Start Lines: What’s your body language telling your dog?
Most agility courses start with a lead out…or at least an attempt at one.
For many people this is also where the problems start. You may have a dog that is so eager to get on with the course that they refuse to wait. Or perhaps you have a dog that seems excited to go in the ring, but releases off the start line with minimal excitement (if they release at all!).
Do either of those examples sound familiar?
Most of us in agility have had some form of a lead out problem at some point during our training. If we can train our dogs to go over jumps and weave through poles surely we can get them to sit and stay, right?
So what is it about the lead out that creates so many training issues?
Firstly, we tend to discount the very important arousal factor. Picture yourself telling your dog to sit and stay at home when nothing else is really going on. Both you and the dog are probably pretty relaxed and you’re confident that your dog will stay. If they don’t, you’re probably not all that concerned about it. You’ll go put them back in position and try again. I often have students tell me, “But he does it at home!” and my response is always “I believe that he does it at home. The problem is that this isn’t home”. Now picture an agility environment bustling with dogs, people, soundspeakers, etc. When you put your dog on the start line you don’t think they are going to stay and the result is creating a frantic run while you try to catch up to your dog.
Feeling a little more stressed just reading about it?
Exactly. Now imagine how amplified those feelings would be in an actual competition!
That describes a type of dog who has a high arousal rate at a competition, but what about a dog that becomes less motivated and more distracted by the competition environment? These dogs are reacting to the stress factor. This typically manifests as disconnection behaviours like sniffing, acting distracted, or running slowly.
So how to do we get the start line we really want?
The first thing you have to consider is HOW you lead out. Many people inadvertently reinforce their start line problem. Take the excited dog from the first example. Many handlers in this situation face the dog and lead out slowly while repeating their stay command. This type of lead out actually makes the dog more excited by building anticipation!
What about the dog that stresses low on the start line? Typically these dogs hold their stay and so we walk away without a care in the world. It is only when we go to release the dog that we realize they aren’t as motivated as we’d like them to be.
Can you guess my solution? That’s right…Switch them!
If you have a dog that is less motivated on the start line, walk out like you don’t have one! This will help build connection and anticipation which you guessed it…builds DRIVE!
On the other hand, if you have a dog that struggles to hold their start. Straighten up your shoulders and walk out confidently!
I’m not saying that you don’t need to actually TRAIN your dog in both of these cases, but your body language can certainly help you get the results you want.
Jess Martin of Agile Dog Training
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