Well hasn’t 2020 been quite the year and not the one any of us were expecting to have!
2020 has changed the business and reflecting on the last year it has actually changed it for the better, even though it may not have seemed that way at the time!
We have found our new sole use venue which I am SO grateful for! It has always been a dream from when I first set up the business to have a sole use venue and I now have one! It has a fantastic well draining sand surface which has been a god send with all the rain we have been having!
When I initially looked at the venue and it was all overgrown and derelict I actually wondered if we would be better with a field! After the long slog of tidying it up and fencing I am so glad we went with the sand arena – no slipping on wet grass, no mud and very limited cancelled sessions due to the weather!
2020 made us focus on one to one training and said goodbye to our regular group sessions (thanks corona) I actually love training one to one, dogs are so individual and unique and clients get more success training one to one as they are focused on the training and not the distractions of the other dogs in class!
We will still run small group workshops as this is part of the dogs training progression but these will be tailored for the needs of our one to one students.
I have also developed my online tuition, Zoom consultations, webinars, seminars and my favourite service yet my Geek Club!
I am so passionate about learning, understanding and the dog as a whole and geek club enables me to help owners truly understand their dog as a whole which inturn enables them to have greater success in their agility training.
My own dogs also managed to have lots of success in the limited shows that we did this year. Flash won into Grade 4 at just 2 shows which I’m very proud of! Flash also gained his Agility Warrant Bronze and finished 3rd in the gundog league.
So signing off for this year and reflecting on all the positives that have come out of 2020. Who knows what 2021 will bring but for now enjoy your Christmas and spoil your dogs 🧡🖤.
Yesterday I trained my own dogs in an indoor arena. It is only the 2nd time that they have trained in this venue so when packing my treat bag I needed to think carefully about my choice of reinforcement.
The arena has a very nice AstroTurf floor so my choice in which food I used had to have careful consideration.
I needed something that is high value and motivating enough for my dogs but I didn’t want to use wet food such as ham as I didn’t want it leaving any residue on the floor (out of respect for the venue) I also didn’t want something that is too crumbly as I don’t want it to leave crumbs all over the floor that could distract my dogs or other peoples who were there after us.
Here is my choices:
As you can see in the picture I have a range of rewards! These range from medium value right through to high value.
Platinum sticks – I’d say these are medium value for my dogs and possibly the lowest in my food choices. These will be used for established behaviours that the dogs are confident with in any environment.
Next we have our own branded fish treats. In today’s selection I’d say these were the next level up, however we do use these as high value rewards too in different scenarios. What I like about them is their small size as they enable me to deliver a high rate of reinforcement without the worry of giving lots of food.
We then have the Kronch salmon treats and cheese. I’ve put these in the same bracket as I think for my dogs they hold the same value.
Then I have the liver paste which will be used for close work, for example if I want to keep them employed in heelwork or during or circle work for a warm up.
Then at the top of the list we have dehydrated steak. I love my dehydrator – I use it a lot for creating high value treats without the wetness they would have without the dehydration. They also enable me to give a highly motivating reward very easily with no fuss or mess.
It is important to say that the dogs normal food intake will be reduced to allow for them having this, they obviously won’t eat all of what I take to that training session.
What do you use in your training to motivate your dog?
Do you have a selection of food that you use in training or do you always reward with the same thing? Do you use the same thing for your agility training each session?
It is important to always have a variety and to mix up the type of rewards you use each time, I mean I love steak however I would get bored of it fairly quickly if I had to eat it for each meal or even if I had it every single time I went to a restaurant for dinner!
The other thing some people struggle with is using treats when their dogs are raw fed. this is also because of the value of the food the handler uses compared to what they get at home for free.
Raw fed dogs are getting such a high quality food when at home and for doing nothing, no work, no training (if owners haven’t ditched the bowl) yet their owners take them out into extremely distracting environments and then expect them to recall or learn new skills for a dried treat! These are usually the dried treats that have been purchased from the supermarket with minimal nutrition or taste for the dog! (Think chewing cardboard!!)
I am always quite confused when owners ask me when they can stop using food in training and I often reply “the same time you go to work for no pay” Yes we may reduce the frequency of rewards given in training but we always reward with the dogs highest motivator. I can’t understand why owners get so hung up on giving food… it is food not gold!
Maybe your dog likes toys better than food when training which is fine. Toys can be a fantastic motivator and reward when agility training.
However toys come with their own little warning label and it is important they are used correctly.
Toys increase arousal and when arousal is increased the dogs have a diminished ability to think clearly unless we have taught them specific skills for this. Beginner handlers sometimes get frustrated as the dogs then don’t listen and frustration in training will over time break down the relationship and could even deplete the dogs desire to play with the toy at all or even do agility!
The other thing with toys is that unless trained correctly the dog sees them as something to enjoy on their own. You may have experienced this yourself, your dog gets the toy and then runs round for what seems like hours having a great time with it. Then they won’t come back into you, they do that super fast fly past and any hope of you getting the toy back relies on your ability to catch them.
In agility we need to use the toy as an extension of us, that the dog has a big desire to retrieve it as fast as they can and get back to the handler for a game of tug.
If you’d like to know more about any of the subjects I’ve covered in todays blog then keep an eye on our website for our new online courses and webinars.
Rewards and the importance of getting them right is something that some owners can find tricky.
Rewards are usually seen as treats or praise but there is so much more out there that can be rewarding for your dog. What we need to do as owners is find out what exactly motivates our dogs and learn to use this to our advantage when training.
Having the correct rewards and motivation are essential for successful training and it is really important that we learn what our dog loves in order to use this as a reward and reinforcer in training.
It is important to say that each dog is an individual and what they find rewarding will be as individual as they are. Along with this how rewarding they find something can change due to the environment they are in and their arousal levels at that time.
For my dogs, food is their biggest reinforcer. They do like play but at this stage it’s not a strong enough reward for me to use it to reward them in agility.
Play is fantastic and we do use play as a reinforcer at home and we are at the stage now of introducing play to new environments as a reward when training.
Pre covid I would have a one to one training session with my trainer, both dogs have 30 mins each and in the picture below is what I typically take with me to a session.
There is our own brand dried treats in the pots, cheese, ham and chicken. I use a Lotus Ball to deliver the food reward when training certain skills.
It is important to have a range of treats available and I often mix and match what I give them in training to suit what we are doing. When training something that requires a bit more work on their part I make sure I pay them well with the food that they like the most.
Here is what I came back with after that particular session :
As you can see, although I took this all with me I didn’t use it all! I used mostly the chicken, also some ham and a few of the dried treats. The cheese was not used at all. I’d rarther have too much than too little as I can always save anything I’ve not used for another day.
When training my rate of reinforcement is quite high and I jackpot the rewards too when the dogs are doing exceptionally well. I want to make sure my dogs continue to have high motivation for the sport and also that I pay them well for their work.
This is sometimes a common mistake that people can make – not rewarding their dog correctly and not having the correct form of motivation for them to want to do the work in the first place.
Imagine yourself being asked to go to work for below minimum wage or for free? I don’t think you’d like it would you?
Our dogs are the same they need to see value in what we are asking them to do.
Often in training the dog can get value from a number of things we would prefer them to ignore; other dogs, sniffing, birds etc. The environment the dogs are in can provide a range of fantastic rewards for our dogs. These distractions are opportunities for the dogs to seek fun and reinforcement away from us.
Sometimes in training when dogs get distracted what often happens is the handler wrongly blames the dog, the floor, the other dogs, weather etc etc the list goes on! In actual fact all that is happening is that the dog is finding their fun/ reward elsewhere.
A reward is something your dog finds rewarding even if you don’t!
I know we find rolling in 💩 disgusting but for some dogs it is the best thing in the world and they will seek out opportunities to practice this behaviour!
Take spaniels as an example – they have been bred for generations to use their noses to hunt. They are intrinsically reinforced by sniffing, that means every sniff is reinforcing the sniffing behaviour so they will repeat it which isn’t always useful in the agility ring! We need to make it more rewarding to work with us in that scenario and give them an outlet for that natural behaviour elsewhere (and away from the agility ring)
It is sometimes hard to know where to start when it comes to rewards so I have a few tips that may help you.
Firstly what I would suggest to any dog owner is to ditch the bowl!
What I mean by this is to use your dogs normal food for training. This doesn’t have to be as mammoth a task as it sounds, we talk about it lots on our training but if you would like more help with this then get in touch.
Both my dogs ditch the bowl as part of their everyday life. It’s transformed the relationship I have with them and I can use the food that they were going to get anyway to reward their good choices throughout the day without the need to fill them with treats!
Ditching the bowl is fantastic for relationship building.
The relationship you have with your dogs is at the heart of everything you ask them to do!
Good relationship = Good training!
So if I ditch the bowl then why do I still use treats??
Well this is because I want my dogs to be motivated and to be super excited about what we are learning. I also want to pay them well when they get it right. If we pay well with something they love they will repeat that behaviour more – it is that simple!
We only use the food pictured above for agility training they don’t get them any other time. If they got this food all the time they wouldn’t see the value of it in training, why would they work and try hard for the food they get for doing minimal at home?
On the days when they have these extras I drastically reduce the amount of their normal kibble/ food so they don’t gain weight.
But here is the thing… These are treats / food my dogs absolutely love! They get super excited about them! Don’t make the mistake of using boring treats when training, your dogs won’t want them! They will end up displeased, disinterested and disengaged and they will seek things in the environment instead.
You want your dog to be really excited about the reward your giving them, then they will be really motivated to do the task in hand! Think of it like you getting a bonus in your pay packet at work.
If your dog is lacking motivation or if they are easily distracted, find what it is for them that flips that switch on!
Mix it up don’t always bring the same food to training even if that is high value – if you had the same thing day in day out you’d get sick of it right?
When I’m training my dogs they aren’t sure what type of food they are going to taste next and that is what keeps their spark, motivation and drive!
Does this mean we always feed them a mountain of food in training?
As my dogs skills develop I adapt my rewards adequately for their needs. For example if my dogs have a well established behaviour at home they wouldn’t get the same reward as they would if they were learning a new skill in a distracting environment.
I often hear owners say things like “They will do anything for cheese, they are only doing it for the food” Which in some cases may be true BUT it is how we use the food that counts – there are all manner of things going on in training and using food as a reinforcer opens up all kinds of (geeky) things such as transfers of value, reinforcement schedules and more – but all that is for another day!
Don’t be stingy with reinforcement, you wouldn’t like it if your boss was stingy with your wages! Dog training is the equivalent of you going to work for money! Dogs work for us not only because man has bred them for generations to work alongside us but also because of the reinforcement they gain from doing so – food, praise, play, relationship it is all part of the jigsaw!
Be your dogs geek and find what it is that motivates them to supercharge your dog training, relationship and to give you real life results!
So for those who know me you will have noticed a few changes …. my sparkly new logo for one thing!! Isn’t it fantastic 😀. I have incorporated a bit of our Tails and Peaks logo along with incorporating my unique philosophy (come and train with me to learn more 😉)
Lockdown 2020 really got me thinking.. you kind of have to when you have so much time on your hands!
This has been in the pipeline of my thoughts for a long time and lockdown gave me the opportunity and the time to really focus what I want from the business and to move it forward in a way I am happy with and in a place where I can really help the right people.
KB Agility is going to focus purely on bespoke agility training. Our blogs will feature training information relating to agility, what we get up to in training and on our days off!
Having successfully ran Tails and Peaks for a number of years coupled with training both my dogs to achieve quick success at compitition level I decided I wanted to concentrate on teaching agility, specialising in core skills and foundations.
I have watched the industry for a number of years and I have noticed it is usually the foundations that let people down when they get in the ring.
I have successfully coached both my dogs along with many of my agility students to achieve success from the start when they embark on their agility competition career.
I believe by understanding your dogs unique personality and by giving them fantastic foundations you will achieve great things!
I am super excited to start this next leg in my journey. Hit the follow box further down this page to follow my blogs to gain valuable training advice and to watch my dogs carry on their agility journey or hit the train with me button and come and train with me!