Training Questions Answered: Reckless Jumping

The training questions have been pouring in and I’m so excited to get a chance to directly answer them! I’ll be answering a question a day for the next two weeks…maybe more if I don’t get through them all! I have to admit that for me, the most rewarding thing about teaching is seeing people overcome problems that they have really been struggling with.

Check out today’s great question about a dog who is jumping recklessly and knocking bars when the handler accelerates. This is a problem my border collie Heist has struggled with at times (although unlike our malinois subject, he has never gotten a jump wing stuck around him!). Here are some tips that I have found made a big difference to his self awareness and sensitivities to my acceleration.

I hope this video helps give some insight for those of you struggling with dogs that are jumping recklessly.

Stay tuned tomorrow for the next segment in the Your Agility Questions Answered! series.

Do you have a question you’d like me to answer? I’d love to hear from you! Submit your question at http://www.agiledogtraining.com

Happy Training,

Jess Martin of Agile Dog Training

October 9, 2013 at 3:20 am 2 comments

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?

Embarrassment?

Anger?

 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?
Absolutely.

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.

Why?
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

Are you sabotaging your own sucess?

Have you ever felt that you just weren’t good a something? For whatever reason you try it anyways, get the exact result you were expecting, then justify it by saying, “See? I told you I’m not good at that!”
You then go on avoiding that skill in the future because hey, who wants to do something we’re not good at?

I’ve struggled with this concept for my entire life. If I’m not good at a game, then I don’t play it. I wasn’t good at math so I avoided it like the plague. I remember as a kid in track and field if I was too far off the leader in a race, I would actually convince myself that I was hurt and that was why I couldn’t win! Miraculously though, I’d be completely healed by the events that I thought I’d stand a chance in….go figure!

Why am I sharing these stories with you?

Because over the past few days I’ve realized something very important.

What we believe to be true will likely become our reality.

As I’ve mentioned in some for my previous blog posts, I’ve recently been going through a bit of a tough time with my young dog Heist. Not because he hasn’t been doing well, but because I find myself very frustrated while training or competing with him. Now I know that I could list more than a dozen things that he does well or that I do we’ll as a trainer. But to be completely honest it’s shaken my confidence in myself and my training ability.

Doubts started to come into my head…toxic thoughts that poisoned my self-image and concept of my reality. Thoughts like:

“Maybe people were right when they said I was just a small dog handler”.

“If “so and so” were training him, then maybe he’d be running differently”

Even things along the line of, “is he really the right dog for me?”

I dismiss these thoughts as soon as they come but they have still lingered. It has poisoned my attitude and my thought process. I started going into runs just hoping he left the bars up or hit his contacts. I was walking the course thinking of all the places he might turn wide or mistakes that might happen.

I’ve been sabotaging myself before I even began.

Have you ever had an experience like this? Maybe you’ve gone into the run hoping your dog gets their weave poles or contacts. Maybe it’s an important run and you figure that you’re outclassed by whatever big names are entered. Even something as simple as telling yourself that your going to forget this course.

Whatever your own situation is, there is a common denominator here. You’ve already decided you’re going to fail before you’ve even gotten started.

In doing so, our subconscious mind searches and twists reality to fulfill our own views about our performance, sinking us deeper into the spiral of negativity.

“Fear and self doubt have always been the enemies of human potential. “

My own fear has been keeping me chained to these ideas of failure.

So I’ve decided that this is a moment to embrace a new perspective and greet my shortcomings as a chance to help those around me.

So I’m coming into the Canadian Open this weekend with a strong attitude, believing in myself, my dogs, and my students.

To be a bit cliched, “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” and I realized that all my frustrations, failures, and successes have had the purpose of brining me to this point of change where I can grow from the experience and become a stronger trainer, coach, and competitor.

For once for me its not about the win. It’s about the confidence that makes the win possible.

“We advance on our journey only when we face our goal, only when we are confident and believe we are going to win out” —Orison Swett Marden

Canadian Open here we come!

Happy Training,

Jess Martin of Agile Dog Training.


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August 31, 2013 at 7:10 am 5 comments

Are you afraid of forgetting? Tips to help you memorize your course without obsessing over it!

Have you ever noticed just how many people obsess over course maps? I’m not talking about just taking a quick look to figure out where the course goes, or planning your gamble strategy. I’m talking about the people that literally plan every little thing out on paper and actually worry about the results before they even happen!

Imagine if you only had two minutes to look over a course map before you were expected to walk the course. To clarify, I’m not talking about strategy games such as snooker and gamblers, but let’s say a typical standard course. Would you panic? Feel like you will most certainly get lost? Worry about your handling choices?

If this is you, I want you to ask yourself a very important question.

Why? What advantage does that piece of paper really give you?

Now of I know some of you are thinking that the course map is your chance to memorize the course, figure out your handling, and make decisions, and that may be true.

But here are a few things to consider:

1. The course map is a two dimensional representation of what you will really be running. Have you ever tried to give someone directions and realize that you’re giving them landmarks and not actually street names? Why? Because your mind thinks in dimension of what’s around you…what predicts where you need to turn. If you wait to see the little sign telling you where the street is, you likely just drove past it!

The walk through is 3-dimnensional experience. The course map is just a general representation of where the course goes. Your brain is hardwired to focus on landmarks…not street signs!

 2. Courses usually set up differently in actuality than they do on paper. So if you spend all your time pouring over what the course is supposed to look like, you are memorizing something different than what you’ll actually be running! Have you ever looked at a course map and said “I’m going to put “x” handling here” and then when you got out on course changed your mind? This can make your brain have to backtrack and re-memorize your handling choices!

 3. People create problems that may not even exist. Sometimes I think people just want an excuse to worry about things. Now don’t get me wrong, I’ve fallen into this trap numerous times myself by thinking about what will be a problem before I even get onto the course. The truth is that worrying is often a self-fulfilling prophecy. Why? Because if I tell you not to think of pink elephants you can help but picture it in your mind! By thinking your dog is going into the off course tunnel or that they will stop and bark at you at the gamble line, you are focusing on what you DON’T WANT to happen instead of what you WANT to happen.

Here’s an experience some of you can probably relate to. Have you ever had a place on course you were really concerned with? Maybe it is getting to a challenging front cross or keeping your dog out of an off course tunnel. Then when you run it you get through the hard part that you were worried about only to go off course immediately after? In my years in agility this has happened to me numerous times! Why? Because I’m only focusing on what I figure is going to be a challenge and not paying attention to the course as a whole! You come off the course kicking yourself for messing up the easy part of the course.  How frustrating is that!?

So how do we remember the course, avoid re-memorizing handing decisions, and stop the maddening worry???

Here are some of my tips for memorizing a course:

1. Instead of staring at the paper…look at the actual course before its open to walk. Now I often don’t watch much before the course has been tweaked by a judge because it will change! Again I don’t want to have to re-learn something that is already in my head.

2.  Recognize that remembering your course is SUBCONSICOUS. If you have to think about remembering then you are already in trouble! Try to go through the handing motions outside the ring while you visualize the course. Where are the jumps? Where do your crosses go? This will help put the 3-dimensional course strongly into your subconscious mind. Don’t try to THINK about where the course goes…try to FEEL when it goes.

3. Practice being able to memorize patterns quickly. One of the exercises that our coaches Kim and John Cullen had us do for the past world team was to write the numbers down on blank course map to make sure we knew where the correct obstacles were. I thought this was a brilliant idea and actually started to use this strategy in my own mental prep! People often tell me that they have trouble memorizing but don’t actually do anything to practice it. Try getting out some old course maps and seeing how much time you need to memorize it successfully. Need an added challenge? Try to do it an hour later and see how much you’ve retained!

4. Don’t dwell on difficult places in a course. Come up with a confident plan of how you are going to handle it and visualize yourself doing so successfully.  As with many things, confidence is a definitely advantage!

5.  Chunking: In the words of Tony Robbins, our brain tends to look at things as “One, Two, Three…Many.”  This means if you are going to try to remember every obstacle individually you are likely going to feel overwhelmed. If this is a problem for you, try breaking the course into a few “chunks” that relate to one another. An example could be the weave pole section, or the tunnel threadle section. If the whole course seems tough to remember, try focusing on the pieces first then put them together in your mind.

Memorizing doesn’t have to be a stressful experience. Let your subconscious do the work and it can require no active thought at all! So next time you are tempted to grab your course map and spend half an hour going over it with a fine tooth comb, ask yourself if it’s really setting you up for success or just becoming another thing to worry about.

Happy Training,

Jess Martin

August 29, 2013 at 5:20 pm Leave a comment

What Happens when the leash comes off?

Every agility run starts with one very important act; taking the leash off of your dog.

Now I know some of you are thinking, “taking the leash off? What’s so difficult about that? My dog won’t leave me.”  But for some it can be an incredibly nerve wracking experience! Imagine you reach to slip the leash over the dog’s head hoping that this won’t be one of the times that they decide to indulge in their freedom by running around the ring like they haven’t had a single day of training in their life! Or maybe they just wander off…seemingly disinterested that you’ve paid “X” number of dollars to compete in the first place.

If you’ve ever had an incident like this, I’m guessing you know exactly what I’m talking about. And I know that it can be an incredibly frustrating experience to deal with. Some of us don’t even recognize that it’s a problem in the first place. We allow our dogs to sniff or wander, especially in practice because we know our dog will come back when we ask them too. If this is the case you need to ask yourself a very important question…Are you getting the results you want in the ring?

Obviously if your dog is taking off doing high speed laps of the agility ring without you, or sniffing the ground like someone has laid a track of hot dogs down there, you are likely to agree that something should be done! But what if your dog is refusing to sit, or starts to leave but comes back immediately? These are all problems that can usually be traced back to an issue with the leash coming off.

One of the main reasons this happens is because many times we unknowingly teach our dogs to leave us when the leash comes off. Think about if you are on a hike or taking your dog out to a park somewhere. When you unclip the leash what happens? Do they turn and stare at you waiting for some command that should be obeyed or a game to start? It`s possible. Or do they take off frolicking down the path without a care in the world? Yep, that one is far more likely. And voila! You have a dog that is now nicely trained to run away when they feel that sense of freedom!

Is it any wonder that you get the same behaviour when you step into the agility ring?

So how do we teach our dogs to give us that intense focus that we are really looking for when the leash comes off?

Simple! We make it into a game that the dog actually wants to play. No popping on the collar or telling them “watch me” over and over again. No more pushing them into a sit while they stare at the first jump, or judge, or whatever else they seem to be focused on at that particular moment.

Why will your dog direct their focus to you when you even begin to remove the leash? Because you’re going to train them that an exciting game is about to happen…and that game requires their full attention to start! When the leash comes off…its game on!

I first realized this concept when I taught it to my sheltie Dice completely by accident. She was always nervous around the ring and the start line was an especially stressful place for her. I started taking her leash off right before I’d go in the ring since she was very dramatic if it happened to pull her hair a bit as I slipped it over her head. I would hold her by the collar and quickly flip the leash over her head right before clapping and getting her to bark and chase my hands. Why? Because I was trying to take her mind off of hating the leash coming off, as well as distract her from the stresses of the ring. Over time I started to notice something though…she was actually starting to get excited when I’d put my hand on the leash to bring it over her head. A simple manner of conditioning had taken place, but it was still pretty cool! Here my dog was staying perfectly calm until the leash came off…then she was a barking lunatic!

Since this accidental discovery, I now teach this leash game to all of my dogs. Here’s how you play:

  1. Get the dog into an excited state. I typically use toys or meal-time to create added excitement
  2. Use your voice and body language to create anticipation while you reach for the dog’s leash
  3. Wait until you see some form of excitement from the dog…I usually look for muscles to tense or them to stare at me
  4. Take the leash off quickly and immediately move away from the dog encouraging them to chase your or do some quick tricks like spinning
  5. Reward the dog then put the leash back on and play again.

I only repeat this a few times in a session because I don’t want it to become boring for my dog. Even the most exciting games can become boring with too much repetition.

Soon you’ll start seeing the dog start getting more excited and focused as you reach to take the leash off! How awesome is that?

Remember that it is important to spend a little time training this game, and not just go into a trial and expect miracles.   

Try this game out for yourself!

Happy Training!

Jess Martin of Agile Dog Training

August 28, 2013 at 4:15 am 1 comment

Is wanting to win a negative thing? Inspired by Silvia Trkman’s “Set your goals? Or just enjoy the moment?”

When I woke up this morning to find that a link had been shared to Siliva Trkman’s Blog post, “Set your goals?? Or just enjoy the moment?” I was excited and more than a little bit intrigued. I mean who doesn’t enjoy watching Siliva train and run her dogs? I’m always inspired by how simple her approach is, how much fun she and the dogs seem to be having, and of course how effortlessly she handle’s what most of us consider to be very challenging courses.

 I’ll admit that I’ve purchased every one of her videos over the past couple of years!

In this particular post, Silvia writes, “I don’t train to win. I train because I love it and because my dogs love it. And I try to train better and to get better because I love to learn, to progress, to improve.”

Again the simplicity of it is amazing.

For me personally, the drive to win in the sport of agility came as soon as my dog progressed to the point of being capable of doing so. I was always motivated to push myself to do better. When things were tough, it was the love of working with my dog that kept me in the sport of dog agility, but deep down I wanted to win.

Recently though, I’ve been finding myself more frustrated with my sessions and the performances of my dogs. After reading this post, it got me thinking that perhaps this is due to too much pressure of wanting to win.

So is wanting to win a negative thing?

No, but having your sole motivation based around winning certainly adds a lot of pressure, and will likely hold you back.

The basis of agility has and always will be teamwork between dog and handler. The most outstanding agility handlers are typically the ones who seem to have amazing teamwork and connection with their canine partners.

When I think about all of the top handlers I admire, this quality stands out first and foremost.

Here’s a video of Lisa Frick and Hoss competing in final round of the 2011 WC.


For me, the part of this run that gained me incredible respect for Lisa, is the sportsmanship she demonstrates when her dog knocks the first bar then goes on to fault the weave poles. The crowd immediately reacted with a disappointing “aww”. Lisa was having none of that! She gets the crowd back to cheering her and Hoss on!

How many of us would run just as hard after faulting as we would have before hand? How many of us would cross the finish line with excitement and enthusiasm? I can tell you right now that I’d be hard pressed to handle the situation in the same way.

Did Lisa want to win the 2011 WC? I’m sure part of her did, but it obviously wasn’t her main motivation or focus.

Just as Silvia states in her blog post,

“Don’t worry – when you learn enough, the results will come. Don’t rush it because trust me – it’s not the podium on World Championship that is worth remembering. It’s the way there. So just enjoy the moment. Remember to play rather [than] work hard!”

Remember…don’t let the desire to win cloud your reasons for why you’re here.

Happy Training,

Jess Martin

August 27, 2013 at 1:23 am 3 comments

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