Archive for February, 2012
Keeping your handling skills sharp over the winter months
Many of us give our dogs an agility break in the winter time as our equipment is packed away and the snow/ice can seem to prevent us from keeping up our training. In the spring, I often hear comments like “she hasn’t done agility in a few months, and she’s crazy!” or “this is the first time my dog has seen equipment this year so I’m not expecting much.” This is usually followed by some disastrous runs in which the dog seems to have forgotten all of the skills and handling they previously knew before the break. What we forget is that we can still keep our handling skills sharp without having access to agility equipment.
My dogs do get a break in the winter from training as much on equipment, but I want to make sure that we both maintain our handling skills during this time so that when we get back into training neither of us has gotten “rusty” during the break. It’s not just our dogs that have trouble getting back into the swing of things after a long break. Reaction time for the handler is just as important to maintain as the dog’s reaction to our signals. By practicing your flat handling without equipment, both you and your dog can practice these skills without the repetitive impact of jumping etc. Don’t have much space? No problem! By being a bit creative, you can create fun games to practice your handling skills without using much space.
Here’s two of my favourite winter handling games:
Sending around trees:
Okay, so if the snow is deep you may not be doing this one but it’s great for a mild winter! This is one of my all time favourite training games that I started with my sheltie Mikki 11 years ago as a way to exercise him in the backyard. I now use trees to help my dogs learn to work away from me as well as learn to read my body language that they will see in agility. By adding more trees into your “sequence” you can practice your timing on the handling manoeuvres as well as adding some speed in for your dog without the added challenge of jumping.
Here’s a quick video of Heist doing some tree work. I make some mistakes in my timing, but that’s what this exercise is for! It also helps me evaluate how his straight lines and turns are coming along without using and jumps.
Sending around the coffee table:
I created this one for my BC puppy Heist to work on simple send work inside the house. It started with me simply stepping towards the outside of the coffee table and then rewarding him when he went around it. I then added a front cross as he was coming around the final corner which not only works on his reaction to the front cross but also practices my timing (I try to time my turn as he is coming around the edge of the table). I also practiced some tighter circles that didn’t involve him going around the table. This way he has to watch for my leg to step forward in order to send around the table.
I hope this blog gives you some ideas of handling games you can play with your dog over the winter months.
Thanks for reading and happy training!
Jess Martin of Agile Dog Training