Wednesday, July 14, 2010
Have some (dog)sense...
Unfortunately common sense is not as common as one might think. This applies not only to life, but to dog training as well. There is nothing that grinds me more, than having to watch senseless people confuse their dogs to the point of no return.
Let me start off by saying, I have made many many mistakes in agility training and I honestly believe that all of us have and still do. Ranging from small indescretions to major mistakes, I believe that these are inevitably part of our sport. Mainly because of the fact that we are not working with mechanical vehicles or a pair of running shoes, most sports truely have the advantage of reliable engineering, which contributes toward making these sports an exact science. In agility our partners are living breathing mammals, with their own ways and quirks, not only that, but our dogs share our homes and lives, so we influence them every second of their lives. Our agility training does not end outside on the dogwalk or at the end of an hour lesson at our local dog training school, it continues when we are sitting in the lounge watching TV with the dogs lying in their beds, it continues when we go for a ride to the vet, it continues every single second of your dogs exsistance.
That having been said, I am NOT advocating handlers to over-analyze their dog's every step, nor am I saying that you should be a control freak and manage your dog's every move. I am merely reminding you that your dog's entire life is actually one big learning session. As dog owners, handlers and trainers, we need to have the sense to enhance this long lesson as much as we can, but most of all we need to have the sense to know when we have made a mistake and try our very best to correct it and never repeat it.
In one of my beginner classes a few nights ago I was doing some basic exercises. Due to the varying levels of the handlers and dogs in this class, I treat each student individually and might adapt whichever exercise I am doing to the specific team that is running. Of course this means a lot of work for me, because, in between each dog, I run around, changing jump heights and angles. I don't mind whatsoever, to me this is part of building a team that can run to the best of their ability. One specific handler (who has only been training in my class for a couple of months) stopped me from simplifying a particular sequence for him, insisting that he can do the more advanced exercise and quoting his obedience trainer to justify his decision. His dog failed miserably with its first two attempts and subsequently started running under the jumps. I quietly pulled him aside and explained that I would rather create a situation for his dog where it could succeed and get rewarded, than break its confidence, we could then gradually advance the exercise to the advanced version. I further explained that it is not ideal to push a young dog (his dog is 18 months) too much and creating problems for the future. The handler went quiet, but ran the simpified exercise and succeeded, even though the dog was less confident than it was at the beginning of the class. I thought I had resolved the issue, so imagine my surprise when the handler reset the advanced exercise after class and attempted it NINE times with no success. I eventually asked the handler to leave the course, as I could not stand watching the dog shut down. I doubt if this pupil will ever return to my class, but I still hope that he will one day find some sense.
This is just one example of a subject very near to my heart. I wish there were rules of when to stop, when to start, when to simplify, when to advance, when to take a break, when to push, when to hold back, but since we are working with living creatures there is not. We need to observe and respond, that is the only way to apply sense in agility. Here are a few thoughts on some of the senseLESS excuses I have heard:
- If your dog is jumping up/biting/nipping/scratching you when you let him out for a run on the
or when I arrive at your gate, how can you expect the dog not display the same behaviour on
agility course. If your dog displays this behaviour, recalling him, rewarding and watching as he
turns around and does exactly the same thing is NOT the solution.
- If your dog has a 'perfect startline wait' at home or a training school, but is a rocket with an
outboard motor attached at a show, remembering how you started training this behaviour in
BACKYARD or at the TRAINING SCHOOL is a good place to start. Reversing away from the
screaming WAIT at the top of your lungs, drop and run or setting the dog up 20m from the
start line is NOT a solution. Trust me on this one, I have made this mistake with more than
one of my dogs.
- If you are saying 'my dog has perfect contacts, but only if the next obstacle is in a straight line',
then your dog actually does not have perfect contacts. Go back to basics and proof your dog's
behaviour, or retrain, or accept the fact that you will only have success on courses suited to
your 'method of training'.
- There is no need to tdo the same exercise fifteen times one after the other. If your dog got it
right twice, why did you have to do it again. If your dog got it wrong twice, he is not under-
standing what you are asking and he probably won't the next thirteen times either.
- If your dog runs out of the ring to attack another dog or handler, it is actually NOT the other
person's fault for 'being too close to the ring'. Your dog's biggest desire should be to work with
and please you, it's time to build the bond with your dog.
- If your dog does not have a recall, he should definitely not be off-lead at a show or any
other crowded public area, nevemind in an agility ring competing.
- Other people might not appreciate your dog screaming at the top of its lungs as much as you
do, when someone is trying to speak to you at least attempt to keep your dog quiet or put him
- 'But (insert famous agility trainer's name) says/does/trains it this way...' Fair enough, there
are some spectacular dog/handler teams in the world, but if you watched the dvd five times,
read the book twice, applied every single step of the method and you are STILL failing, what-
ever you are doing is not working. Remember each handler and each and every dog in this
agility game is different. Take in the knowledge spread by others, THINK about it and then
apply what is suited to you and your dog.
- Screaming is not a training method.
- Letting your dog get away with murder is murdering your dog's potential.
- There is nothing wrong with stopping after every four or five obstacles to reward. You dont
HAVE to run a full course every time you train, even if the other handlers in the class do. 'But'
Johnny does it' got old when I was five.
- One of the best ones I have ever heard, was when I advised a student to open up her channel
poles a slight bit again (she had trained this method from the beginning), to resolve the prob-
lem of the dog missing entries, doing 'hit and miss' poles (the dog would do four, pop out, skip
three gates and then go back in etc) and being unable to find his stride in the poles. She said
that she had already packed away her set of channel poles and she was way too lazy to take
them out again. The handler then regressed to the good old 'wave my band back and forth
the poles while yelling 'in' 'out'' method. The point is not which method was used, but rather
why she took the time to teach one method (channel) and then 'retrain' another method,
merely because she was apparently too laze to move one piece of equipment again.
- NEVER forget to reward, if your dog does the poles wrong, you redo them and your dog gets it
right but you just continue with the sequence without rewarding your dog has learned nothing.
These are just a few examples and thoughts, as I said there are no rules when it comes to sense and many of you might dissagree with me. All I am asking is for everyone to THINK in agility.