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Because Agility is a Mental Game

I am getting my blog up and running very soon! In the meantime, here is something I wrote several years ago (Ok, 26 years ago!) to whet your appetite and get you feeling positive.
Emma jumpHQ

Because Agility Is a Mental Game

Here are some Positive Thoughts for Handlers on the Day of the Competition

By Kathy Lofthouse

February 1991

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!

Agility Tips (2000)

Agility Tips

Nel over a jump
Photo by Tien Tran Photography

By Kathy Lofthouse

September 2000

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.

Kathy's young daughter, Clair, with Bracken on the dogwalk

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:

Rufus jumping the wall jump
Photo by Karen Moureaux, Dog Sport Photos
  • 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!