Archive for August, 2012
Most of us have a particular way that we choose to get our dogs into the agility ring. It could be off leash or on, controlled heeling or pumping up our dogs (Dice comes in barking and jumping off of me J). This is important for getting our dogs into the right headspace to do their best. How your dog enters the ring can usually give you a pretty good indication of how they are going to act during the run. For example if Dice is a little quieter than usual I’m likely going to have to take a slightly shorter lead-out and be sure that I keep connection with her. Heist on the other hand needs to be mentally capable of making eye contact with me or there’s a good chance that he’s already decided the course he’s going to run! These routines give us an idea of how the dog is going to run before we even start.
But what about the end of the run?
I find the exit routine is often much less thought out for most people. The end of the run can have just as much consequence as how the run begins. In my first trial with Dice I was very prepared to make sure she was excited and connected with me before we started our run since she got nervous around big groups of people and dogs. My strategy was to make everything happen so fast that she didn’t have time to notice the people/dogs/noises around her. I was successful at this part, but what I hadn’t thought about was how I was going to exit the ring. She came over the last jump with adrenaline, noticed all the people and started pacing back and forth in front of the gate. All the work I had done to prevent her from stressing in the ring fell apart because I hadn’t planned the ending! I quickly realized that I had to have a routine for the exit to stop her from noticing everything at the end of the run. Why didn’t I realize this would be a problem? I realized that in training there was always a reward for the dog at the end of the sequence. I would throw a toy or reward with food. In the competition ring, however, I didn’t have either of those things to distract her with. My solution for this problem was to bring her focus immediately back to me. With my dog Kash, I always had her jump into my arms at the end of a run (admittedly to stop her running out of the ring to grab her ball….okay some not so great dog training there). Dice couldn’t do this smoothly, so I decided to use the same routine I use at the beginning of the run to keep her focused; clap at her and get her to jump up against my leg. It worked pretty well and soon she was just as excited at the end of the run as she was at the beginning.
This brings me to my young border collie Heist. I’m beginning to come up with some ideas for his “exit strategy”. I could easily re-direct him onto his leash but since this can be considered a toy in the ring for some organizations/judges so I’m going to stay away from this one. I also need to be prepared for his adrenaline after finishing the run since I could definitely see him wanting to redirect that onto me…not good since I don’t need bite marks and bruises after every event! I’ve started practicing him coming into a shadow handling routine instead so that I can get him calmed down slightly before going to put his leash on. I’ll do a few practice runs of this before I compete with him to make sure he’s comfortable with (and I don’t get bitten).
Having a rehearsed exit routine can help you dog end their run on a positive note whether you are trying to maintain motivation or reconnect with a high dog. It’s not just about having the dog stay with you after you finish the run, it’s about maintaining the mindset that you want your dog to have while they are competing.