Click the link below to read “Starting Out Right: Building on a Puppy’s Natural Drive and Instinct” written by Kathy and published in Clean Run Magazine.
A lady came up to me on the trail today and told me “I like your dog”.
At an agility trial 20 years ago a lady came up to me before I went into the agility ring and said “I know you are busy getting ready to run, but I wanted to say that I always enjoy watching you before and after you run. It is so clear that you love your dog whether you win or not.”
I thanked her, heard the gate steward calling and quickly went to the gate. I was thinking about the course, but with overtones of thankfulness. Nel and I won the class that day and I have never forgotten the kind words which meant so much more than the blue ribbon.
Blue ribbons fade over time, but kindness is always remembered in glorious color.
The person you were kind to five minutes ago is probably being kind to someone right now.
That person you took a moment to compliment on her beautiful gray-muzzled senior dog is filled with the love and memories an oh-so-cute puppy. Fond memories of days gone by when passers-by would remark on how this dog glowed with youthful energy and vigor. They both had a spring in their step as they walked away.
Dog people are mostly “love me, love my dog people” and sometimes take other people’s dogs for granted, but as moments are remembered it is so often the simple kindness of somebody saying “what a lovely dog” which stands out beyond the ribbons, titles or accolades.
Today we played a condensed version of the waiting-politely-to-play games. They all really love to play with “their” toys, so I was very proud of them!
The dog who waits most patiently gets to play first. The youngsters are getting the hang of it and the grown-ups are showing that after years of hogging toy time they indeed can learn new tricks.
In California AKC Novice is usually during the hottest part of the day. USDAA Starters can be running at any time, but often happens after lunch. It’s not just novice dogs who need to be used to the heat though, USDAA Grand Prix Finals are usually held in the early afternoon.
Unless you wish to give your dog a nasty surprise for their first Novice runs or Grand Prix Finals, it is best to make it very rewarding for them to do a little bit of agility (no overdoing things, agility runs only take seconds) in the heat of the day.
Imagine a dog that is used to a group class in the evening experiencing their first agility run and their first warm rubber contact obstacle (surprise! no rewards in the ring) at a time of day when they are very used to napping.
This is why, in fairness to my dogs, some of my infrequent training sessions are a quick trip outside to reward a contact obstacle in the warmer part of the day.
I am currently teaching my English Shepherd puppy, Kelsa, (14 months) to love the seesaw. She really enjoys jumping on the end and getting treats from the cookie machine (Treat and Train). It was pretty cool early this morning, but by 10 am I realized that the weather had changed and it was already a wee bit too hot out there. She was keen to get started, but I decided to have her wait in the shade while I felt the rubber contact on the seesaw. I am so glad I did as it was too hot for my dog to comfortably hold a position with two rear feet on.
She was willing and able, but as the entire point is to generate a good first impression I decided to have her remain in the shade while I had a think. I did explain what was going on and she was quite cool with the idea.
It is always good to have a think about what you are asking a willing dog to do because it is only fair and it also makes your training so much quicker and easier! If in doubt about anything do stop and think and if you can’t think of a good reason to do it, then don’t.
This morning was a big eye-opener about the impressions our inexperienced dogs get from our seemingly ridiculous desire to ask them to run over rubber in the middle of the day. While I was thinking I decided to get a towel and place it over the rubber down contact on the seesaw and see how much difference that made.
After a few minutes I tested it and it was considerably cooler and Kelsa was still keen to have a go at playing with the seesaw and the cookie machine so I let her do a couple of repetitions and then came back inside.
So if you have running contacts expect your dog to run faster in the heat and if you have stopped contacts realize that your dog may have a good reason for not wanting to hang around.
This is just one story of a smart dog and his highly trainable human.
My English Shepherd, Rufus, was the dog who could go anywhere and do anything, but he did require some steering to keep him out of trouble in the foraging department!
I will never forget when we had just arrived in Houston, Texas for the Pedigree Grand Prix of Dog Agility. Rufus and I had won the trip to USDAA Nationals with flight and hotel paid for by Pedigree Dog Food sponsors of the event, but were unprepared for the high humidity and wildlife of Texas.
Our first day in Houston and Rufus needed a walk outside before retreating to the relative coolness of our hotel room. What could possibly go wrong? Two words may give you a clue: Flexi Leash!
A short way into our walk Rufus managed to pick up a slice of bread which he managed to swallow just as I saw the fire ants that were crawling all over it! We were both stung as I tried in vain to retrieve the bread from his throat, but the biggest problem was yet to come.
As we prepared to run in Grand Prix the next morning I noticed that Rufus appeared somewhat off his game. He was not interested in his toy which was highly unusual. When we ran the course he was clean, but very slightly slower than usual. He missed the finals that year by .75 of a second.
I was disappointed to be missing the finals because of a slice of white bread and a bunch of fire ants, but wasn’t I fortunate he was not allergic.
My best dog ever Trio just brought me a pine cone. Of course, any of my dogs are “the best dog ever” if they bring me something and look so proud and happy about it!
Pine cones are to be treasured and this particular one smells beautifully of pine trees, but the topic of this particular blog is not pine cones.
Today the subject that springs to mind is training a dog to do agility and hopefully getting the opportunity to run in Starters/Novice.
I have heard some people refer to this momentous occasion as “going through novice”, but I think this makes it sound as if it is not a fun experience at all and simply something to “get through” before the real fun begins. Looking back at the times I have been fortunate enough to step to the line and take on the first ever courses with my dogs I will never describe it as “going through Novice/Starters”.
Let’s see how many times have I done this?
Twelve USDAA Starters Dogs:
Rufus, English Shepherd
Purdy, English Shepherd
Bracken, English Shepherd
Nel, Border Collie
TC, Border Collie
Bobbin, Pembroke Welsh Corgi
Stroller, Border Collie
Daz, Border Collie
Twiggy, Border Collie
Just Emma, English Shepherd
Watson, English Shepherd
Six AKC Novice Dogs:
That’s 18 trips to that precious Starters/Novice start line.
Hey, Wait! Make that 7!
Trio, the dog who just happens to be sitting in front of me holding a beautiful pine cone in his mouth looking so proud of himself, just “went through AKC Novice” before I even had a chance to realize we were there. More about that later!
The point I’m hoping to make here is not how many dogs I have “been through USDAA Starters and/or AKC Novice competition with, but just how important it is to truly believe that the dog sitting in front of you, whether he is holding a pine cone or something unmentionable, is truly the best dog in the world. Agility happens most of all between the obstacles and outside the ring. Only a small time is spent in the actual competition so remain in the moment, relish the experience and enjoy it for all it’s worth, as it truly is an honor stepping to the line for that first time in Starters/Novice competition.
Okay. Now I really have to get off the computer as the best dogs ever are being very quiet and patient. Must reward that before it is too late!
P.S. When I got my puppy, Trio, I had an interesting conversation with somebody who commented that “Now you have to start all over again!” as if it was something to be dreaded. I was and have always been thrilled to meet a new puppy or dog, to develop that playful bond and to apply layer upon layer of mutual trust which hopefully will be the beginning of a fun and enjoyable agility experience.
For more on the mental game of Dog Agility, check out “Because Agility is a Mental Game”.
This is me with one of my first dogs Rufus.
Because Agility Is a Mental Game
Here are some Positive Thoughts for Handlers on the Day of the Competition
By Kathy Lofthouse
I enjoy agility competitions because they are a chance to see my friends and a chance to show how good my dog and I have become. I have trained and prepared to do my best and now is the opportunity to put all that training on display. We are going to do well.
When I walk an agility course I look at it as a challenge, which will bring out the best in my dog and I.
Before my dog and I enter the ring I concentrate on the course and how we are going to do the best clean run we have ever done. I focus on the job and so does my dog.
I know we can do a good clean run and I will make every effort to be sure that we do.
My dog and I have our own special way of running an agility course. We are special and we can get good clean runs because I concentrate on every detail. I believe in myself, and my dog. We produce great performances. We are going to do well.
I learn the course and decide how I will handle my dog through each part in order to get a good clean run. I do not hear those who may be obsessing about potential problems on the course. I simply decide where my dog and I ARE going to be going.
When we run the course I concentrate on every little detail, working in rapport with my dog from start to finish.
My dog and I move briskly and smoothly through the course doing the best job we possibly can, working together as a team and paying attention to the contacts along the way.
I enjoy agility and when I run a course I do everything I can to help my dog. I keep in touch with my dog and give him commands clearly and well in advance so he knows where to go next. We work together as a team. That is what makes us so special.
Today we will show everybody how it’s done. Our rounds will be a fluid demonstration of dog and handler working together.
I know we are good and today is the perfect day to prove it.
I believe in myself and I believe in my dog and that belief is so strong that we can do anything today and enjoy ourselves in the process!
By Kathy Lofthouse
Warm Up Properly
Whenever training agility, playing with your dog or before a competitive agility run, please be sure to warm yourself and your dog up thoroughly. This is crucial for the achievement of peak performance and the prevention of injuries.
A carefully planned warm-up routine can enhance the agility experience for both dog and handler. Be sure to walk about and allow the dog to gradually stretch his legs, relax and get the kinks out. Let him sniff and answer the call of nature. Gradually walk about with him in a more purposeful manner, gaining speed and stimulating both human and canine circulatory systems.
At this point many competitors like to engage in a stretching routine for themselves and their dogs. Some play little games, tricks and maneuvers, which engage the mind and body of their agility partners. After several minutes, short periods of jogging can be introduced. Only then is your dog ready to engage in playing with toys, jumping the practice jump or sprinting and finally going into the ring.
One note of caution: Be especially careful when traveling with your dog. Several agility dogs have been injured when being suddenly asked to run at speed when having been confined in a car for long hours of travel. Even if your dog loves to chase the ball, please let him walk about, sniff and stretch for a considerable period of time before throwing his toy.
Common Reasons For a Dog Going Off-course
One of the most disappointing faults in an agility run is where the dog goes off course in spite of what the handler considers to have been great handling. Unfortunately, the handlersí reaction to this is often a reason for the dog learning to run slowly and carefully around the agility course, sometimes for the rest of his/her career. Before blaming the dog for this transgression please consider the following may have occurred and remember that what you do in the ring for this run will directly affect his or her next performance:
- Handler took her eyes off her dog
- Command was issued too late
- Command was not clearly given
- Dog was not trained for the challenge
- Handler used ambiguous body language, such as leaning forward when she really wanted the dog to arrest forward movement, waving an arm towards a wrong obstacle in order to “help” her dog, glancing toward an obstacle to which she did not want the dog to go
- Handler did not know where she was going in time to give proper guidance
- Dog has been given many rewards for performance of a particular obstacle and very few for the performance of another
In order to avoid the same pitfalls as this handler you should always:
- Keep your eyes on your dog, except while making a very quick and efficient blind cross
- Issue commands in a timely manner, i.e. in a jumping sequence the dog needs to know where to go while he is in the air over the previous jump
- Give commands clearly and with confidence and gusto
- Move rapidly in the direction you wish the dog to go
- Train the dog better before competing
- Stand up straight if you don’t want the dog to push on faster
- Keep your arms to yourself unless you are very proficient at using them close to your body. Square your shoulders towards the obstacle you would like the dog to address
- Learn the course well and then go where you want to go. Do not worry about where you don’t want to go
- Keep a balance in rewarding obstacle performance, i.e. don’t just give rewards or praise for contacts, but sometimes for jumps and tunnels, table etc.
- Particularly useful when using the “Here!” command, always be sure that your hands respond to the command before you expect your dog to do so! One of the most common errors is for the handler to be yelling “Here!” while their arm is waving toward the direction the dog is, of course, going
Most importantly, for all but the hardest headed dog, if your dog goes the wrong way, please go with him or her and keep running, thereby preserving his or her positive attitude.
Your dog will thank you!