When does your agility run start? My run starts when my dog is next in line to run. I cue her to tug when the dog in front of us is halfway done, and I enter the ring as instructed by the gate steward, crossing through a magical barrier that separates the agility ring from the rest of the world.
You’re familiar with this magical barrier. It has plagued your dog, or your friend’s dog, or your student’s dog. When the dog crosses the barrier into the ring, they act differently than at home or practice. They become distracted, they run slower, they make more mistakes. As they near the barrier toward the end of the run, they suddenly speed up.
You suspect it’s your fault but you’re not quite sure what to do. We can use the concept of a behavior chain to help fix the problem. Think of an agility run as a series of behaviors, all linked to each other, one after the other. First, your dog sits, then they stay, then they jump, then they turn, then they jump again, then they weave, and so on until the run is over and you put their leash back on.
Now, find the weak link in your behavior chain. Where does the behavior break down? In this article, I’m focusing on the entry and exit points in the ring, so let’s assume your dog gets distracted there. How do we fix it? By lengthening our behavior chain—adding super strong links at the weak point. These strong links will be simple, high value behaviors.
I have two great videos for you below. In the first one, I show you my entire trial run routine including how I extend the behavior chain beyond the first and last obstacles—all with tugging and hand touches. In the second video, 2018 AKC National Agility Champion (16″) and Westminster Champion (16″) Jennifer Crank shows you her exact trial run routine—but with food instead of tugging.