when it comes out? Oh, absolutely. I'm finding it a great kind of like connection between like pop culture and current events into agility. So it's not for those who haven't had a chance to read, it's not like agility wrap up. There might be some agility and dog stuff in there, but Super Bowl, Netflix shows all of that.

I'm loving it. Yeah, yeah, me too. I love it. It's, it's the Stephan's creative outlet. What, what, like what would you, how would you describe it? What is, what is your, what do you want it to be? No, I think Jen described it very, very well. But you know, like dog agility,

it happens in the context. It, it's a very social sport. It happens in the context of the world. Like everything else that's, that's going on. Everything kind of influences each other. That's kind of our thing for this podcast, right? You learn about one thing at work and you say, Hey, I can apply this to dogs. Or you learn something about dog training,

you're like, Hey, I can apply this to my marriage. Right? Exactly. Exactly. So for those of you who are not on your, our mailing list, I would encourage you to get on the mailing list. So you can get the Wednesday wrap up right in your email every single week. You can go to bad dog That's actually gonna take you to a free training that we have.

But it will also put you on our mailing list. So you'll get a free training and get on the mailing list so you can get the Wednesday wrap up. And then the other thing that I wanted to mention is with Nationals coming up is that we will be doing a before and after at nationals this year. A lot of people will know what I'm talking about when I talk about before and after.

But for those of you who aren't sure, it's a kind of a follow along at Nationals online course that we do, where we do course map analyses of all of the course maps at nationals before they're run. So Jen will be doing this, she'll be taking a look at the course map, looking at the challenges, looking at the traps, thinking about how she wants to handle it,

and she'll record a quick analysis of the map. We tried to do it in real time as much as we can, you know, depending on the technology that's available wherever we are. And then after her run, she's gonna analyze her run and be like, this went well, this didn't go well. You know, what kind of learning points can we get from a run?

And we're gonna have some guest guest people this year as well who are going to look at some of their runs. And we will announce all of that here in the next couple of days. So just keep your eye open, especially again on our mailing list. You'll get an email as soon as it opens, but it's a really low cost course and a great way to follow along with nationals.

You typically do a Facebook group for the group, right? Yes. So people in the Facebook group, they can follow along with the results. The videos get posted, right? We post the videos in the Facebook group and on our website, the Facebook group just, you know, sometimes it's just easier for people to like keep track of it if,

if they're trying to be really in real time than going to, cuz they'll get a notification from Facebook and all of that than going to the website. But it's all in our website as well. So you don't have to be on Facebook at all. But it's a great way to see what all of the courses are because we're gonna have that great view.

Like, because if you're trying to follow nationals, you're not at nationals, then sometimes it's hard to get like a really good view of how it's Running. I, I think as a learning tool, I'll say that this is probably one, one of the most brilliant things I think we've ever done, like as a group, because everybody, right? Lots,

lots of people teach, lots of people teach online. Everybody is a genius after the classes run the course, right? Hey, look at this, look at that. Hey, I knew this was gonna happen. I'm sure you did, but Jennifer is looking at this map before any dog is run, right? So she's getting down all her thoughts and then you're getting her thoughts immediately following her run.

And then she tells you like what ran, like she thought it would maybe what didn't, you know, what adjustments she would make, what she would've done differently, what she really liked. I mean, it's really great because you don't have the answers to the test before the run and now you're getting to look into that person's mind. Minds very different from a seminar set up where you know that that setup has probably been set up at many seminars and they've seen every possible mistake and variation.

And so I think this is just very instructive. You can see like a top agility mind at work and you know, peak behind the curtain. Yeah, one of our VIPs recently said this was their favorite class that we do. They can't wait for it. I thought that was really cool. So anyway, just watch the Facebook and watch the email for that announcement and we'll hope to see you in that Facebook group next week.

And that's it for this week's podcast. We'd like to thank our sponsor, HitItBoard dot com. Happy training. Thank You for listening to Bad Dog Agility. We hope you enjoyed today's episode. For more information updates and links to all our socials, just check out our website, If you haven't already signed up for our email subscription, we would love to have you join the BDA community.

Until next time, take care.

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