17 November 2011

Horrendously boring dog training information, so all my non dog friends, don't even keep reading, really, off you go, on to your next stop.

As dog agility teachers go, I'm probably not your first choice of who to go to. There are a lot of REALLY GOOD, TOTALLY AMAZING dog agility instructors and coaches around here. I am super lucky to have Rob Michalski, Nancy Gyes, and Jim Basic patiently tell me over and over where to stand and when to yell every single week. All of them have the patience of saints. Except Jim. I'll just say this. Don't try to walk is course while you're hula hooping when he's still building it. Or actually, do. See what happens. No patience of sainthood then.

Then there's Kathleen with her beautiful Heart Dog Agility, and Dee with her awesome field D-Dog Agility. And I bet even more agility instructors around here. Our area is crawling with them!

Then there's me. I am probably sort of the C-List of Dog Agility teachers. I teach once a week, at Dirt Nite. We have fun, I think my students are awesome, and all of them have come so far with their dogs. They blew me away last night with their amazing weave poles and contacts. And what a wide range of dogs we have! We range from a teensy little 4lb cutest dog in the world who uses a rollover and play dead for her table, to a massive, older English Sheepdog who I never in a million years thought would learn to run across a dogwalk. So many great dogs, and so many dedicated handlers! And they all put up with my yelling and arm waving and telling them they look drunk.

We're on an extended break for Dirt Nite right now for the holidays, so I thought some of you might want to see what they're working on over break. So you can tell me I'm teaching agility all wrong. Or practice along as the case may be. Here's their first homework installment. Nothing fancy, pretty basic Agility 101 stuff.

Here you go:

To get good at agility, you have to practice. And to be a successful practicer, you want to practice right! I totally, completely believe that good practicing should be fun for you, and every "drill" should be disguised as a totally fun game for your dog. Reward, reward, reward, and instead of being irritated with your dog when something doesn't work, back things up. Make it easier, find SUCCESS! And go on from there. You always want to be looking for that little cartoon lightbulb that goes off over your dog's head. Make sure it's always lighting up. No smoke coming out of it! Can I say it again? Agility should always be really, really fun. For both you and your dog.

You don't need lots of equipment to practice. It sure is nice to have, but there is so much you can practice with no equipment, or just a few jumps. Except weave poles. Boy oh boy, does it help to have weave poles. Even 6 stick in the ground fence posts will do though! No yard? Practice with a friend, or take your poles to a park.

Stuff you can practice without any equipment:

Circle work. Maybe I've mentioned this once or twice. Or a million times! Your dog should run with you, walk with you on a circle. On your left, on the outside of the circle, on your left on the inside of a circle. On your right on the outside, on your right on the inside. Make this a fun game, reward a lot. For agility, there is never enough circle work and this is one of the most important foundation skills of all agility! Your dog stays on the side you ask them to, and is always totally focused on YOU in circle work.

Get your dog to chase you. How many games can you find that gets your dog to chase you? You can work on your startline stays by putting your dog on a stay, start with just a little stay, remember to work on your release word, and then after you release them, take off running! You can incorporate circle work into this, too. Great to do with lots of dogs, you can release one at a time and work on impulse control with your other dogs!

These are 2 "drills" I do with my dogs at the beach all the time! It improves focus, keeps us running, and keeps those agility skills tuned up. I don't have any agility equipment at home, but I do love going to the beach and other places to run my dogs. This is how I run them! None of us consider these drills, it's  just how we have fun at the beach! Use this time to experiment with rewards. If you are always using food, maybe you can try to get your dog more interested in playing with you with toys as well!

And of course, don't forget tricks! I love teaching my dogs funny tricks. They don't have to be fancy. I use clicker training for a lot of trick training, and try to shape my dogs' behaviors into things that crack me up. Even my limpy, nearly blind and pretty deaf senior dog Ruby still gets to learn new tricks! I teach my dogs tricks in a group, and to them alone. Group tricks are nice for that impulse control practice. They sky is the limit for teaching tricks. Just break complicated ones down into teensy little pieces. Usually I start out training a trick by pretending we're on a film set and my dog needs to be able to do "THIS" for a movie. And off we go!

Why is teaching tricks good for agility? You are working on your teamwork and sharpening up your communication skills. And, when things to wrong or get stressful out there on the agility field, you have a backup plan to reboot and carry on! I always learn a lot about my timing and reinforcement rate (mainly that it always needs to be better!) when I'm teaching tricks. Plus, major wow factor when you bring your dog to a party and let loose with the trick show! Impress your friends and family this Thanksgiving with a cool new trick!

Stuff you can practice with a teensy bit of equipment:

Contacts. Practice contacts on a board. If you have a big board, and a little board, you can take the little board places with you and practice proofing contacts in new environments! Prop up your big board on something so they run down the board and work on your SPECIFIC CONTACT CRITERIA off the end of the board. Uphold that criteria!

Sending-your GO! We've been working on this in class lately! You can send your dog to anything. If they like to retrieve their toys, send them to their toy. If you have a tunnel, send them to the tunnel. While you're working on building that handler focus over break, why don't you also see if you can work on a super GO where your dog blasts ahead of you to what's in front of them. At the beach? Find a stick and use that! Go just means "Run ahead of me in a straight line!"

Keep me posted with how it's going, and most important, have fun with your dog!

5 comments:

OBay Shelties said...

Shouldn't you be charging large amounts of money for us to read your amazing training tips? ;-)

team small dog said...

Free is probably exactly the right price to pay for tips from me. This way of doing business has me right on track on my way to dog agility millionairism!

nosemovie said...

Chase games... We love them. Cept he often hunts me down and takes me down like a limping water buffalo! Fun? yes, Dangerous!

Mary said...

Listen to Laura. She may be self-effacing, but she is a really good teacher. I think her dog agility students are really lucky. (I secretly feel a little sorry for her horse riding students, but I think they are happy, they just don't know how much she REALLY would prefer all the horses were dogs.)

Laura and I share the personal attribute of being unteachable. However, Laura seems to have broken through, or perhaps attended a 12-step program? and has become sort of super-spectacularly good as a handler. That is why God gave her Otterpop and Gustavo. To keep her humble.

My only quibble with Laura is the *make* it fun thing. If you have to make it fun, maybe it isn't? I sort of take the opposite approach: my dogs are supposed to make me have fun. That seems to work out well. Ariel made it fun enough that I lost 20 pounds and started driving to places like Turlock. Rocket is working hard at making it fun enough that I'm running so hard to get to a serpentine spot before his commitment point that is like 3 miles from the obstacle, that I crash into jumps and fall on my ass that already hurts a lot. But it was still fun. So, like I said. Make your dogs make your have fun.

Of course, I am not even a grade-D agility instructor, so taking my advice may not be a good idea.

Elf said...

Those are good agility tips. I put my seal of approval on them. And now you can charge double what you already charged for these tips.