March 26, 2024

Episode 339: Support vs Babysitting in Dog Agility Handling

photo credit: Great Dane Photos

In this episode (21:39)

This week, we delve into a topic suggested by one of our listeners: the fine line between babysitting and supporting your agility dog. In this podcast, we explore how the right balance of guidance and independence can significantly impact your dog’s confidence and performance on the course.

You Will Learn

  • How the handling support your dog needs changes over their experience level.
  • How you use trial and error to discover how much support your dog needs.
  • Why Sarah thinks it’s a good thing to occasionally pull your dog off the correct obstacle.
  • How to use placement of reward to increase the dog’s commitment to the obstacle.


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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 Estevan and Sarah. I'm Jennifer. I'm Estevan. And I'm Sarah. And this is episode 339. Today's podcast is brought to you by St. Rocco's Treats It's grace from Hounds of hack. It's Amber from American Canine country. It's Cynthia From CH Dog Agility. It's Lindsay from Y two Canines, and we love using St.

Rocco's treats as our high value Reward. And you will too. Visit us at St. Rocco's Treats. Do shop and use the code BD 30 for 30% off your first order. Enjoy the attention grabbing flavor and easy to break texture that grace, Amber, Cynthia, Lindsay, and so many others. Love about St. Rocco's Treats. Again, use the code BD 30 for 30% off.

Thank you. And you can find a link to St. Rocco's Treats on the show notes page. Today we're gonna be talking about the difference between babysitting your dog and supporting your dog. And this actually came to us from a podcast listener. I love it when they reach out and send us emails. And this listener had been watching AKC Nationals and is currently running a novice,

a dog. So I love it. A beginner who is watching the National Agility Championship, getting excited, seeing how agility runs at the highest levels. And she said it got her thinking because she tends to babysit her novice a dog quite a bit on course. And she's wondering if her efforts to support her dog may have been holding her back from developing her confidence.

And so she noticed when she was watching N AKC that she's just seeing a lot of independence from the dogs. And so that's where the idea for this podcast came from. And I love this idea because I think this is very true for novice a handlers, but I think it is also a phase that a lot of handlers go through with each new dog.

So I think of it as a beginner dog phase. So let's start by I guess, defining things like babysitting and support. So I'm gonna start with how I think of these things. So for me, support in the, in this context means that I am providing physical cues with my handling and especially with my motion that help the dog know where to go.

So I am supporting them when I run at a jump. I am supporting them taking that jump. If I'm an advanced handler and I tell my dog to take a jump and I run the opposite direction, I am not supporting that jump right now. I'm depending on training for the dog to go find a jump that I've indicated while I go and do something else.

So that's kind of how I think about support. It's basically everything that you do that makes it easier for the dog to do the right thing. So then I think, okay, what do we call babysitting then? And so for me, babysitting means I am giving my dog more support than they need. And to me that is the absolute definition of babysitting.

It is support, but it is over supporting the dog. It's giving them more support than they need. So Stefan, Jennifer, what do you think about my definitions? All right. So if I had to think about kind of using the example that you just talked about, Sarah, I, I would say that my understanding or my thought process on the two is very similar.

So the way that I teach, we have six different cues that provide the dog with information. In the case of a forward send, I think good support has four of those cues, supporting the jump, shoulders, hand, verbal eye, and two of those cues saying, Hey, we're turning right? That's the forward send, that's gonna be the motion.

And the location I think babysitting is instead of saying, okay, here's the four that support the jump, here's the two that say we're turning babysitting is like all six are running up on the jump. So you're almost overrunning a forward send. You're not just saying, here are the cues, here's what we're going, this is what you need to do.

But it's that, you know, I think we think of it as insurance. Well I'm gonna take that extra step to make sure they don't pull off the jump. And that extra step isn't what they need, it's not what they're trained to do. It puts us deeper, it potentially gets a wide turn, but we think of it as well, I need to make sure they go kind of almost fear of a mistake.

So if I have to like quantify babysitting versus support, support is what they need it tell 'em where to go. It's the four versus two ballots on a forward send and babysitting is the like, well I'm gonna do six to zero, I'm gonna go all the way up there and almost, you know, driving too deep or delaying crosses and doing crosses on the flat because I wanna make sure that my dog goes to the jump or,

or gets the commitment to the obstacle or doesn't, doesn't pull the bar. So I think it's a very fine line because I think support is necessary. I need to tell my dog where to go and confirm in their mind, yes, I do want you to take that obstacle, but I can't watch it. I think we also can kind of get into like mental versus physical commitment and talking about the difference between the two on this.

Absolutely. And I will link to the podcast that we've done on, on physical versus mental commitment because I think it's absolutely part of this. And I, I think if we talk about kind of phases of, of training, especially a new dog, then I, I think we can also see how support becomes babysitting. Because I think that our young and our inexperienced dogs,

when they're first starting out, they kind of need maxims maximum support. Like you might with a brand new dog that hasn't done a lot of agility, you might have to run all the way up to a jump or even past the jump to get them to take it, right? They might need that level of support. I think that that support becomes babysitting when you never progress away from that,

when you always kind of give them that maximum level of support and you never test them. And so I think how do we, how do we get away from babysitting? Well we have to, like if we are in a, in a phase of training where our dogs kind of need that little extra bit of support from us. Like they're, they,

if we pull away from their line, they pull with us, they don't take the jump in front of them, that kind of thing, then we have to occasionally remove just a little bit of that support and see what happens. And when they get that right, we have to like wildly praise them that they did the, their job with a little bit of less help from us so that they know to keep doing that,

right? And if they make a mistake, then we know that we have removed too much of the help that they were, that they needed at that time. Oh, so how's this for a working definition? I've been mulling around both of your comments in my head. So support is what the dog needs in order to get something done. And then babysitting or perhaps dog sitting,

no babysitting would be when you're giving them unnecessary help that they don't need in order to do whatever it is. And I would say additionally, it's probably costing you something as the handler, right? So if you have to really stick with the dog on the weave poles right next to them, you can't get ahead, you can't get behind, you can't get lateral.

You have to always be there to handle the entry, the exit, and every, every pole in between. Then you might lose some handling advantage where it would be great if you could be further ahead of the dog by the time they exit and the dog would more independent in their performance. And there's certainly gonna be courses that punish handlers who have to stay with their dogs like that.

So you're giving something away potentially, because otherwise I would say that it's fine to ba babysit your dog because it's just support if it never costs you anything, right? Like you can get around the entire course and that's just the style in which you run and there's never any advantage to be gained by doing it differently. Like what do you really need to have an independent,

you know, 20 foot send if you can literally outrun your dog everywhere, right? But are you probably not, yes you're babysitting by someone else's standard, but I think the standard for you and your team, you're not really losing anything there. Yeah, I totally agree with that and, and I think, I think that you're right that like we can give our dog more some more support.

But I do think that there is this idea and, and, and it may be a little bit dog dependent in terms of their personality, but I have personally witnessed many dogs that after the initial, the initial phase of training where you start to remove some of the support, right? Once they work through that they actually do have more confidence in their ability to do it.

So the dog that you never ask them to do anything on their own, like you said, if you can outrun your dog, if you go everywhere and run all the way up to every single jump and you never ask your dog to do anything independently, then they're never, they never build the confidence that they can do it themselves. They're always kind of following.

And I think that you can actually build confidence in dogs by asking a little bit more of them. So after that initial dip, you actually get an increase in performance. So for example, like, you know, running contacts training, right? And at first the dog may keep pace with the handler, things like that. But as they learn the job and the more independent they can do it,

the more they can kind of forget about you and run as fast as the dog can run. I think as a parent, like there's so many correlations here to raising a kid Yeah. Of just like, okay, what's the support they need for the behavior, right? You're gonna leave them home alone and they have to make their own dinner. So you tell 'em what they're gonna do and where everything is,

but you're not gonna call 'em every 15 minutes. How's it going? Did you do it? Okay, did you turn on the oven? Did you, you know, that's that babysitting. And the more they do it on their own, the more confidence they have. Eventually they get to a point of, you know, being competent and normal, functioning human beings and that's that helicopter parent,

right? Right. Like if you're constantly hovering, hovering, helping, helping, you know, not letting them gain any independence from you or any tasks on your own, they don't develop the, the confidence and the ability to do it without you. So as you're, as you're saying it, I didn't think of it that way, but I'm like,

oh, this sounds like a parenting podcast. Yeah, yeah it does. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Sarah, I, I can, I know how to feed the dogs. I know I gave them the right food. I mixed it up one time. Alright, so let's talk about how to know if you're supporting or if you are babysitting. And I think here your Instructor will tell you.

Yeah, I think that there is some of that. Absolutely. I've definitely looked at videos, but I think also a lot of times the results tell you, and the most obvious is when you don't give the dog the support they need, right? That's when the dog is going to pull off of an obstacle pull off of a line come with you when they should have done something else.

To me that is always a sign that that dog in that situation needed a little bit more support. So the lack of support is kind of pretty easy to diagnose, right? But then how do you know if you have crossed over from support to babysitting? And so I think one thing with babysitting is, as you pointed out, Estevan, if you are struggling to get to places on course,

if your cues are late, you are probably babysitting something. And that's leading to your late cues or being out of position elsewhere on course. Either you are babysitting or you have a deficit in training. Like if you remove that, that extra support to get to where you need to go and your dog comes with you, then now you have a training issue,

you they need more support, but they need more support, then you can give and still get to where you need to go. So then you have a training issue. And I think that's really important to bring up because currently right now I have a scenario in my building where there's a technical element of obstacle three that's affecting handlers to get downstream for number five.

So handlers are not making it for five, getting the wrong side of a backside on five. And I think a lot of people are feeling that the issue is on five, and I've been teaching and talking about how the issue is at three. But what's been interesting of all the teams that I've worked with, some of them it is too much support.

They're babysitting, they can cue it and leave and they need to trust the skills, it's cue and go get downstream, quit babysitting, quit over supporting, tell the dog their job, let 'em do it and go. But in other teams it's a deficit in the skill. So there are a couple teams that I've worked with that I've, I've just said,

you know, from a handling standpoint, what you're doing is perfect. It looks great. You're cueing it appropriately, you're in the right spot, but as you leave, you are leaving on the desired time, but your dog is not staying committed to number three. So because now you have to babysit three, you're not making five. So it really is a separation of dog training versus handling.

And that's a super important point to make because I don't want people to think that, oh well I'm, I'm babysitting and just need to cue and go. There may be a deficit in the dog training that needs to be addressed. So super great point there. Yeah, I'm actually glad you came up with that example from your, your own classes because I didn't want people to get lulled by our example into thinking,

oh, this is for dogs that might run a little slower, have a little less confidence. I think some of the biggest babysitting issues I see are around, for example, backs size and th threads even among highly trained, very competitive teams at big national events, even international events. And the other one I see, I think it's the absolute killer in dog agility is start lines.

You know who you are, you have an otherwise pretty fantastic team. I think it's happened to the very best of us at some of the very biggest competitions where you have had to take less of a lead out than you wanted or maybe you were overly focused on the lead out and start lying and if your dog would stay and then it immediately caused a problem somewhere else,

right? You know, five or six, seven obstacles downstream. But we can very easily take it back to where, where the real root of the problem was and it was babysitting a particular skill in this case, not having that confidence in the start line. Absolutely. And I think to me, the biggest sign that you're babysitting is that you never,

ever, ever pull your dog off the correct obstacle. So, you know, I like to say that if you are never too early, then you're probably always too late. And what I mean by that is if you never pull your dog off of the correct obstacle, then you are not pushing yourself to the edge of what your dog can do. Because like we,

none of us are going to be so perfect that we give our dog the exact amount of support they need every single time and no more and no less, right? Which means if we're not perfect, then if we never give them a little bit less meaning we pull them off, then that means that we're either perfect or too much every single time and you don't even know where your limit is because you've never,

you've never given your dog just that hair too little support and pulled them off the line. So in my opinion, a very healthy way of training and running classes or or running in practice would involve at least the occasional pulling the dog off the line because that shows that you are pushing it, that you are trying, that you are trying to see how little support you can get away with in your agility handling.

What do you think about that, Jen? All I keep thinking about is my recent pulling the dog off the line at the invitational final. Oh yes. The, the not perfect moment where I failed to assess the commitment and pulled off the line. So as you're talking, I'm like, she she's talking about me, this is me, this is the moment.

So yes, I agree. If you, if you know that's a lot of it is trial and error, especially for young teens, you know, going back to who wrote this in novice person, I mean a lot of it's trial and error of just today I had a class and somebody, we were working some forward sends and somebody kept going too close,

going into close and I said, just desell for the back, send to the dog and go, you're going way up there. And she goes, I don't trust her. I'm like, well you're never gonna know what you can and can't do if you don't send. And sure enough she sent the dog was fine, but it, they were young team,

this dog is not even 18 months old. So it was really about figuring it out. But you know, absolutely that's, mistakes can be a good thing as they say, you either win or you learn. So you gotta learn. And that, that timing does evolve as the team goes as well. Yes. So what you have at 18 months might be different than what you have at six years old as well.

Right. And that's the, that is the kind of, that's the kind of thing that I want people to stay away from is where you, you handle your dog the same way at their debut that you handle them five years later, right? You are running up to every single jump you are maximally supporting every line. You don't trust your dog anywhere five years later.

Like that is totally appropriate at your novice debut. But you have to evolve your handling over the dog's career and and account for their experience level. And you do that with the trial of error in practice. So to wrap up, I'll just give a couple of ideas on how you do increase your dog's ability to do their behavior with a little bit less support.

'cause that can be a little bit hard when you're first starting out, you're giving your dog kind of maximum support and you feel like if you change anything, they're, they're not gonna, they're not gonna take the jump. They're not gonna do the weaves. They're not going to do the, the contact. And I think here, I think placement of reward is just a,

a, an amazing training tool to help you bridge the gap. Because with just a little bit of a visual prompt of like a reward that that encourages the dog to actually take the obstacle with a little bit less support, then you can let them get used to you slightly changing your handling, you know, with that placement of reward that's gonna encourage them to take the obstacle.

Then they get their reward. And then, you know, several times after that maybe that that visual cue of the reward is no longer there. But now they've kind of learned that I can do this jump even if mom is now a foot away from the wing instead of right there at the wing. So I think really utilizing your placement of reward, whether it is a pre replaced toy,

whether it is a manners minder or some sort of treat dispenser. We have a live that we did on that a couple of years ago that I'll put in the show notes. I've even just used a, a, a bowl and I started with a bowl with a treat in it, and then maybe the next repetition, it's just the bowl. There's no treat there.

And when the dog does the correct behavior, I go put a treat in and then maybe I remove the bowl altogether. And it's, it just really helps the dog kind of focus on the task, bridge that gap, get the rewards in, and then now the rewards are what's going to progress the behavior, right? That now you're into just straight dog training.

At that point they do the right thing and they get a reward, they make a mistake and they don't. And you know, you progress that over time. All right, well that is it for this week's podcast on support versus babysitting. You can let us know if you have any questions about this by commenting on Facebook or sending us an email at

And thank you very much For the listener who sent this in, we'd like to thank our sponsors, St. Rocco's Treats and hit it Check out the Teeter TeachIt only at HitItBoard dot com. The Teeter TeachIt is 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 hit 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, www do bad dog

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