So you may be wondering what I am talking about, so let me explain…
In this 3 part blog series I’m going to go through why these 3 things are so important in our dog training!
When we discover the sport of dog agility we can often get swept away with the shiny kit and want to do it all as fast as possible!
When we are a little bit more into our training we can then get overwhelmed with the amount of skills and concepts that are needed to navigate a course successfully!
We can also get paralysed with fear at the thought of ever stepping into a competition ring and in my 3 part blog series I have some advice to help you out!
If we let ourselves get swept up in these scenarios then it can sometimes be hard to know what to do or train next!
When this happens I tell my students is to revisit a few things. And in part one I’m going to tackle this one first…
To discover your why, ask yourself these questions:
🐾Why did you decide to get your dog?
🐾More importantly, why did you choose the specific breed that you have?
🐾Why did you decide to take up agility with your dog? This is the most important thing you need to know and it is something you will need to revisit on a number of occasions throughout your agility career.
We can get so caught up in agility training that it is important to revisit why we got our dog in the first place! If this doesn’t align with what you are doing now then maybe a rethink is required or we need to step back to make things align more with our ‘why’.
Those who have read my book will know that I decided to get Milo after my mental health wasn’t too good and I wanted a companion to help me to leave the house again after anxiety had made this seemly simple task not so simple!
I chose a Cocker Spaniel after lots and lots of research into different breeds and decided a Cocker was a perfect match for long walks, training together and an active lifestyle (He wasn’t chosen with agility in mind and we actually looked into gundog training first)
It is no good just saying “To have fun with my dog” You can do that away from agility! You need to be honest and dig deep!
🐾What made you choose this line of training with your dog when there are so many activities to do with them?
I often find that beginners always say “to have fun” with no other expansion on why specifically agility and the truth is that agility training should ALWAYS be fun!
It doesn’t matter if you are just starting your training or you are stepping on the green carpet at Crufts! If it isn’t fun for your dog then please STOP and maybe look at another outlet for them. It really upsets me to see sad, pressured dogs in the ring being shouted at by their handlers to ‘perform’ as the human ego has overridden the dogs emotions.
So back to that ‘fun’ thing… New handlers always say this but usually what happens in my many years of experience, is that the human side of the team gets carried away and suddenly the dog isn’t having fun anymore or the handlers are speeding through skills training with the desire to do everything as fast as possible, leaving the dog with no real understanding of what they are really doing!
There is nothing wrong with having goals and big ambitions!
I would much rather someone say to me “I’ve watched agility on Crufts and I want my dog to go to Crufts too” than them pretend they never want to compete but later on decide they are going to run for team GB with a dog that is very unprepared!
Now obviously there are people that do naturally progress with no desires to enter the ring but then find themselves in a position where the next step is naturally competition. I was one of these people!
When I started it was just an outlet for me to leave the house. I was just focused on something for Milo and I to do together.
With Flash, I did know we would try agility with him, however I had no rush to get him in a ring! In both cases it was my trainers who told me to enter competitions, I was quite happy turning up to training each week I wasn’t in any rush to get to competition.
Quest was purchased with agility in mind and competition, but again we will enter the ring when I feel we are ready and there is no rush at all!
Because my why isn’t in it for the prizes or rosettes!
My why is about me, my mindset and connecting with my dog in a positive way which allows our relationship to grow! I know that by rushing things it won’t help the bond and relationship, it will hinder it! I have working breed spaniels that need a job to do. If they didn’t partake in some kind of activity they would show problematic behaviour. I do agility as both me and my dogs enjoy it, if my dogs ever stopped enjoying it they simply wouldn’t do it again and I’d find a different job for them to do.
I had no idea when I started competing how the progression system worked and it is 100% honest when I say Milo and I flew up to Grade 5 by accident in 5 months when we first started competing. When we had a win, other competitors were telling us what grade we’d be in next!
Believe it or not I don’t chase rosettes!! My only aim when running is to go clear and if we don’t it isn’t a problem, we just learn and improve. As long as my dogs are happy that is all I care about. After all, these dogs have given me my freedom back, they have built my confidence up from rock bottom, they owe me nothing at all!
Their emotional wellbeing is my number 1 priority!
Our success is a byproduct of my understanding of their emotions and the relationship we have created together.
I did however put too much pressure on myself to get to Grade 7 and I stopped enjoying the game! But that was nothing to do with my ego, it was actually lack of self belief, letting the comments of others get to me and wrongly believing that the Grade 7 label would somehow make me more accepted by other trainers and competitors (but that is another story in itself!)
I’ve revisited my why recently and I’ve reconnected with exactly why I do this sport and I am having a much better time in the ring! I’ve made some changes with my daily habits and I’ve aligned more with my values enabling me to let go of all the politics that can go hand in hand with competitive sport and I now just focus on my why!
Really ask yourself WHY you do agility, but be honest!
There is nothing wrong with being competitive and wanting to do well, you just need to do this with 100% respect for your dog. You need kindness and understanding to train them not pressure!
Most successful people are successful because of the time taken to understand their craft, to understand their dog inside out. They understand how their dog learns and use this in their training. They train the foundations way more than they do the sexy stuff!
Yes, unfortunately there are some exceptions to this where pressure, fear and the dog wanting to avoid conflict has enabled handlers to fulfil their ego’s desires but you will notice this a mile off if you stand ringside!
Concentrate on the handlers whose dogs are having fun, the ones who don’t change anything when the dog goes wrong, the ones who’s dogs get the same rewards regardless of their results. Those are the ones you need to look to for inspiration.
If you need help with your ‘why’ or with a training plan tailored to your dogs needs then get in touch. Both online and in person coaching is available.