Archive for July, 2012

My Plan to Get My Agility Mojo Back!

Lately my agility “mojo” has been pretty off. I haven’t felt like training my own dogs and when I do, it ultimately has left both me and my dogs feeling frustrated. What’s been the cause of this unfortunate trend of frustrating sessions, poor motivation, and lack lustre performance? I’m not entirely sure. It could be that I’m teaching endlessly with no end in sight (don’t feel bad guys…I love to teach!), a line up of big important events to compete at, or basically my tendency to do/think about agility 24/7! Basically I’m feeling pressure to train instead of training for the love of it and this is a problem.

Regardless of the cause, my emotional fire detector (aka Dice) has gone off, so it’s time for a new approach or no training at all. Yes, Dice is very good at saying “mom, seriously, I’ve had enough!” in all aspects of life but especially agility. When she pins her ears back and decides that she’d rather be anywhere but on the agility field it’s a very good sign that I’m putting way too much pressure on her performance. It’s not the first time that she’s had to communicate that my training intensity level is too high or that I’m training for all the wrong reasons. The last time she “sounded the alarm” was two weeks before the 2010 FCI World Championships. I was training for all the wrong reasons and you know what? She quit. That pretty much forced me to take a good look at my motives for training as my amazing little dog decided that agility just wasn’t all it’s cracked up to be. I decided it was time for me to re-examine my motives and two weeks later she became Canada’s first FCI gold medalist.  

Now maybe this has been going on for awhile since most of my attention has been focused on my students’ dogs and my young border collie Heist. Heist would do agility regardless of how bad my mood is but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t affect his performance. The result is unsuccessful sessions that are definitely lacking in the fun department. Ultimately this helps perpetuate the cycle of frustrating sessions and me putting more pressure on myself to do well. I put more pressure on myself to be successful than anyone else out there watching me which I have found to be a common attitude in agility. Actually this is probably true of most people who are competitive in sports. We are competitive because we WANT to do well and sometimes it is that very desire that holds us back.

So the question becomes…how do I get my agility mojo back?  With the European Open less than two weeks away this is a bit of a pressing issue so here’s my plan:

  1. No Sequencing: I am super analytical when it comes to agility which is great when I’m teaching…it’s not so great when I’m running my dogs since I tend to analyze instead of staying in the moment. Training sequences seems to make me put a lot of pressure on myself and my dog. Because of this, I’m not going to train any sequences before the EO.
  2. Back to Basics: I’ve decided that I don’t need to stop training altogether, but instead change the format of my training. Basically instead of running obsessive dogwalks I’m going to go back to running flat planks in the backyard will all my dogs. Why all my dogs? Because I can’t fixate on one dog’s performance if I split the time up between all of them J It also adds a bit more motivation for Dice since watching my other dogs have fun gets her much more excited. The other thing I’m doing to work on is my turns around trees. This way I can help her maintain flexibility and work some handling skills without the obsession and the over analysis that I’m so prone to!
  3.  Pretend It’s just another competition…haha just kidding! I love the rush of big competitions (so does my dog!), so there won’t be any trying to convince myself that the event doesn’t matter.


So that’s my plan to get my mojo back!

I’m looking forward to a great trip to Sweden and meeting new agility folk along the way! To everyone competing in the European Open, Good luck and see you there!

Happy Training,

Jess Martin

July 19, 2012 at 4:48 pm 1 comment

Behind the Gamble Line: Tips for Gambling like a Pro

If there’s one thing that sets the AAC Regionals/Nationals apart from other organizations, it’s the gamble classes. Whether you love the gambles  or just hope the gamble is “do-able” for your dog, there is no doubt that having a successful gamble is a definite advantage towards racking up your points at these events. Now I’ve been told that I have good “gamble” dogs (I also consider myself to have good “snooker” dogs for those of you who think you can only have one or the other), but I actually don’t love the game of gamblers. I’ll admit that the gamble map is the first one that I look at when I attend these AAC events. Maybe it’s out of habit since my first dog Mikki needed the elusive gamble Q for his AtCh way back when. I remember the feelings of panic that I had while standing  behind that orange gamble line waving my arms and yelling “get out”, “go” and anything else I could think of to try and get my dog to move away while he stared back at me obviously confused. Not to mention the worry of the dreaded buzzer when he would eventually run out of time since his response to my unorthodox handling was to go slowly and try and figure out just what it was I wanted.

Agility training has come a long way in the past 10 years since I ran my first gamble events at Regionals, and yet I find for many people the gamble techniques have stayed fairly similar. How often do we find ourselves panicking from behind that line shouting multiple commands at the dog while waving our arms and trying to get our dog through the sequence correctly? Even if our dog manages to figure out what we want, it’s often not very pretty and there’s a lot of guessing on our dog’s part (those of you who know me, know that I don’t want my dog’s to have to question my handling).

Admittedly most of my distance training comes from skills I use on all courses not just gamble classes. Here are a few tips to think about when faced with a gamble.

1. What are your commands?
-What (if any) verbal commands do you have and what do they mean?
This may sound simple but many people just start bombarding the dog with verbal commands in a gamble even if the commands are not appropriate. If you are using “get-out”, “go”, “left” all for the same behavior your dog is likely going to be confused. I find writing out my verbal commands and a detailed description of what they mean helps me choose the right command for the right situation.

2. Pretend it’s a standard course
– Remember you CAN cross the gamble line in a walk through. Handling cues such as arm changes and the direction you are pointing can be shown from a distance. I usually try to come up with all my handling options and then see if any of them can be used from a distance. Part of this will depend on what handling your dog understands. My dogs recognize a rear cross when I cross completely behind them (not me putting pressure on their line) so often I can’t mimic this handling from a distance.

3. Walk Don’t Run
– people often accelerate towards the gamble line hoping to give their dogs momentum. Often this creates the dog completing the first jump in the gamble and then turning back to the handler. The faster you run, the more obvious it is to your dog when you stop. Try walking or jogging up to the gamble line instead. This way you can be more subtle when you stop and may even be able to keep moving forward until the dog is at the next obstacle.

4. Point your body slightly in front of where you want your dog to go:
– our body position is harder for the dog to read from a distance so I usually aim 1-2 ft ahead of where I want my dog to go so that if they bend towards me slightly (which they often do) they are still in line with the next obstacle. This is especially true for weave poles.

5. Stop Waving at your dog!
– I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen handlers pointing up at the ceiling when they want their dog to go ahead of them and take a tunnel (Umm the tunnel isn’t up there…) Waving your arms at the dog is often more distracting than it is helpful. Movement in their peripheral vision tends to make the dog look back at the handler which stops the momentum of the run. Wherever your arm is on approach to the gamble leave it there! You often want the dog to notice you less, not more.

These are just a few of the tips I have picked up over the years while trying to give clear, consistent information to my dogs. My goal is always to have well rounded dogs that can handle distance and close work equally. I’ve integrated my distance skills into my usual handling and usual handing into my distance skills. Hopefully these tips will help you and your dog reach their gambling potential 🙂

Gamble Clips Video

Happy Training,

Jess Martin

July 5, 2012 at 1:55 am 2 comments

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