Archive for August, 2013

Sometimes inspiration comes when you least expect it

My mom actually recommended that I watch this video and I am very glad that I listened to her advice. If you haven’t yet seen Ashton Kutcher’s inspiring acceptance speech from the 2013 Teen Choice Awards make sure you watch it now. Although the speech begins in a way you’d think typical of an acceptance speech, it very quickly transforms into something profound.

My mom actually recommended that I watch this video and I am very glad that I listened to her advice. If you haven’t yet seen Ashton Kutcher’s inspiring acceptance speech from the 2013 Teen Choice Awards make sure you watch it now. Although the speech begins in a way you’d think typical of an acceptance speech, it very quickly transforms into something profound.

The  main message from this speech that I’d like to focus on is to truly appreciate the opportunities in your life and where it has led you. Every job, every failure, every experience has shaped who you are as a person. It has given your life relevance and allowed others to relate to those experiences.

.My mind always goes back to my little sheltie Dice, who has made me realize that I didn’t know half of what I thought I knew about dog training. Working through her fears and building up her motivation has given me a rare oppourtunity. It has allowed me to relate to others struggling with the same issues on a personal level. It enables me to reach out to people all over the world and help them reach for their full potential. As many of you know, Dice has gone on to accomplish great things thus far in her career.  I will be forever thankful that I had the opportunity to build up her confidence so she could inspire others to do the same.

“We often miss opportunity because it’s dressed in overalls and looks like work”
Thomas A. Edison

So the next time opportunity knocks, make sure you answer the door.

Happy Training,

Jess Martin of Agile Dog Training

 

 

August 19, 2013 at 3:49 am Leave a comment

Inspiration can come when you least expect it

My mom actually recommended that I watch this video and I am very glad that I listened to her advice. If you haven’t yet seen Ashton Kutcher’s inspiring acceptance speech from the 2013 Teen Choice Awards make sure you watch it now. Although the speech begins in a way you’d think typical of an acceptance speech, it very quickly transforms into something profound.

My mom actually recommended that I watch this video and I am very glad that I listened to her advice. If you haven’t yet seen Ashton Kutcher’s inspiring acceptance speech from the 2013 Teen Choice Awards make sure you watch it now. Although the speech begins in a way you’d think typical of an acceptance speech, it very quickly transforms into something profound.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FNXwKGZHmDc

The main message from this speech that I’d like to focus on is to truly appreciate the opportunities in your life and where it has led you. Every job, every failure, every experience has shaped who you are as a person. It has given your life relevance and allowed others to relate to those experiences.

.My mind always goes back to my little sheltie Dice, who has made me realize that I didn’t know half of what I thought I knew about dog training. Working through her fears and building up her motivation has given me a rare oppourtunity. It has allowed me to relate to others struggling with the same issues on a personal level. It enables me to reach out to people all over the world and help them reach for their full potential. As many of you know, Dice has gone on to accomplish great things thus far in her career. I will be forever thankful that I had the opportunity to build up her confidence so she could inspire others to do the same.

“We often miss opportunity because it’s dressed in overalls and looks like work”
― Thomas A. Edison

So the next time opportunity knocks, make sure you answer the door.

Happy Training,

Jess Martin of Agile Dog Training

August 19, 2013 at 3:43 am Leave a comment

How to Play with your dog THEIR way

One of the first things I ask students to do in my foundation classes is play with their dogs so that I can see the interaction between the dog and the handler. Playing with your dog sounds easy right? I thought so too at first, but after teaching dog training classes for over 10 years I have seen first hand how much people struggle to get their dog to interact with them.

It doesn’t take long to see that the dogs would often rather play with the other dogs than play with the humans. Often I see people trying to convince their dog to play with them while the little puppy over there in the corner seems like a much more suitable playmate in dog’s mind.

This can be very frustrating for the humans who then pull on the leash and push a toy into the dog’s face while looking to the instructor for help. This frustration often leads to excuses like “oh well he doesn’t really like this toy,” or “He just doesn’t have much attention today.” Therefore most people have given up even before they’ve even begun and all I’ve asked is for them to play with their dog!

Does this situation sound familiar?

After having this situation happen frequently in my classes I realized that people don’t know HOW to be exciting to their dogs. Why? Because they are trying to get their dogs to play like humans, not play like dogs themselves.

Brilliant! We’ll play more like dogs…umm but wait. How do we do that?

The first step in playing like a dog is knowing what type of play your dog enjoys. Yes, there are different types of play. Not every dog likes to play the same way. To be the best playmate possible you need to know your dog’s play style.

Throughout my years working in doggy daycares and boarding kennels I learned that there were two main play styles for dogs. The rough players and the chasers.

Rough players do just that. They love to rough house, push each other around, tug, etc. Think of a rambunctious labrador retriever puppy that bounds over to another dog and wants to mouth and wrestle with them. This is dog that has a rough playing style. When combined with other rough players it’s a match made in heaven!

Some dogs are not interested in physical play at all. They don’t match well with a rough playing style and are often intimidated by it. If that same lab puppy approaches them they will likely be scared and not want to play at all. Instead, they love to chase or be chased!

Dogs with a chasing playing style often use slow deliberate movements to create anticipation or convince other dogs to chase them or run to be chased. These dogs often get eye contact with another dog before slowing stalking towards them, hesitating in a ready to pounce pose until one of them takes off running!

Although your dog may exhibit traits from both of these play styles, they likely will have one that they prefer. You can use this dominant style to help you play with them their way.

So how do we play like a chaser or rough player dog?

My sheltie is an example of a chaser. She loves to run and bark but does not like physical contact at all. If I try to be in her face making her play (like the lab puppy) she will act nervous and uninterested. If I move slowly towards her building anticipation before running away I’ve instigated a chase game just like another dog would!

My border collie on the other hand is more of a rough player. Although he likes to chase he gets more excited about physical games. Pushing a toy at him and doing things like grabbing his paws, pushing him with my hands or feet, and just general rough housing makes for a game he really gets into!

Ready to start your play session? Great! But lets try to set you and your dog up for success for their first session!

When you are first trying to engage the dog in their type of preferred play, start at home where there are minimal distractions. This will help you both get comfortable (and you won’t be worrying about how silly you look playing like a dog!). I even get down on my hands and knees with my dogs and play with them that way! You not be comfortable doing this in a class full of people so it’s a good idea to start somewhere where you can be as silly as you want. Afterall, it’s about playing the way they want you to!

By learning to play with your dog THEIR way you are much more likely to genuinely have fun, and your dog will realize that you are just as good of a playmate as their doggy friends!

Happy Training,

Jess Martin of Agile Dog Training

August 18, 2013 at 4:32 am 4 comments

A lesson in perseverance

Today I was competing at the first day of the USDAA Eastern Canada Regional Championships. There were many people desperately hoping to get their final qualifiers for Cynosport. There were many relieved people…and a lot very disappointed people where one thing or another seemed to go wrong. Today I got to experience both as my sheltie Dice earned both her final steeplechase and grand prix qualifiers. Unfortunately my young border collie Heist didn’t even make it through most of the courses as I chose to excuse myself from the ring with him several times.

Which brings me to the topic of my post; dealing with disappointment.
It doesn’t matter how experienced you are, how well your dog is trained, or how prepared you are for the competition, sometimes you just screw up. That’s just the way it is when you are working on a team. Both you and your dog need to be “on” to have a good run, and since they are dogs and not agility robots there is always an element of unpredictability to any run. And hey, let’s be honest here…we make our fair share of mistakes as handlers as well!

Of course that doesn’t mean that we don’t feel disappointed, frustrated, or even angry at the time. All of which I admit to feeling today!

Our thoughts go to things like, “why did it have to be this run that he [insert screw up here]!” And “Is it ever going to come together?”
Many times we start to doubt ourselves in response to feelings of disappointment. We feel that we aren’t a good enough trainer or that our dog would be better handled by “so and so.” But guess what? They screw up sometimes too!

On my way to the trial this morning, I decided to listen to an inspirational podcast to help lighten my mood (part of Your Do Over podcast by Matt Theriault). He told a story that really hit home for me. He said one of his mentors once showed him a $20 bill and asked if he wanted it. He said yes. Then she crumpled it up and asked him again if he wanted it. He said of course…it’s still $20. Then she dropped it on the ground and stepped on it, and once again asked if he wanted it. Of course he said yes. Why did he say yes? The value of the $20 bill hadn’t changed. Even though it was a little worse for wear it was still worth the same as it originally was.

The morale of the story is why do we feel that we lose value as handlers/trainers etc. when we experience some failure? Just because we screw up sometimes doesn’t change our value. It doesn’t erase all the success we have or determine how much we will have in the future.

You can deal with disappointment by internally attacking your own value, making excuses, or giving up all together. I spent the early years of my agility career going off and sulking when I was disappointed while how my run went. Over the years I’ve learned to be much better about keeping disappointment in perspective but that’s not to say it doesn’t still affect me.

So today when the agility gods weren’t favouring me, I reminded myself of the story I heard in the podcast. I push myself past what happened today to move on to better things tomorrow.

“Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says I’ll try again tomorrow.”
― Mary Anne Radmacher

Today I’m focusing on that little voice and by doing so I’m ready to start a new day with a fresh positive attitude! Bring on day two!

Happy Training,
Jess Martin of Agile Dog Training

August 17, 2013 at 4:28 am Leave a comment

Building confidence in your performance dog

Confidence is a key factor in motivation. If the dog and handler are not confident, then the motivation level tends to reflect this. Lack of confidence is not only an issue that affects the dog, it is a common problem for the trainer as well!

A trainer who lacks confidence can transfer their feelings to the dog. Even a confident trainer can have their own confidence affected by a dog that lacking confidence of their own.

So how do we increase confidence levels?

Here are some tips for boosting confidence in yourself or your dog:

  1. Beware Being Too Ambitious

Challenges are excellent ways to progress your skills, however failing the challenge does not provide much confidence towards the dog or the handler. If your or the dog routinely fail a task then the confidence level will be decreased. To prevent this, start with challenges that you know you will be successful at and then add in a few that are more difficult. If you are expecting your dog to run full agility courses two weeks after learning the equipment just to see if they “can” do it, then you are setting yourself up for frustration and disappointment. Setting up a training session that is do-able will help bring both you and your dog’s confidence to new heights!

2. Don’t Compare

Comparisons can be very useful in many situations, however, comparing yourself or your dog to another can often result in placing high or even unrealistic expectations on yourself or your dog.  This is an easy trap to fall into especially when you are surrounded with other dog’s and handlers that may seem to be getting farther along than you are. I recently fell into this trap when I saw a video of a young dog the same age as my border collie doing phenomenal full running contacts when I hadn’t even started mine yet! I felt like I was so behind and needed to catch up so I went into my next contact training session putting even more pressure on myself and my dog. And guess what? I had the worst training session to date! Comparing your dog to others often sucks the confidence right out of your training. Keep comparisons for buying a new car, not for training your dog.

3. Find a Supportive Instructor

There are many different instructors out there for pretty much any dog sport imaginable and often they are chosen based on location or affordability rather than compatibility for the dog or handler. This can be a very costly mistake. Ask most high level trainers if they still train with the same person they began with and you’ll likely get a NO! Most likely you’ll also get a story about all the crazy things their first instructor had them do or all the mistakes they made. Finding the right training partner or group is important to keep you motivated and build your confidence. A supportive learning environment where you feel comfortable and the instructor gives you and your dog equal amount of attention to other dogs in the class is key. It may take some time and searching to find the best instructor for you and your dog but it will help transform your training sessions into confidence builders instead of coming out wondering why you train dogs in the firs place.

Using these tips will help you on your way to becoming a confident team with your dog so that you can be successful in your training sessions. Confidence is a key part in being successful in any dog sport. By working through challenges with your dog and building upon success you can bring both your own and your dog’s confidence to new heights

Happy Training, 

Jess Martin of Agile Dog Training

 

August 16, 2013 at 3:39 am 1 comment

Never Give Up

I came across this video today and well, it completely captured my heart.

It was like I was watching my own agility journey unfold before my eyes!

 When I started my first competitions with Mikki, he would often shut down on me or get distracted part way through his run. I remember one competition where he knocked a bar and actually ran back to the car and put himself back into his crate! Yes, there were moments where I thought of giving up on the whole thing. Moments where I was so frustrated that success seemed impossible.

But I didn’t give up.

Back then I struggled to make SCT with him. I was thrilled if we were a few seconds under the time allowed. But as I kept working to motivate my dog and improve my handling something amazing started to happen. We started to come together as a team and Mikki started to get faster on course! To the point where we were now running 20 seconds under course time! This was the start of many accomplishments for us, Mikki went on to win the AAC National Championships twice, and compete at the FCI World Championships for 3 consecutive years.  A huge turn around for a dog that would trot around the agility course!

So if you’re at the point where I was at, don’t give up! With heart and determination you can bring out the best in your dog even if others don’t see it.

“Sometimes adversity is what you need to face in order to become successful.” ~Zig Ziglar~

Keep pushing forward my friends, the end result is well worth it!

Happy Training Jess Martin of Agile Dog Training

August 14, 2013 at 9:01 pm 2 comments

Finding your “why?”

When you’re a kid, “why?” is a question you feel the need to ask about everything. Why is the sky blue? Why do I have to clean my room? Why can’t I pet that dog over there? Sometimes it seems that everything you say they are asking “why?”

But as adults, I think we tend to lose our sense of why we are doing certain things and resume the autopilot routines that tend to be our lives. We no longer have that nagging sense of curiosity about why all things happen, or even why we do the things we do.

As an agility instructor I get faced with the question “why” all the time. Part of my job is to try to figure out why a handler is struggling with a particular handling maneuver, or why a dog routinely jumps over the contact zone after doing it 3 times successfully. If I left out the why, I’d be left with no means to solve the problem.

One of the important questions that I think we fail to ask ourselves is why we do agility in the first place. Yes, there are those of us who have dogs that love it, but those same dogs would likely love any fun dog sport that we devoted time to. My border collie loves agility but also loves playing ball or going swimming. If I started him in flyball or sheep herding I’m sure he would love those as well. On the other hand, my sheltie Dice has no particular attachment to agility at all. Many of you have probably heard me say “she wouldn’t care if she did agility another day in her life,” as I talk about motivation factors for different dogs.

So why agility?

I do agility because I enjoy it (yes…I admit that I do it for me and not my dogs). I have fun with my students and the people I train with. I love watching my dogs run fast and knowing that we are working as a team. And of course I love the competitive element where I know that I can continue to push myself to excel at higher and higher levels. I know some people feel this way about obedience, flyball, disc dog etc. My point is that we are doing these things for us…not for the dogs.

So when a frustrating training session isn’t going your way, or your dog just took a flying leap off of his a-frame and you’d like to throttle him, remember the “why” that started you on this path in the first place. Because likely it wasn’t to run clean in every run, or to win every major competition. It was to do something that both you and your dog enjoyed together.

My journey in agility started 13 years ago because I loved training with my dog. And today, even though my goals and aspirations may be higher than that, I’m reminding myself that’s still my main reason for training.

I hope you can relate to this post, and that it puts you back in touch with your own personal reason for training.

Until next time…

Happy Training,

Jess Martin of Agile Dog Training

August 14, 2013 at 4:56 am Leave a comment

Harnessing the Power of Music

I recently heard some comments about the number of people that walk courses wearing headphones and listening to music.
I admit to routinely being one of these people, although it is definitely NOT because I want to be left alone or not have people ask me questions.

Instead, I use music to help me adjust my mood and mindset to the dog that I am running. For me, my music is carefully selected because of the feelings that it produces.

Do I need to feel hyped up to run as fast as I can?
Do I need to feel powerful?
Do I need to calm myself and focus?

Getting yourself into the correct headspace is absolutely essential to performing at your best. I don’t just mean at competitions either. I often take the time to get myself in the “right mood” for training. Mostly because if I’m not, Dice will usually decide she’d rather sleep on the couch than go outside to play agility. I have to be pretty hyped up to convince her that it’s worthwhile to come out and play.

In fact, two weeks before we left to compete at the 2010 FCI World Championships, due to some bad attitude on my part Dice decided that agility was evil and she didn’t want to do it anymore. I’d head outside and she would bark and jump at me until she realized we were going to the agility field…then she’d run back to the house! I was in tears wondering what I possibly could have done to upset my sweet little girl so much. The more she would refuse, the more stressed I became. Then I was getting home from work one day, and a song came on that is played at the world championships every year. I started to get the same excited, pumped up feeling that I get when I compete at that level. So I held onto that feeling and pictured the crowds of people cheering, the electric energy in the building, and before I could get out of that headspace I grabbed Dice and headed out to the agility field. Guess what? She was fast, driven and didn’t show any signs of the stress I had been struggling with! As some of you know, that was the year that she won the gold medal at the FCI World Championships.
So what did that experience teach me? Music is a very powerful mood changing tool. And mood is very importance to performance.

To demonstrate what I mean, take a look at this video of Heist and Hijack running in the woods this morning.

How does the different music make you feel? Does it change the feeling of what you’re seeing?

So next time you’re gearing up for a big competition or find that you’re not really in the mood to train, try busting out the tunes!

Happy Training!

Jess Martin

August 13, 2013 at 4:28 am Leave a comment

How’d I get Here?

It honestly blows me away just how much support I’ve gotten from the people in my life, and how my agility journey has unfolded.

As some of you know, I got my first dog Mikki when I was 13 years old after begging my parents for years to get a dog. They told me that if I wrote them a proposal on the breed, what I would do to take care of it, and prove that I could be responsible for at least a year, they would THINK about letting me get a dog. I’m sure the initial ploy was that I’d lose interest. Instead, I rode my bike down to the local pet store for weeks to systematically read all of their breed books one at a time and write up costs for everything my puppy might need.

In the end I got my puppy…which has since turned into 5 dogs sharing my household.

Taking Mikki to local obedience classes led to my introduction to the sport of agility.

Needless to say I was hooked!

I remember my parents driving me to club training nights and waiting patiently (okay sometimes not so patiently) in the car as I always stayed later than I was supposed to.

I remember when my instructor at the time, Adrian Rooyakkers, suggested I help instruct one of his classes. I was so nervous I think I barely said anything to the students the whole night!

Over time I’ve grown as an instructor, competitor, and dog trainer. Many of you have seen this progression as you’ve been in the sport along with me. Some have even become students or taken some of my seminars along the way.

To all of those students, friends, and family that have supported me over the years and continue to do so, I want to take this oppourtunity to say thank you. I know that without your support I would not be the handler, instructor, or trainer that I am today.

I encourage you to take a moment to reflect on your own agility journey, and those who have influenced you positively throughout your own agility journey.

Why not take a few minutes to send them a quick email or Facebook message letting them know that you appreciate their support and help along the way?

Take this chance to show your appreciation on by liking this page on Facebook.

“Appreciation can make a day, even change a life. Your willingness to put it into words is all that is necessary.” – Margaret Cousins

Happy Training!

Jess Martin of Agile Dog Training

August 12, 2013 at 3:56 am 4 comments

Common Myths About Motivating your Agility Dog

Hi everyone! Today I decided to blog about one of my favourite and most heart-felt topics: Motivation.

People seem to think that my dogs come out of the box driven to do agility, but the truth is that my border collie Heist is the only dog that I have not had to put serious work into motivating behind the scenes.   

So today I’ve decided to write debunk some common myths about motivation.  Ready? Here we go!

Myth #1: Your dog MUST tug in order to run fast.

I know people that have spent incredible amounts of time and shed endless tears over trying to get their dogs to tug. Is your dog destined to be an agility failure because they won’t tug with you? Absolutely not! This is a total MYTH! Yes you want your dog to interact with you, but this can take many forms. Many people have actually decreased their dog’s motivation for agility by trying to force them to tug.  Remember…agility is supposed to be fun for you and the dog! So if you find yourself falling into the “tug or else” category…give yourself a reminder of why you’re in this sport in the first place.

Myth #2: The faster you run the faster your dog will run:

There is definitely an element of truth in this, because most dogs are motivated to chase you. The issue is that if you get too far ahead of your dog they will usually slow down because you’re not within reach. I myself actually did this a lot when I did track and field as a kid. If the other kids got too far ahead of me in the race and I knew that I would not place then I didn’t even try to beat them. Most dogs with run faster when you are just far enough ahead that they might actually catch you!

Myth #3: Rewarding everything will make your dog run faster

Many people I see attempt to fix their motivation problem by rewarding their dogs more often. I’m not saying that rewarding is a negative thing…but over rewarding actually tends to disconnect the dog from the joys of running. To make matters worse, many people reward the dog when they get something wrong to prevent them from shutting down. This actually perpetuates the problem as the dog is getting mixed signals about what is right and wrong.

These common motivational myths can distract you from the real keys to motivation.

The biggest key of all to motivating your dog is to GENUINELY have fun!

I don’t mean running around PRETENDING you are having a great time while inwardly cursing your dog for not running fast for you.  

Remember…

“ A Champion needs a motivation above and beyond winning” –Pat Riley.

Happy Training,

Jess Martin

August 11, 2013 at 1:59 am 1 comment

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