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
Jess Martin of Agile Dog Training