When we are training it is sometimes hard to know ‘what’ to do next.
I always talk about having goals and I really believe these goals are what will keep you focused and on track when it comes to training your dog, but how do we know what our goals need to be?!
This is when I look at my ‘what’
To do this you need to ask yourself these two questions:
🐾 What is it you are wanting to achieve?
🐾 What is stopping you from achieving it?
From this we can start to get some goals in mind.
Let me give you an example…
So, if you are wanting to go to a competition then we need to look at what is stopping you from stepping into that ring.
🤔Maybe it is that you need to work on a few more skills for beginner entry level.
🤔Maybe you need to work on some distraction training.
🤔Maybe you are worried about your own side of the team, so we need to look at your mindset and making sure you are confident on what you need to do.
🤔Maybe your dog needs some vehicle training to enable them to rest during the competition day.
🧩All these things (and more) all add up to how successful your competition run will be.
Some other examples could be….
What is preventing you from:
⭐️Getting a clear round.
⭐️Winning the class to enable grade progression.
We need to look at the ‘what’s’ to enable your training to move forward and for you to hit those little goals you have set yourself.
You as the handler are 50% of the team, it is up to you to give your dog all the skills and information necessary to enable them to navigate the course successfully and with confidence!
I don’t like that some handlers put all the responsibility on the dog to get it right, when in 98% of cases the dogs are not doing anything wrong at all! They are sometimes either lacking in skills or concepts to enable them to confidently run the course or they are following the handlers body language (who happened to be pointing the wrong way!!)
This is why filming your training and your competition runs is so important. You can watch back and see what happened and why.
Spend some time today on your ‘why’ (part 1) and your ‘what’ and in part 3 I will tell you how you put this information into progressing your training.
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 goalsand 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.
If you follow my Instagram you will know I’m a fan of secure fields. You may wonder why I use them if my dogs are trained?!!
Let me explain….
Not all walks are suited to all dogs. A few years ago I wrote a blog about why I don’t (always) walk my dog, it explains quite a lot and you can read it by clicking here. I wanted to expand on this with my love for secure fields.
As a trainer I know that reinforcement is happening ALL the time, not just when we ‘train’ our dogs.
All of my walks both using secure fields and not using them include a certain amount of training. This comes naturally to me as it is what I do day in, day out with clients so I don’t really think of it as training, for me it is more that I reward my dogs for the good choices they make when we are together. Like I’ve mentioned in previous blogs the rewards I use aren’t always food, they are sometimes play, praise, affection or the opportunity to carry on what they were doing.
The reason I love secure fields is that it provides me and my dogs with so much opportunity!
A chance for them to run free without the worry of interuptions from other dogs or people.
A chance for them to just be dogs!
A secure area to practice training skills.
A chance for me to enjoy time with them without having to constantly be in training mode!
I am sure there are more but these are my top reasons why I love secure fields.
Other dogs on walks are often the cause of many behaviour problems that develop. Not all dogs like other dogs in their space and it is actually really rude to just let your dog run up to another dog! You don’t know if the other dog likes unknown dogs and it certainly isn’t something I encourage as a trainer. I much prefer my dogs to ignore any other dogs on walks. I do let them interact with other dogs that I know and that I can trust are compatible with my dogs.
There are all kinds of secure dog fields and I like them all for different reasons.
You get the more ‘sterile’ ones which are a piece of grass fenced off with nothing else in it. These ones are brilliant to practice any skills that need practicing with minimal distractions.
Then you get ones with the ‘play equipment’ for me I personally like these as it is a way for us to generalise some of our agility skills however, I’m not a massive fan of there being kit in fields that anyone can use as this is potentially dangerous for the dogs if they don’t know how to use the kit correctly. It just worries me about injuries.
Then you get the ones that are natural, like the one where my coaching is based (Paws and Play Paddock at Leashaw Farm) Having spaniels this type of field is heaven for them! A big open space with lots of natural woodland. A chance to do what comes naturally to them with my peice of mind that I don’t have to worry about that scent drive taking them too far!
Obviously I train my dogs while we use the field and fields like this are a perfect training ground for a busy spaniel, but like I said earlier it is sometimes nice to switch off and just enjoy time with them without constantly recalling them etc.
I am really lucky that I can use the whole of the secure field in my coaching and I am often working with clients on a variety of skills in the natural woodland and open areas of the paddock. The field is also next to a quiet road and a semi busy canal path, so I am able to help the dogs to learn the vital skills of disengagement from distractions and those all important recall skills!
If you are on the fence about secure fields give them a go, practice your training or just let them be dogs for an hour. Either way I’m sure you and your dog will love it!
So in my earlier blog I talked through several things regarding rewards and some of the common mistakes people make when training. If you missed it then you can read it here.
In this blog I want to go through two other very important subjects when it comes to rewarding our dogs :
🧩Rate of Reinforcement
When we reward our dogs it is very tempting to reward them for trying or even for looking cute at you….. yes I know, I’ve done it too 🙈😂 (Handy for focus training, not so handy if we are training other things!)
The thing is, dogs repeat what they get reinforced and if we reinforce something that’s not correct guess what happens…. Yep, they repeat the incorrect behaviour thinking that is what you want because you have just reinforced it!🤦♀️
With criteria we need to be confident on what skill or behavior we want and only reward that behavior!
I see it a lot in classes and often hear people say things like ‘oh good try’ or ‘nearly’ then they give the dog the treat. The trouble with that is, the dog thinks it has done a really good thing as they have been rewarded, so he will repeat that same behaviour- after all that is the thing that got him the nice tasty bit of ham!
Think about what EXACTLY you are rewarding your dog for. If you are wanting a sit then only reward the sit, don’t deliver the reward if your dog comes out of the sit, ask for the behaviour again and when they offer the sit again, lots of praise and lots of reward.
If it is a behavior that requires stillness or calm then slowly deliver the treat, if our hands or our movement is high energy, it will encourage the dog to be high energy too and they are more likely to move out of position. Later on in the training we can proof our movement, so the dog learns to stay in a position despite what we are doing with our body.
Like I mentioned in the earlier blog your dog may not just get the reward from the food, you may be giving him a verbal reward or he may be getting his own reward from something else (maybe you have a dog that shuffles forward on a agility start line to get closer to the equipment) or maybe a spaniel that loves to hunt and sniff the ground. We have to keep our eyes peeled and look at exactly what our dogs are doing and WHY, if we can work out the problem it’s easy to find a solution.
This brings me onto my next topic of rate of reinforcement. Once they have performed that fantastic behavior you have been training them then what do you do???
I see it so many times in training.. the dog does something brilliant and the owner then gives them ONE dry boring biscuit 🍪 😔!
For training you need to give the dog lots of easy wins!
Make the task your asking them to do nice and easy then gradually build up the level of difficulty. When they get it right then let them know they have hit the jackpot!! 🎉 Celebrate, give them lots of verbal praise but also make the rate of reinforcement HIGH! Feed feed FEED! Not just 1 treat but LOTS!! (Cut up your training treats into small pieces, pea size is fine)
Dogs can disengage and loose focus very quickly and new training is hard for them. There is lots of thinking and focus involved. This is why I like to teach lots of 3 minute games that can be repeated throughout the day. This works really well for the dogs as the sessions are fun, short but focused.
For training classes or sessions when the environment may be difficult for the dogs always use high value treats / food like cocktail sausage, ham or cheese.
A lot of people worry about how many treats they give their dogs in training and what I usually suggest if they are worried about their dogs gaining weight, is to simply cut down their usual food on that day to make way for the treats you are going to give them when training. Even better if you can use some of their daily food allowance as treats, but this isn’t always possible in distracting environments when learning new skills.
Next time you train your dog make a mental note of what you are actually doing with your reinforcement. Do you accidentally reward the wrong thing? Or maybe you are a bit stingy with your rewards. Put yourself in your dogs position and try to see it from their perspective, would you work for what you are offering?
🐾 Easy Wins
🐾 Correct Criteria Only!
🐾 High Rate of Reinforcement.
As the dogs get more confident with the skills we are teaching we can use a ‘variable rate of reinforcement’ This is the most successful method of teaching a dog a behavior, but when they are first learning or they are in environments that distract them we need to make the reinforcement a good deal for our dogs.
For those who are wondering about using toys as a reward, don’t worry I will be talking about that in a blog very soon!
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How to reward your dog correctly is THE most important part of dog training and it is one of the first things I mention on my FUNdamental Foundations Courses.
In my two part blog I will be going through a few important things to remember when rewarding your dog.
Just imagine this… Its a blistering hot Bank Holiday and your boss has said that you have to go into work for the same money that you get on a normal day 🤯 – would you do it if you had a choice?! I’m guessing probably not! So why should things be any different for your dog?!
Dogs make choices every second that they are awake, some good and some that we may not class as being so good!! Our job as good owners is to reward our dogs for making the right choices.
Dogs will repeat what they get reinforced, it may be us reinforcing the behaviour with food, praise or play or it may be the dog rewarding itself.
So with that in mind make a note of everything that your dog finds rewarding.
A reward doesn’t have to come from us for the dog to find it rewarding. Sniffing, barking, rolling in poo, marking, amongst other things are all examples of behaviours that dogs can sometimes find rewarding.
In the fast paced world that we live in, it is very common for us to focus on all the bad things that our dog does. By focusing on this we are missing all the good choices that our dog is making! If we reward the dogs good choices then they will get that behavior reinforced and therefore be more likely to repeat it.
One of the most common things I come across as a trainer in class is handlers who either are not wanting to use treats or worrying that their dogs will get fat if they do, so in class what they do is they either don’t reward the desired behaviour or they don’t reward it enough or they don’t use a high value food and the dog quickly disingages leaving the handler frustrated which in turn creates a negative emotion which then transfers over to the dog.
A simple way to combat this is to either use some of your dog’s normal food (that they are going to get anyway) for training or to simply reduce the amount of food you give them in their meals that day to make way for the treats you use in training.
There was a study conducted that proves that dogs, amongst other animals actually prefer to work for their food (contrafreeloading). Why not tap into this and use it to your advantage to train your dog the behaviour you desire?!
By using some of your dogs daily food allowance to train you benifit in a number of ways:
It a creates a stronger bond between you and your dog.
It makes you the centre of your dogs world which makes things like recall and loose lead walking a lot easier.
It utilises your dogs daily food in a positive way.
It limits the need to give them lots of treats in certain environments if they are happy to work for their normal daily food.
You do still need a high value reward to teach a new skill, but this is something I will talk more about further down the blog.
I also use some of my dogs food in a range of canine enrichment activities such as snuffle mats, kongs and interactive games.
So……. Imagine the scene, you turn up to class with several new distractions for your dog :
Amongst all this your asking your dog to perform a new skill that they have never done before.
This is HARD for them.
So what do you get out your pocket to reward them with when they achieve the behaviour… … A dry, small biscuit that they usually get anyway at home – not exactly rewarding is it?!
The reward needs to be so exciting for them, something that they absolutely love! If it isn’t the chances are they won’t repeat that behaviour. They only need to be pea sized so not huge and something they can eat easily.
Picture the scenario yourself… You have taken a new high powered job, lots of extra duties are expected from you, its a new place with people that you’ve never met before and your payment.. Minimum wage – which is far less than your previous job! 😣😭
The point I’m trying to get across is that you need to REWARD the good /new behaviour massively – think of it like the dog hitting the jackpot!
Dogs are similar to small children in the respect that they are learning! You wouldn’t raise kids without teaching them basic skills and rewarding the good choices they make, dogs are exactly the same.
When in a class or if I’m out in a exciting or new environment I always take a food reward that my dog sees as being high value; ham, beef, sausage, sprats, cheese etc – a real treat that my dog doesn’t get at home. Your dog needs paying big time for their good behaviour!!
I also use praise, affection, play with a toy and play (game based) as other types of reward for my dogs, so it isn’t always just about food rewards.
If your worried about your dog putting on weight with the extra intake of high value food then simpy cut down their normal daily allowance to allow for the extra calories.
I also use dog safe fruit and vegetables in my training and my dogs love it! Carrot 🥕, broccoli 🥦, apple🍏 are a few of their favourites.
We wouldn’t go to work for no pay and I really don’t expect the dogs to either!
You also have to consider that what your asking your dog to do might not be something that your dog would ordinarily choose to do instead!.. Recalling from a squirrel, rolling in fox poo, counter surfing – these are just 3 examples of things that your dog may enjoy doing more than your desired behaviour (much to your dispair).
It is important to make the reward you are offering them far outway the behavior your trying to stop! Why else would they do it?!
The reward also needs to match up on a energy level too. For example if your dog likes to chase, you need to match that energy with the reward of a game of chase with you instead by using their favourite fluffy toy or a food toy such as a bungee lotus ball. Chase is a natural behaviour for dogs and it is important you recognise if this is a area your dogs need to work on and never have your dog off lead around livestock.
In part two I will talk about reward ratio and reward placement which are so important when it comes to training your dog. Hit subscribe so you don’t miss it!
Yesterday was a sad day for the UK as we learnt the news that our Queen had passed.
It was a strange feeling for me as I would not consider myself a royalist so I was somewhat surprised when I found myself very upset on hearing the news. I will remember the time it was announced, I was watching the news at home then all of a sudden the screen went black, I actually thought that our television had broken as it was like someone had just turned it off for a few seconds. Then it came back on, the background was black and the news that Her Majesty had passed at her home in Balmoral was announced.
The waves of grief that took over my body all evening was a surprise to me. I think it was because our Queen was a relatable figure, we all felt like we knew her but yet none of us did. She has been a constant throughout my life and I although I didn’t follow the royal family in great detail, I had adopted many little traditions that involved the Queen. Tuning in to watch her speech after our Christmas lunch, watching any televised celebrations that came on the TV; Trooping the Colour was one of my favourites and the recent celebrations for the Jubilee was another highlight. I was particularly fond of her sketch with Paddington bear!
Her death also triggered more personal feelings of loss, my Grandad passed away when I was young, primary school age, but I have fond memories of how we used to joke together that my mum was like the Queen. I would often write to my grandad even though we lived close by. I would draw a stamp on the envelope with the Queen’s head on and Grandad would always joke on the similarities between her and my mum in my drawings. The house where my Grandad lived and where we shared many happy memories actually overlooks my training field, I often look over to the house as I am teaching and reminisce.
I bet many of you also have memories which relate to the Queen in one way or another, it sounds maybe a dramatic statement but our lives will now always be different. The memories we now make with our own families will now have a King as our Monarch. We will see lots of changes including the cash we all use daily, it will now be The King that is pictured on each coin and bank note.
This is a huge moment in British history.
I think these memories are what has triggered this grief that I am feeling, The Queen was a mother, a Grandma and for her family I feel so sad. They will be feeling an immense loss but have to keep up this public persona which will be incredibly difficult for them. It is also a timely reminder that time with our own families needs to be truly cherished.
So what has all this got to do with dog training?
The Queen loved animals and her love of dogs is captured in many pictures, I can truly relate to that. I heard a story on the news last night of The Queen speaking with someone who was distressed and they told how she reached for some dog biscuits, handed one to this person and simply said “Here, let’s feed the dogs, I find that helps” how wonderful to hear of stories like this. Having a dog by your side really does help with all manner of things. Those who have read my book will know the personal journey I have been on with my dog, Milo.
I feel that it wouldn’t be right at this sad time to be posting my usual social media posts and carrying on as normal, to me that feels hugely disrespectful to a Queen that has given all of her life to serving her country. I have decided to suspend my social media posts until Monday and I will reassess then. I will still be teaching though, so if you are booked into a session then those will still be going ahead. This may change in the following few weeks as I expect the whole of Britain will pause when the Queen is laid to rest.
For now, this is your reminder to cherish those close to you, make time for your loved ones. Be kind to all those around you as you really don’t know what feelings this news will be triggering for them. We all are individual and we will all process this huge moment in history in different ways, depending on our own personal feelings and emotions.
Just like humans our dogs are individual, obviously they are oblivious to the news but they will pick up on your emotional changes. Dogs can smell our emotions so just bear this in mind if you find yourself upset and your dogs start acting out of character.
Your daily walks may also change with your dogs, as we unite as a country we may stop to chat to people for longer on our walks or make conversations with those who we don’t normally talk to and if your dog isn’t used to this, you may find they start acting in a way you don’t expect. Being close to unknown people or new dogs can upset some dogs so please bear this in mind when you are out and about. I also expect there will be gatherings of some kind, all speculation, but if these do occur then think of these from your dog’s view to limit any feelings of negative emotions for them.
Although this blog isn’t of its normal tone I wanted to put my thoughts down to mark this huge moment in British history, and as usual if you do have any dog training concerns, please contact me via my website and I will be happy to help.
Copying is unfortunately something I’ve become used to all of my life. Even back to my school days I can recall many a situation where I was being copied one way or another. When I set up this business many years back a local person copied every single thing on my website! So you could say I’m pretty used to having my ideas and content replicated.
The thing is, in dog training there are going to be similarities, dog training has been happening for years and as trainers we learn from others and replicate the things we have been taught. Any good trainer should be keeping up to date with their knowledge both practically and theoretically so good dog trainers should all tell you the same thing and be doing similar things in their practical training.
I am always referencing the people who I have learnt from when I teach. But what I don’t understand is when other businesses obviously grab recent content and try to replicate it as their own 🤷♀️.
I get it, all businesses need to attract clients but isn’t that better to do on your own merit? Come up with different ideas and think outside the box a little? I know I’d soon get caught out if I was to just regurgitate information I have heard without the backed up learning theory… what if I was to be asked a question and I fumbled and didn’t know the answer? I’d soon look like a fraud! 😆
People buy people, that is a fact. One thing that can’t be replicated is someone’s identity, their uniqueness and how that person makes others feel.
We live in a world full of comparisons and in reality you should only ever be competing with yourself.
Are you a better version of you today than you were yesterday?
Once you get into that mindset of just watching others and trying to do as they do, it is a quick downward spiral to losing your own identity!
There are hundreds of agility trainers, they will all teach you how to get over kit. Some will go into more detail than others depending on why they are teaching, who they are teaching, what experience they have and how current their education is. Just because someone has been doing it years doesn’t mean they have been doing it well or correctly all those years!
You need a balance of experience, education and up to date achievements. Take the grade progression for example, it was a lot easier a few years back to progress to Grade 7 than it is now!
When you are looking at trainers look at what they are doing now, how are their current dogs doing? Have they attended courses recently both theory and practical? What do they teach in their lessons? Can you go and watch before you commit? Are the dogs happy and content when training? Are they encouraging? Can they answer questions? Is the environment a good place for the dogs to learn?
These are all the things that differentiate one trainer from another.
I personally see it as a complement when I see similarities start to pop up or I get told what others are doing. I could get upset but the reality is they like what they see and want some of it themselves! How could that not be a complement?!
Anyway to the person who loves my ideas, thank you 😊. By replicating what I do you will hopefully be able to help more owners and dogs and you will be helping to spread the word about kind and ethical training with the similar content you are putting out to the world.
Me, I’m off to rebrand a few of my courses as I like to be unique, so any similarities will soon be gone 😉. I like to keep things fresh and when I see similarities start to appear I simply create something new!
On Sunday we had a trip to Agility Vision as Flash had qualified for the Grand National Finals sponsored by Adams Agility.
We weren’t expecting much as both dogs have been having a semi break from competing so we are a bit out of practice at shows as we haven’t been doing many this summer 🤣.
I wasn’t actually going to run Flash in the final as in an earlier agility run he came off the end of the seesaw and scared himself a little and we didn’t complete that run. Luckily he had another agility run to do with my only aim being to raise his confidence and I would just see how he went. If he wasn’t happy I wasn’t going to run him in the finals. We have been doing a lot of work on building Flash’s confidence recently so I wasn’t going to do anything that would jeopardise what we have built so far.
Flash was fine in the agility run, we occurred a few seconds time faults as I was taking my time making sure he was happy on the contacts before carrying on, as I was so focused on the contacts I also forgot the course half way round so that too didn’t help with the timing 🤦♀️🤣.
We had never run in a final before so I really didn’t know what to expect. I was actually not nervous at all, something that really surprised me. I used to get so nervous before running the dogs but I don’t so much now in normal classes, but with this being a final and with all the spectators I was expecting the nerves to return but thankfully they didn’t 😀.
The ring had a really nice atmosphere and each side was packed with spectators. We had been given a course plan a few hours before the final so we could make ourselves familiar with the course and it really helped me prepare what I wanted to do when it was time for course walking.
I was so impressed with Flash and how he coped with the commentary and crowd. We were 6th to run and his run went really well and he went clear. All I was wanting was to see him happy in the ring. I wasn’t thinking about placings as to be honest, running in intermediate height against collies is never an easy task. They are physically at an advantage compared to a springer spaniel. Flash is accurate but he doesn’t have the speed of a collie.
With it being both mine and Flash’s first experience of a finals I just wanted to enjoy it!
We were in first place right up until dog number 11, then after more dogs ran we were down to 4th.
We ‘would/might have’ finished 2nd, as the 2nd and 3rd place dogs both gained faults but the judge then changed her mind about giving the faults as the dogs were running the course 🤷♀️. I don’t mind at all though as to come 4th with a happy Flash and me with no nerves made me super proud!
What made the day extra specialis that my Mum, Dad and Daughter had come to watch some of our runs, and my Dad and Daughter were there for the final. They had never been to a show before and to have them there supporting me (along with John) was really nice.
It strengthened my belief that it is the memories that you make at a show that count, the rosettes are nice but the memories are what really matter. That is why I make sure my dogs are 100% happy when running with me, we want happy memories or otherwise what is the point in competing?!
Overall we have had a fantastic finals show. To make it even more special Milo brought home a clear 2nd place in his agility run earlier that day earning him more points towards his next agility warrant.
We hope you have all enjoyed your bank holiday weekend whether you have been competing or not.
Till next time, happy training!
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Those that follow my social media will already know that I have laser targeted the business to focus on problematic agility behaviour. You may be wondering why I’ve done this, so I thought I’d explain.
Dog behaviour is fascinating and I love agility as a sport – so why not combine the two and help as many handlers as possible to achieve whatever success they desire!
Problematic behaviour in agility isn’t something that is routinely covered in your standard agility classes but it is something that, in my opinion is way more important than the kit itself! If we truly understand what is happening in our dogs world at each moment we are training them, then the training would be far more successful than just training the kit on its own!
There are many fantastic agility trainers that teach the agility skills, both online and offline but what I found has been missing is the dogs emotional state when training! (I get it, I have been there, it is hard when you have a set workshop planned and certain skills people have signed up to train, so I completely understand why it is often overlooked).
Dog behaviour really fascinates me, I am constantly learning new things, taking new courses and updating my knowledge and skills but I found I wasn’t using all this knowledge by just training the agility kit and I was often faced with dogs who weren’t in a place mentally to take in the learning as it was intended.
What a waste not to be able to use my knowledge to help as many handlers and dogs as possible to progress by just a few tweeks to their standard training! Dogs are brilliant and have been bred for many generations to please us, we owe it to them to understand them as much as possible!
If your dog is barking and in high arousal, unless we have taught them certain skills to think when in that state of mind then the training will not be as successful as it could be. If the dog is jumping up and nipping the handler while training or competing, instead of labelling the dog as ‘silly’ ‘crazy’ or ‘stubborn’ ask yourself WHY this is happening. Help the dog out in that situation instead of chastising them, this would be far more beneficial in the long run than giving them a label they don’t deserve! I have never met a crazy or stubborn dog yet in all my years of training – I have however met several that are worried, frustrated or over excited and struggling to understand what their handler is asking them to do in that moment in time!
The spaniels that have all been labelled as ‘just sniffy dogs’ lets look at WHY they are sniffing and help them out with teaching them what we want them to do instead! The collies that lunge and bark on the lead while their handlers are chatting ringside – let’s help them to disengage and learn them an alternative behaviour that will put them in a better mindset to listen when they enter the ring! I could go on with the list but I think you get my point.
Agility is 90% of what you do at home and what the dog is rehearsing day in day out – and I don’t mean on the kit.
A lot of the dogs I work with have success very quickly once their handlers open their mind to this lateral step in their thinking and training. They start to train the dog in front of them and not the one they think they should have on the end of their lead.
Dogs are individual and behaviour can change in an instant. If you look after how your dog feels and make it easy for them to understand what it is you want, then training them the actual agility skills is the easy part!
There is little point in training a dog on kit who is unable to focus due to the environment or distractions!!
I have made this sideways step as that is exactly what I did with Milo when I was training him all those years ago. Back then it was harder as looking at the dogs emotions wasn’t as widely known as it is now. I had to ignore the comments that I was feeding him too much or several other snide remarks I received along the way! I knew I was doing right by him and the effort and training paid off, he is now in grade 7 and for a first agility dog with the new rules of agility progression I would say that is an achievement in itself! Flash has now joined him in grade 7 and it is all down to me understanding their individual needs in each moment of time they are training or competing.
I never have pushed my dogs to perform, I don’t actually train them on kit that often at all, but what I do is understand their needs and look at what areas may need topping up. Confidence, focus, tolerance to frustration, disengagement – all these skills are vital in agility yet none involve jumps, tunnels, weaves or contact equipment! I obviously do have to train them on kit but this is done with all the other things in mind.
So next time you are training your dog agility, really look at the session – are you asking too much? Is the environment challenging them? Are we providing them with a good deal compared to what else is on offer naturally?
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Today we had a major breakthrough in Quest’s training. All the weeks of patience, understanding and structured training has started to pay off 💙🧩🧩.
Earlier this year Quest went for a routine vet trip. It was the first time he had ever been in the vets with me. Previously due to all the lockdowns he had been handed over to the vet team in the car park.
On our visit it became apparent very quickly that Quest was scared, his whole body was shaking and when the vet went to touch him he did a little air snap. We popped a muzzle on him to be on the safe side 😔.
I muzzle train all my dogs whether they need it or not so the actual muzzle wearing was no bother at all. He is used to wearing one and enjoys playing that ‘game’. I believe it is such a vital skill for dogs to have, to be able to wear one at ease should they ever need to. When a dog is in pain or scared they may bite, so by having them used to wearing a muzzle that is one less thing that could worry them.
When I walked out the vets that day I made a promise to Quest that I’d never put him in that situation again!
Both Milo and Flash are fine at the vets as they had lots and lots of opportunity as young puppies to visit and just play games. Due to lockdown Quest didn’t and the downfall of that was a dog that was terrified.
So I put a training plan in place and part of that plan was visiting the vets twice a month for a free socialisation visit with the nurse.
The visits started with Quest just being in the same room as the nurse and very gradually building up to where we are now. It has all been done really slowly and thoughtfully, not rushed and all at a pace that Quest is happy with. He has been seeing different nurses on each visit just so he doesn’t get attached to just one.
Combined with this, at home we have been playing lots of confidence games and working on other areas of his training.
Why is this all relevant to agility?
Because in agility before your dog can compete they need to be measured.
Now Quest’s agility training has been going brilliantly, he is a little star 🌟 but the thought of putting him through a measuring session wasn’t filling me with happiness, so what did I do?
I practiced with him….
For the last few months, each day for a few minutes we have been very slowly replicating what happens at a measuring session. We started off really slowly with him just learning to stand on the platform.
Alongside this we carried on his muzzle training just incase we were to need it, we continued visiting the vets and implemented the other training we had in place. I also booked Quest 2 measuring appointments, so if he was unhappy at the first I could scrap it off and there would be the 2nd appointment scheduled a month later that we could work towards.
If you follow my socials then you will already know that Quest was measured last weekend (on his first attempt) He coped really well AND we didn’t need his muzzle! 💕✨️✨️✨️✨️✨️
Anyway back to the vets….
So for the last few months we have been working towards Quest feeling happier in the vet environment and letting unknown people touch him.
To say I’m proud of this little guy is an understatement!! 💙 ❤️
Today all the training has come together, he was happy, let the nurse examine him, walked happily behind the scenes with the nurse to get weighed and coped really well with 4 dogs in the waiting room barking at him.
Does this mean the training is done… NO! We will continue to go fortnightly as I want him to continue to feel confident and happy. Then we will drop it to once a month and then every couple of months.
Seeing him happy and confident is all I want, whether that be in the vets or the agility ring.
I will never put a dog in a situation they can’t cope with, all my training whether that be my own dogs or students dogs is done at the dogs pace.
Confidence around agility isn’t an issue for Quest but by implementing this extra training it will only help his overall confidence and happiness.
Like I always say agility is 90% what you do at home and how you make your dog FEEL.
If Quest knows he can 100% trust me to help him in ALL situations then this will transfer into the agility ring! This will transfer to more independentance skills, increased connection and trust on course, if we can trust eachother to do our ‘jobs’ out there then it will only increase performance.
Time, patience, understanding, knowledge and guidance are the best things you can ever give your dogs… the rewards and toys, they are just a bonus and a bridge between you, them and the relationship and bond you’ve created.
Look after your dogs emotional needs and they will pay you back tenfold 💕🧩🧩🧩🧩🧩🧩
While I’m in no rush to compete Quest, it is nice to know we can step into that ring as soon as we are ready. In the meantime I’m going to keep piecing those bits of our jigsaw together 💙✨️💕.