Start line question: getting your dog into position faster

Hi everyone! Today’s question is about how to get your dog into position at the start line without “arguing” with them. Have you ever experienced this? I sure have! Sometimes we feel like we are fighting the dog and we haven’t even started the run yet!

Let me ask you a question…do you feel like a team with your dog at that moment? Of course not!

In this video, I discuss some of the ways I’ve found to have my dogs WANT to move into position at the start. Wouldn’t it be nice to feel like a team right from the beginning?

Thank you to everyone for posting your questions at http://www.agiledogtraining.com! Keep them coming and I’ll do my best to answer them all!

Happy Training,

Jess Martin

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October 11, 2013 at 7:46 pm 2 comments

Transitioning between running and stopped contacts

Today’s training question inquires about how to transition between stopped and running contacts. I’ve gone both directions with this…transitioning my duck toller from a 2 on 2 off contact to a beautiful running contact and my border collie from a running dogwalk to a 2 on 2 off contact.

Here are a few ideas for making these transitions as smooth as possible.

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s video where I’ll share some tips for creating an effective start line routine!

Happy Training,

Jess Martin

October 11, 2013 at 2:58 am 1 comment

Your Agility Questions Answered: Ring Focus

Today’s question is geared towards improving focus in the ring. I get asked this question all the time from people struggling to get their dog to perform consistently fast and focused when they enter a trial environment.
Here are a few tips to overcoming that initial distraction to keep your dog focused and ready to play from start to finish!

Happy Training!
Jess Martin

October 10, 2013 at 3:28 am 8 comments

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

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