Archive for September, 2013

Is it time to drop your emotional baggage?

Yesterday I was fortunate enough to teach two workshops on areas that tend to have emotional baggage associated with them: Start lines and contacts. The purpose of these workshops was to help people deal with these common problem areas.

We’ve probably all had a reoccurring training issue at some point. I know I’ve had my fair share of training problems over the years! The key is overcoming them. So what happens when you hit a major block in your training? I’m talking about something that doesn’t just happen once or twice…but happens over and over again. Maybe your dog has decided that leaping off the contacts like they should have a Superman cape on is a better way to go. Or that 10 poles is much better than doing 12. Or perhaps that staying on the start line is overrated.

Whatever the issue, the problem just seems to get worse doesn’t it?

Frustrated, you ask multiple people for advice, you attend the workshops, you read the books or watch the DVD’s and nothing seems to break through the problem.

So what’s stopping you from fixing it?

You’re likely hanging on tight to your own emotional baggage that’s been creating around this problem!

Here’s an example for you. Imagine for a moment that you are running your dog and they jump off the dogwalk clearly missing the contact!

What’s your reaction?



 Frustration perhaps?

Now armed with those feelings, you enter the next run and head for the dogwalk. What kind of thoughts go through your mind? Are you thinking that there is now a chance that your dog will miss their contact? Maybe you even feel a bit of anxiety or determination that they had BETTER get it this time.

Now imagine they miss it again. Can you feel those feelings becoming stronger? The anxiety level starting to make your chest tighten, and the doubt starting to cloud your mind? Soon you may even be walking your next course trying to prevent this perceived problem!

These events create your own emotional baggage, creating anxiety for both you and your dog while preventing you from really solving the issue!

Some people will even carry over these feelings from one dog to the next creating the same problem in multiple dogs. For example, if your previous dog really struggled with their start line performance you may put extra effort into making sure that they have a solid stay on the start…or you may feel anxiety towards even teaching the behaviour! If you use this as fuel to create change you will likely create a strength in your current dog. If you focus on the failure from the past, you will likely create the same problem yet again!

We even verbally re-affirm this concept in our own mind by saying things like, “I just want him to get his contacts in this run,” or “he always misses that weave entry”. Both statements completely lack confidence. I’m not saying that your dog won’t make those mistakes…but if you’ve already decided what the outcome is going to be, you’re not leaving any room for change!

Too often we drag our past experiences along with us like the proverbial ball and chain.

So if you’re tired of lugging around the extra weight and being tied to all those negative feelings holding you back, I want you to try something right now. Imagine stepping free of that weight. Imagine what it would feel like to have the start line, contacts, weave poles or anything else of your dreams. How would it feel?

Those emotions are your power to create the change you’re looking to create. Without a clear picture, we have nothing to go by to create results.  With that knowledge, you can now create a plan where you use the resources around you (be it books, lessons, videos etc.) to start building up the success you want.  

Here are some tips for successfully changing something you’ve been blocked by in the past:

  1. Spend time each day visualizing your ideal performance and associating it with those feelings of confidence!
  2. Get your dog to make mistakes on purpose! If your intention is to replicate the mistake, then you are patterning how to turn failure into success. If you are confident that you can fix the problem, then if it happens in competition you won’t get sucked into the dreaded downward spiral.
  3. Create an interruption pattern for yourself and your dog. This means that when you feel yourself starting to slip back into the negative pattern (hopefully before this happens!) you can do something silly or fun to break yourself of the pattern. I use tricks that make me smile with my dogs, because it’s hard to be upset or frustrated when your dog is doing a hilarious trick!
  4. Recognize that you have to be completely committed to get a consistent result. Just “trying it” or “I’ll see what happens” won’t get you anywhere! Do you want the result? If your answer is along the line of “maybe…” or “yes, but…” then imagine once again remember all the anger, frustration, and disappointment the issue has caused and how amazing it will be to have all of that disappear!

We are all capable of making these changes if we want them bad enough. So harness the power of your own emotions, ditch the baggage, and move confidently into the future!

Happy Training,

Jess Martin of Agile Dog Training


September 23, 2013 at 3:15 am 2 comments

Visualizing your way to great performance

Whether it’s intentional or not, we all visualize particular outcomes in our life. Most of the time it’s unintentional…simply imagining a certain outcome as our minds drift throughout the day. You might imagine the way someone is going to react to a certain phone call or email. If you anticipate a negative response, you’ll likely start to feel your mood shift to one of anxiety or trepidation. On the other hand, if you are certain the response will be positive, your mood will likely change to that of excitement or even anticipation. Visualization and perception shape our actions and realities on a daily basis.

We all do it, but few of us practice visualization on purpose. Many of us actually use this process in reverse! Think about this for a moment. Imagine a course with an incredibly tough weave entry. Is your first tendency to imagine your dog getting the weaves successfully, or do you visualize the mistake that you think might happen? Be honest! I know my mind often goes to the mistake before it goes to success.

Now I’m not telling you to pretend your dog has skills that they don’t. I’m suggesting that you visualize being successful while being realistic. If I plan on helping my dog get that weave entry I want to imagine in vivid detail exactly how it will happen. Take that image and imagine it over and over again.

You are now training your mind to achieve success.

Now does this really work?

Back in 2012, I was competing with my sheltie Dice at the European Open when the unthinkable happened. I missed my walkthrough! I had gone over to watch the large dogs running in a different ring, and didn’t realize that our ring was running ahead of schedule. I got back as the people were being ushered off the course. All walkthroughs had been completed and I had missed them. I was now going to have to run the course without walking it at all!
I admittedly had a moment of panic, but that was quickly followed by an intense feeling of determination. I was not going to let this hurdle stop me from running the course with confidence! I knew that I needed to trick my mind into thinking I had actually walked the course. I circled the ring getting to see it from every angle possible. Then I closed my eyes and pictured myself running the course identical to how I wanted to run it. Over and over again I played run…feeling every move, seeing my dog clearing the jumps and making the turns. I even played the feeling of crossing the finish line after running it clean. When I stepped up to the line I experienced the déjà vu feeling that I had already been there.

The run played out in reality exactly the way it had in my visualization.
In the words of Tony Robbins, “your brain can’t tell the difference between something you vividly imagine and something you actually experience!” I had just experienced this first hand.

There are two different ways that you can visualize your performance: directly and indirectly. Direct visualization is when you see things through your own eyes. Imagine yourself seeing your dog running exactly as you would on course.

Indirect visualization occurs when you picture seeing your dog from some else’s point of view…like watching a video of your run. I use both of these methods to achieve peak mental preparation.
Here’s an exercise to help you visualize your own path to success.
While watching this run I want you to indirectly visualize you and your dog performing this course.

Imagine watching yourself enter the ring. The crowd is cheering as your name is announced over the loud speaker. Vividly imagine yourself watching from the stands. Watching you and your dog execute the course exactly how you know you can. Imagine the feeling of excitement and anticipation as you complete each obstacle flawlessly, finishing each obstacle getting closer and closer to the end of the course. Finally, imagine watching yourself crossing the finish line knowing that you’ve just had the best run of your career!

Now let’s do the same exercise but this time directly visualizing your success.

Imagine yourself walking through the start gate with people cheering and your name being announced from the loud speaker. You feel a bit nervous but you know that this is your moment and you are more prepared than you have ever been in your life. You dog is ready and conditioned. You are focused and confident. You know that the only thing that matters right now is this moment with your dog. As you set your dog on the start line you feel that sense of purpose and knowing. Looking back at your dog you see that they are ready. Imagine seeing your dog taking the first jump. Feel your body turning as you move into the first cross. See your dog following your body motions as you are completely focused on this one moment. Your body feels as if it’s on autopilot…that you’ve run this course so many times it is imprinted into your subconscious. Look back at your dog as you cross the final jump knowing that you have done it! Feel the overwhelming joy and excitement of your success as the crowd roars! You look up to see your name at the top of the leader board.

How do you feel? Were you in that moment?

This is how I prepare for every major run I do with my dogs. I practice this type of visualization will all my dogs…even before they are actually competing.

So over the next week take a few moments each day to visualize your own success.

Take this opportunity to tap into you own potential to take your own performance to the next level.

Happy Visualizing!
Jess Martin of Agile Dog Training

September 12, 2013 at 5:42 pm 4 comments

Is your agility training keeping up with the times?

In some form or another all things change over time. Agility is no exception. There are many changes that happen when it comes to your own agility performance. As your dog becomes more skilled or becomes more confident they change their behaviours. As the skill level of the overall agility community improves the courses change to incorporate new trends and challenges. As new challenges emerge both training and handling has to adapt.

So my question to you is, are you training/handling in the past, the present, or preparing for the future?

Earlier today I was talking to a student about creating a plan for moving forward with her dog that has had motivation issues in the past. Similar to my experiences with Dice, she has struggled with him in the past with fears and motivational issues, but over time he has become a much more confident, driven dog. She has done a great job building up his drive, but now has a completely different dog in the ring than she had a year ago.

Agility is a constant evaluation of where we want to be and where we are right now. Over time your dog’s performance will change…as will you own.
Remember the first time you did a front cross? Not a pretty thing for most people! Now think of how effortlessly (for some of you) you do them now. Your skill level has changed and you can now do more challenging crosses because you have the confidence to do so.

Your dog goes through similar changes over time. They can get weave entries that they couldn’t before, or read handling cues that caused them difficulty in the past. If you keep acting as if they haven’t made any progress in their skills or attitude, you will limit your progress by not moving forward.

Are you handling the dog you have right now? Or are you handling the dog you’ve run in the past? To move forward we must always recognize that just as we change as handlers, or dogs change as well!

As our handling and dogs have increased in confidence and skill our courses have also adapted. Think back to the first courses you’ve ever run. For some of you this may be a very long time ago and for some of you it may be only a year or two. Have you noticed any changes in the courses?

I remember back in 2002 when I started competing with my first dog Mikki, that a serpentine was considered a very difficult handling challenge! Do you remember when training your dog to take the back of the jump was considered “international handling?” In the past the only place you would see this challenge was in international courses. When it first started to make its way into Canadian courses people would complain and panic.
But then what happened?

They went and trained their dogs to do it! Now it’s a skill commonly taught in most agility classes.

Are you keeping up with the present course design? Those of us who compete often are exposed to these changes on a regular enough basis and we don’t resist course changes for very long. Afterall, our options are pretty limited. To run the course successfully we have to have the skills to do so.
Both course trends and changes in dog/handler skill level have in many cases changed the ways of how we handle and train our dogs. To continuously be competitive in a changing sport, you must adapt yourself. When I think of the winning runs from 7 years ago, they likely wouldn’t even place today.

Because the sport of agility is constantly evolving.

As a competitor finds a way to do something just a bit more efficiently everyone else has to adapt to the new standard.

A common example of this is running contacts. As little as 5 years ago it was rare to have a true running contact. Now many people have trained them or at least attempt to train them. As a recent adaptation many judges are making traps for these contact performances, and so yet again the training has to become better to handle the added challenge of running contact exits.
In this way change perpetuates more change.

This is why I try to train for the FUTURE and not only for what is currently happening in the sport. I often tell my students that we want to train our handling to be successful in all possible options…not just the current course. For example, would your handling plan change if there was an off course tunnel just beyond the jump? Do you have an answer to anything the judge could throw at you?

Not only do we want to be able to handle what is happening right now, we also want to be prepared for what is to come. Prediction is the key to keeping one step ahead of the game.

Here’s my suggestion for those of you looking to keep up with the times in your agility performance.

Learn from the past, train in the present, and prepare for the future.

“For time and the world do not stand still. Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or the present are certain to miss the future.”
John F. Kennedy

Happy Training,
Jess Martin of Agile Dog Training

September 11, 2013 at 2:07 am 3 comments

What’s fun for you? Personalizing your training session

Have you ever had a skill that you knew you needed to train, but just couldn’t seem to get excited about doing it?

If you’re anything like me, you’d write it down then when it actually comes time to train, either put it off altogether or end up frustrated within 30 seconds of training!

So what’s makes the difference between skills we love to train and those we dread?

This came into my mind recently after reading one of Silvia Trkman’s blog posts and decided that I should teach more tricks to my dogs. I grabbed my clicker and some treats and decided on the behaviours I was going to teach. The shaping session became frustrating very quickly and it got me thinking about the difference between my good training sessions and bad ones.

To balance it out (since I felt sorry for my dogs having to deal with my frustrations) I went back to luring some basic behaviours instead. Surprisingly, my mood got better and I was back to having fun again!

So what was the difference?

The conclusion that I came to is that fun training sessions for me have a few common characteristics:
– Motion: I have to be moving. I get bored fast when I’m staying still. I have the most fun when I’m moving with my dogs…even if it’s just my hands
– Quick Progress: I don’t seem to have much patience if my dog seems confused or makes repetitive mistakes. I prefer to build on small successes to keep us both happy.

Does this mean I don’t do any shaping? Of course not! I just realize now that I need to be moving while I’m doing it or I get bored and my dogs get frustrated. It’s in this way that a very small change in HOW I train my skills altered my mood regarding the actual training.

Realizing what makes training fun for me as an individual has inspired me to tweak my training sessions to focus on these areas.

This has become especially important while I’m re-training my dogwalk with my border collie Heist from a run to a stopped contact.

Why is this a challenge?

I’ll share a secret with you… in general I find stopped contacts very boring to teach. Yeah I know all the information to make a brilliant stopped contact, but I’ve always found the training process too methodical to be really exciting for me. I don’t head out to the agility field excited about training it. It’s been more like a chore that I have to do because I know the consequences if I don’t train it.

After recognizing what exactly it is that I find enjoyable about training, however, I decided to modify the information I know about teaching stopped contacts to something that I actually find exciting.

Step one? Add more motion! I decided to teach him to jump into a 2 on2 off position using a short, sturdy box. This was much more fun for us both since it didn’t give him a chance to get “sticky” and creep into position. Plus I wasn’t limited to standing still.

Since this game was a lot more fun for me than the slow progressions I had done in the past, I saw it as being more successful much quicker. This has made me feel more successful and now I’m excited about my contact training!

Take a moment to think of what sessions give you the most enjoyment. What qualities do they have?

Now think of some skills that you hesitate to train or do not feel that you are good at. What are the major differences between the skills you enjoy training and those you don’t?

It’s no secret that in order to get better at something you have to practice. The problem is, if we are practicing and it reaffirms our belief that it’s not fun or that we aren’t good at it, there is actually more harm done that good! Think about it, the skills that you are best at are the ones you like to practice!

So here’s my test for you.

Challenge yourself to use your new knowledge of what you enjoy training and apply it to a skill that you’ve been putting off.

Be honest with yourself and try not to think of how it “should” be done. Remember, the point of this exercise isn’t to do it perfectly…it’s to be creative finding fun ways to train a skill you’re usually less than excited about.

I’d love to hear your comments on what makes training fun for you as an individual, so if you get a few moments please feel free to share your own experiences!

Happy Training,
Jess Martin of Agile Dog Training

September 10, 2013 at 2:44 am 1 comment

Lessons in success from the Canadian Open

The idea for this blog post was actually inspired while I was away in Edmonton last weekend competing with my dogs at the Canadian Open. I went into the competition hoping for some medals with my sheltie Dice, but although she did win two bronze medals at the event, it was actually my young dog Heist that I felt was most successful over the weekend.

Did he get on the podium?

No. He actually didn’t have a single clean run all weekend.

So where did this feeling of success come from?

I realized that real success isn’t always measured by gold medals.

What made his runs so successful was that he was working with me better than he ever had. He was thoughtful, balanced, and overall we had brilliant teamwork. That is what truly mattered to me.

Not winning events.

Not beating out my competitors.

Simply improving on a personal level as a team.

We’ve all had clean runs that we’ve somehow managed to get through. You know…the ones where you get out of the ring and you have no idea how the dog actually managed to make it through clean! Then we’ve had amazing runs that had one little bauble…maybe a knocked bar or even an off course, but you recognize that the almost clean run was actually better in many ways than the clean run.

Here’s one of Heist’s Canadian Open runs that despite errors was one of my favourite runs with him. He handled many skills that he has struggled with in the past as well as stopping on this dogwalk after only 6 days of re-training from a running contact.

When it comes down to it, agility isn’t just about competing against other people. It’s about competing against yourself, and pushing to be just a little bit better every time.

If you are competing strictly with others, you lose momentum very quickly as soon as something doesn’t go to plan. If you expect to win a class and you don’t, you immediately feel defeated or even more pressure to do better in the next round.

But what would happen if you were most concerned about making every run the best one possible?

Focusing on every run as an individual event that had no relation to any previous performance?

I often tell my students to “etch-a-sketch” their previous run. Just like the etch-a-sketch toy…you created something, now it’s time to shake it clear and start from a blank slate.

Many people count themselves out of the race as soon as they reach an obstacle in their path. True… a bar down may take you out of the gold medal position, but it doesn’t mean that your next run can’t be one of the best you’ve ever had. Many of us give up on a subconscious level once a run doesn’t go to plan because we can’t let it go.

Just because your dog missed a weave entry or knocked a bar in the previous run, doesn’t mean that you will get the same result in the next round. Past runs good or bad are in the past.

As an example of this, this past weekend one of my students came from having no clean runs to running clean and winning the Canadian Open Final. Had she held on to the mistakes in her past runs, they likely would have haunted her into the finals. Instead she assessed the issues at the end of each run before moving past them with confidence. When I talked to her before the finals, she was in a great headspace mentally. She recognized that her major mistakes in previous rounds were all in areas that she had hesitated about making handling decisions. In response, she vowed to make confident handling choices.

In the end she made two great handling choices for her dog that allowed her not only to run clean, but to win by a narrow margin.

She wasn’t competing against everyone else…she was competing against herself. Your own mind can be your greatest advantage in competition or your biggest handicap.

Imagine if she had gone into the finals thinking about how she was having bad luck this weekend and feeling that she didn’t stand a chance in the finals against “so and so”.

Do you think the results would be the same?

So next time you’re training or competing with your dog, think of what success means to you…not to everyone else.

Remember, if you think you can or you think you can’t you’re probably right!

This weekend was a great reminder for me of how it’s not always about the final placement.

Sometimes it’s about the personal success along the way.

Happy Training,
Jess Martin

September 6, 2013 at 8:22 pm 1 comment

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