Another one?!?! Truths about marking and having a wee when playing agility!

In today’s frank and honest blog I tackle a subject that is a bit taboo…….

This subject often separates pet owners from agility handlers as both have different opinions about how much of an issue it is!

So firstly let me start by explaining that in agility, dogs urinating or going to the toilet in the ring is an instant elimination – you are not allowed to carry on the course and you must leave the ring straight away (after cleaning it up) It is very much like doing the walk of shame as other handlers start to stare and pray that their dog will just ignore it!

So it goes without staying that in training the same rules apply, as you want dogs to learn that going to the loo when working isn’t appropriate.

The issue lies (well it certainly has for me) when new handlers come into the sport. The sport needs new handlers as otherwise it will die a death, yet there is always a distinct awkwardness when mentioning this rule. I can guarantee it always happens and often new handlers don’t see it as an issue.

Here lies the problem! It is an issue as it is unfair for 2 reasons:

  • The other dogs who will use the area to train – it is normal for dogs to want to mark over where other dogs have been.
  • Your dog – you want to set them up to form good habits and when you train with other agility trainers, go to workshops or enter the ring then it is really unfair to expect your dog to suddenly stop something that they have practiced.

Do they need the loo?

What I need to explain is that your dog urinating is very different from them ‘marking’ even though it looks exactly the same!

Dogs will save some urine back especially to mark. It has nothing to do with them needing to go to the toilet.

It is natural for both boy and girl dogs to mark and some dogs even find it reinforcing!

What I will add, is that marking can also be a displacement behaviour, if the dog is finding something a bit difficult.

Also defecation can be a sign of both positive and negative stress, so it is really important to understand WHY your dog is doing this behaviour.

How do we train them not to do it?

So this is the million dollar question!

Owning 3 boy dogs, I know, just like every other owner, just how hard and how much training this involves!

The question is, as owners will you put the work in to train it?!

Well that depends largely on how important it is to you for them not to do it! You have all proved that you can put the training in, as I’m pretty certain that none of your dogs mark in your lounge, kitchen and bedroom?!

But let’s be honest, in agility, it will only be a personal issue when it is you and your dog that are getting frowned upon or told to leave the ring at a show!

For those who have no intention of going that far then they may wonder why it is such an issue.

So along with the reasons I mentioned above, the agility equipment costs hundreds and thousands of pounds! It is also not that easy to clean and get the smell out of! You need a special disinfectant and time to move it out of the course, replace it and give it a thorough clean before using it again!

For me, as soon as I know agility is going to be on the cards for my dogs I put this training in place:

  • I put toileting on a verbal cue.
  • I have a routine that allows them to have plenty of opportunity to go to the toilet before training/ competition starts.
  • I give them regular breaks in training to see if they need the loo, or give them an opportunity to mark in an area that is appropriate (outside the ring or training area)
  • I manage their behaviour when not working – I teach a solid recall, use a boundary/ bed and I click them on lead when they are not on task.

By doing these things I set my dogs up for success and prevent as much as possible these things happening, but again, by knowing WHY your dog is doing it, it will also help you put in any other extra training such as confidence building games or games to manage arousal levels.

What if it happens?

This very much depends on where it happens to be honest and the rules that are in place at that training venue.

It is worth asking if you are unsure before training. Some trainers have fines and I do think this is a good idea as it suddenly makes handlers more vigilant as to what their dog is doing!

If an accident does happen, pop your dog on lead to prevent further issues and clean it up yourself!! It is not the trainers responsibility to clean up after your dog! (Imagine that being your job?!)

Offer to help rectify the problem if it something that needs rectifying. For example if your dog pees in the tunnel and that tunnel now needs to be taken out of the course, pop your dog away and help to move it out – even if that takes up the rest of your lesson!

It is all manners after all – we can’t expect other people to clear up something that we as owners are responsible for! It isn’t fair to take someone else’s training slot time and expect the trainer just to carry on with your session.

So I hope this blog explains why this taboo subject is so important. These are just rules of the sport and if we want to enjoy this sport with our dogs we must follow the rules – it really is that simple!

Unfortunately there are lots of rules in life, this is just one of the many agility ones!

It can be done, it has been done by millions of agility handlers all over the world.

If you need any help, you know where I am!

Happy Training


Published by KB Agility

Games Based Agility Coach. One to One Agility Training. Small Group Workshops and Seminars. Based in Derbyshire.

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