Are You Capable of Achieving Greatness?

With the 2014 Winter Olympic Games quickly approaching, I’ve found myself inspired to reflect on how people really get to the top in their sports.  What really brings people to the level of greatness? And possibly more importantly, what stops people from achieving this?

Of course agility is not an Olympic sport, but I believe the same factors propel us to be successful in any area of our lives. Everyone is capable of greatness, but not everyone is willing to do what’s necessary to achieve it. Instead, we often credit some other factor such as “talent” or “luck”; circumstances that conveniently we feel we have no control over.  By doing this, we trap ourselves into feeling that we lack the resources to achieve our version of greatness.  We find ourselves saying things like, “if only I had his/her talent!” or “if only I had the time,” or my personal favourite “If I had started younger…”  I could have that success too!

These are excuses.

Success comes from focus, determination, and hard work; not talent and luck.

 I can’t count the number of times I’ve been told I’m naturally co-ordinated by people that have only known me through agility. Anyone who has spent any time with me knows I’m a total klutz! The first time I tried to do a front cross, I tripped and fell. It took me months to learn how to do a threadle back in the day. My coach at the time used to joke that he could hear my feet stomping from the other room because I was so lead footed! This is a big difference from how people describe me now. I’m often told how graceful, fast, and coordinated I am. This did not come from some inborn talent. This came from sheer hard work and determination.  

When everyone else was done, I kept going.  When I had no access to equipment, I made it out of things I found in my garage. When my dog was kicked out of class for being dog aggressive, I moved on and found a trainer that could help give us both the confidence we needed to break through our barriers. I remember being a part of a dog training club that had access to a facility once a week for a few hours. Most of the club spent their time split between obedience, agility, and basic socializing. I would spend the whole time in the agility room practicing my skills without my dog. This meant hours of rehearsing footwork and memorization.  This has not changed. To this day I still practice my skills daily, often without my dogs.

I don’t consider myself talented or gifted in some way. These results are possible for ANYONE. The question is how much do you want it? Get focused on the result you want, and don’t let anything hold you back. If you are already making excuses in your head stop and think them through for a moment. If you really wanted to, could you find the time to train? If you were completely dedicated, could you fix your start line or contact issues? If you did 100 front crosses every day for a month, would you look smooth and fluid doing them? If you were creative enough, could you find a way to practice in the winter without having access to a training facility?

Of course you could!

You are your own greatest asset or liability. People who are consistently at the top have worked their butts off to get there and continue to do so because it matters to them.

 Does it matter to you?

Here’s a  link to a Nike commercial that I feel really puts greatness into perspective.

 “Never underestimate the power of dreams and the influence of the human spirit. We are all the same in this notion: The potential for greatness lives within each of us.”

Wilma Rudolph

We are all capable, but we are not all willing. So the next time you see someone accomplishing something you admire think past the obvious to HOW they got to where they are. Model their actions and get their results.

Happy Training,






January 9, 2014 at 3:16 pm 6 comments

“You’re Late!” Tips for improving your agility timing

I think everyone in agility has heard the phrase “You’re late!” For some of us, it becomes a phrase that get’s repeated over and over. I remember years ago joking that anyone could teach my agility class…they just had to repeat “you’re late” over and over again. Of course this is a massive exaggeration, but you get the point as to how often my students were hearing it!

So how do we stop ourselves from being so late with our cues? The issue in my opinion is that we are attempting to react to a very specific moment in time. Realistically if we are looking to be that accurate, there are going to be many times where we miss the mark.

Think of it this way…if we are playing darts and I give you the choice to either get points for hitting the bullseye, or points for just hitting the board, which one do you think will get you more points?

Exactly! Just hitting the board is much easier as it is not as specific of a target. The same goes for your agility timing. If you are trying to time your cue to the moment of commitment for the dog you are attempting to hit bullseyes! This makes it very easy to be late and the consequence of course is the dog dropping the bar, jumping an inefficient line, or even going off course!

So how do we adjust our timing to be less precise and therefore more effective?

Here are a few tips for making this adjustment:

  • Start your cue when the dog reaches approximately the halfway point between the two obstacles instead of when your are sure the dog is going to take the jump
  • Increase your forward motion cues: using more of a “send arm” will help your dog continue to drive to the correct obstacle even when you are turning earlier than usual
  • Keep moving! Make sure that there are no sudden stops that will pull the dog off the obstacle that they should be taking
  • Use a verbal “jump” cue or a verbal turning cue if you have one
  • Continue to look at the jump your want your dog to take until you see “intent” (the dog looks at the correct obstacle)

By using these methods, you can give yourself more chances to be successful with your timing since you have a much larger area to be on time.  

For more help creating your own Handling Success, sign up for my online handling course beginning Dec 9th! Registration is now open!

Visit  for more details.

Happy Training,

Jess Martin

November 28, 2013 at 4:12 pm 3 comments

A Lesson in Adaptability

Hello there agility fans! I’ve just arrived in Vancouver to teach a 3 day seminar and as always am very excited to work with different people and their dogs.

I’ve already had some great agility conversations within hours of arriving,and one comment has really stuck in my mind. As usual, I was talking about the differences between my dogs, and I was complimented on my tendency to work with them instead of trying to make them adapt to my particular training style.

This made me think for a moment.

How many of us are trying to push the proverbial boulder uphill when we could go downhill instead?

Now I’m not talking about giving up all sense of teamwork and letting your dog do whatever they want, but through my recent dogs I’ve found adaptability is a powerful tool.

When I got my sheltie Dice, I knew that I had to be creative when dealing with her fears. I didn’t want to see her stressed or “make” her deal with things. The most reinforcing thing for me was my dog to be excited and happy to play with me. I could have tried to fit her into the mould of training that had worked for me in the past, but it left both of us frustrated. Instead I decided to experiment and find the ways that she and I could both have fun. As many of you know, despite being labelled by some as a “shut down” dog she is a highly successful agility competitor.

So with my next dog (my border collie Heist) I figured I was unstoppable. I mean if I could bring out the best in Dice then surely this drivey little border collie puppy would be a breeze. Hmm…well I may have gotten a bit of a reality check on that one! As it turns out, he had his own ideas of just how things should be done. It took me quite some time to recognize that I was fighting to make him conform to my ideas and it simply wasn’t working. I then started to experiment with different handling and training. I accepted that it worked best for us both if I didn’t try to obsess on small details but instead focused on our connection. With this mindset change, we connected as a team and I love running him!

So my question is, are you trying to force your dog to fit into a mould that your perception has created? Are you trying to cram them into that ideal regardless of their true personality?

I truly believe there is no “right” way to do things…there’s simply effective and ineffective. And what might be effective for one dog/handler team may not be for another.

It’s up to you to accept your dog for who they are and find how your training or handling can work for you both. Don’t fall into the same trap that I did in feeling like your way is the ONLY way to do things. Often what works for one style of dog or handler will not work for another.

If the connection is there, then great! You have an amazing agility partnership. But if it’s not, and part of this blog has resonated with you in some way, then embrace the lesson of adaptability. Accept the lessons that your dog can teach you and begin your path to a compromise in which you both can be happy.

In the end I feel that I may not have gotten the dogs I initially WANTED to have…but I’ve definitely gotten the dogs I’ve NEEDED to have.

For those of you who have submitted questions, I will still be answering them…just got a little sidetracked for the moment so thought I’d share what’s on my mind!

Until next time,

Happy Training!

Jess Martin

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October 18, 2013 at 2:08 am 6 comments

Whip its: A great way to teach your dog to play!

I came across this great video today on Facebook and couldn’t help sharing it! Lauren Langman of Devon Dogs demonstrates how to not only get your dog more interested in a toy, but how you can build a balance between toy drive and self control.

I’ve often recommended students use lunge whips or a toy on a string to mimic real prey. I think this video does an excellent job of showing how to use the “catch and release” of the toy really get your dog interested. I know my JRT will love this game!

Using the “flip” to teach the dog self control is a great way to avoid the stress that can come from a dog being repeatedly corrected for breaking a sit stay.

Best of all, you are working with the dog at a reaction level when you start introducing the self control techniques. I always want my dogs to react to my signals instead of thinking about doing it, since when they are in a high environment such as a trial many thinking behaviours vanish. If the dog is in reaction mode, they are responding to commands on a subconscious level.

This is definitely one I’m going to add into my training!

Hope you get as much out of this video as I did!

Jess Martin

October 17, 2013 at 1:38 am 12 comments

Tips for Socializing your puppy for success!

We all want to give our puppy the best start in life when it comes to socializing them properly. Everyone seems to have their own idea of which ways are best in terms of socialization.

I find the key is always making sure that YOU have more value than anything in the environment while making sure a puppy feels safe and confidence. With my sheltie Dice, I took a rather unorthodox approach to socialization. Since she was so nervous of her environment (people, dogs, objects etc.)

I only exposed her to these things in situations where she was in control. For example, people would ask if they could hold her and I’d say, “no, but you can sit on the ground if you like and see if she chooses to come up to you.”

The reason I choose to raise her in this manner was she had very little resiliency at a young age to get over things that scared her. She is now very comfortable in her environment, so I feel I made good choices in this area when she was young. I didn’t want her to feel any form of fear when it came to things she was already nervous about.

Keep in mind that your dog doesn’t have to love people, or other dogs to be a great agility dog…they simply need to not react their environment. This is why I am always working on my dogs coming to me after they have met a person, another dog, or explored a new object. I want to promote confidence, but I also don’t want them to learn that life is a party and that I wasn’t invited!

The end goal for socialization is a well-balanced, confident, but responsive puppy that loves to play with you above everything else.

Happy socializing!

Jess Martin

October 14, 2013 at 10:06 am 2 comments

Solving Frustration Barking

Happy Thanksgiving to all my Canadian blog followers!

Today’s question is one that we’ve all probably witnessed at some point while watching agility…even if it wasn’t with our own dog.

Frustration barking!

Have you ever seen a dog that gets confused on course and then comes flying back at the handler barking, spinning, and sometimes even jumping up and biting at the handler? Yikes! This is not something we want happening at all is it?

Over my years as an agility competitor and coach I have seen this problem countless times and even had to deal with in my own dogs from time to time.

In this video, I have suggested not only how to help get the dog back under control in these situations, but also how to help PREVENT this from happening in the first place.

Afterall, we can’t be perfect handlers all the time! Helping to teach your dog to deal with their frustration in a positive way can help relieve the stress of both the dog and the handler!

Don’t forget to submit your training questions at!

Happy Training!

Jess Martin

October 13, 2013 at 12:34 pm 2 comments

Focus Outside the agility ring: Is it necessary?

Hello Everyone! Today’s question inquires about creating focus outside the agility ring.

First of all, is it necessary for your dog to pay 100% attention to you before you go into the ring?

For me, I approach this question by asking are you getting the results you want inside the ring? If you’re not, then this may be an area you want to adjust to help your dog start in the right mindset for success. If you not currently having any problems with your dog’s performance, however, there is no rule that your dog has to have absolute focus on you outside the ring.

In this video I share some ideas to help your dog focus more on you before you go into the ring in competition.

Until next time,

Happy Training!

Jess Martin

October 13, 2013 at 1:05 am 1 comment

Start line question: getting your dog into position faster

Hi everyone! Today’s question is about how to get your dog into position at the start line without “arguing” with them. Have you ever experienced this? I sure have! Sometimes we feel like we are fighting the dog and we haven’t even started the run yet!

Let me ask you a question…do you feel like a team with your dog at that moment? Of course not!

In this video, I discuss some of the ways I’ve found to have my dogs WANT to move into position at the start. Wouldn’t it be nice to feel like a team right from the beginning?

Thank you to everyone for posting your questions at! Keep them coming and I’ll do my best to answer them all!

Happy Training,

Jess Martin

October 11, 2013 at 7:46 pm 2 comments

Transitioning between running and stopped contacts

Today’s training question inquires about how to transition between stopped and running contacts. I’ve gone both directions with this…transitioning my duck toller from a 2 on 2 off contact to a beautiful running contact and my border collie from a running dogwalk to a 2 on 2 off contact.

Here are a few ideas for making these transitions as smooth as possible.

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s video where I’ll share some tips for creating an effective start line routine!

Happy Training,

Jess Martin

October 11, 2013 at 2:58 am 1 comment

Your Agility Questions Answered: Ring Focus

Today’s question is geared towards improving focus in the ring. I get asked this question all the time from people struggling to get their dog to perform consistently fast and focused when they enter a trial environment.
Here are a few tips to overcoming that initial distraction to keep your dog focused and ready to play from start to finish!

Happy Training!
Jess Martin

October 10, 2013 at 3:28 am 8 comments

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