5 Tips for Making Your Agility Dog Run Faster
1. Use a motivator your dog absolutely loves:
Often I see people using a motivator that they think their instructor wants them to use instead of what their dog really goes crazy for. When I was training Mikki I used oven mitts because my dad used to wrestle with him when wearing them. They were a little unorthodox, but he loved to play with them and it was an interactive game between the two of us. Kash’s favourite toy was a tennis ball which worked well for rewarding at a distance. I often tell my students that I don’t care what they use as a motivator as long as the dog loves it and they can reward both close and away from themselves (from hand and throwing it).
2. Keep your training sessions short and to the point:
When working with your dog during a training session, try working on specific skills instead of long sequences. This allows the dog to have a higher rate of reinforcement (more rewards in a short time) as well as not giving them time to get stressed about mistakes that may happen. Don’t worry about practicing everything you have learned in class in the same session. Break it into small pieces that don’t over face you or your dog.
3. Balance your training sessions
A common response to trying to speed up your dog is to practice “speed circles” (large circulular sequences of equipment that involve little or no handling). The problem with this approach is that the dog only learns to have confidence on straight lines and not tighter turning sequences. These dogs tend to shut down as soon as a course involves them having to do tight turns. If you are working on acceleration exercises such as speed circles, make sure to balance it out with a deceleration exercise (ex. Include a 180 wrap and reward the dog for turning and accelerating afterwards). Always do more repetition of the skills the dog is weaker at (if you are trying to increase speed, end with rewarding a straight line). Balanced training sessions help the dog learn the difference between skills so they have the confidence to run faster on course.
4. Resist the Urge to “Cheerlead” your dog
Often we try to motivate our dogs with our voices when they are going slower than we would like, but this can cause the dogs to tune out our verbal cues or refuse to run if we don’t encourage them the entire way. This is difficult for the handler as well since it is distracting from focusing on our handling which provides the dog with the directions they need to confidently complete the course. Try doing your verbal encouragement before and after the sequence, not during. You can be as crazy and excited as you like before you start and immediately after but during the sequence try to focus on your dog and the handling instead of motivating them. If they don’t like this change, start on very simple sequences so they can get used to you being quiet while running.
5. Try teaching handling skills without the equipment first
By teaching handling skills on equipment, we are asking the dogs to multi-task right from the very beginning. This can be very daunting for the dogs and they can get overwhelmed and shut down quite easily. By building obstacle performance and teaching handling separately, the dog can become confident in each area before having to put them together. Imagine your manager gave your two completely new tasks and expected you to be able to perform them both quickly and accurately without having any time to practice them individually! This would likely create a very stressful situation for us, yet often that is what we expect from our dogs. By teaching the dog handling off of the equipment (I start with flat skills and then move to trees before jumps) they have a chance to focus on the particular skill before being asked to multi-task.
Remember to have fun, and be creative with your training!
Jess Martin of Agile Dog Training
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