Is it time to take your dog training back to the drawing board?

Have you ever had a moment in your dog training where you realized you were missing a major piece of the puzzle? That there is one piece seemingly holding you back from reaching the results you wanted?

Maybe you’re even feeling that way at the moment.

If you are, then maybe it’s time to take your training back to the drawing board. I’m talking of course about the subject of “re-training.”

Re-training comes from the realization that what you trained the first time isn’t working for you now. This takes guts to admit, because no one likes to feel that we need to start over. Instead, try thinking of re-training as a fresh start; a new beginning if you will. Imagine how it may change your performance for the better.

Feeling a bit more motivated? Great! Now let’s delve into the question that is re-training.

Let’s take a quick moment to clarify that for re-training to be successful, you must get the result you want. Why? Because otherwise you end up right back where you started!

Take my sheltie Dice for example. I’ve attempted to “re-train” her teeter performance several times since she has a tendency to leave the board early, sometimes incurring faults. My quick solution to this problem was to tell her “down” while she was on the board to encourage her to ride it to the ground. Sure, this worked for a little while, but then she started leaving early again. Then I decided to teach her to keep all four paws on the board until I gave her a release word. This worked for maybe a trial or two, but I didn’t enforce this new behaviour in the ring and so that deteriorated as well. Basically I wasn’t truly committed to re-training, and hence I was destined to end up back in the same place.

The first consideration you have to make when deciding whether or not to re-train a certain aspect of your performance, is how much you really want it to change. Imagine if you had a scale from 1-10 (10 being you desperately need the behaviour to change). Where do you fall on this scale? How much are you willing to invest in getting that coveted end result? Because I can tell you now, that part way doesn’t get results. When it comes to re-training, you’re either all in, or you will struggle to really change it. So are you in or are you out?

Decided to commit to change?

Now comes the planning stage. I know some people like to plan out every little training detail when it comes to things like this. I’m honestly not the planning type. Somehow brining a notebook to my training session just seems to suck all the fun out of it for me. Instead, I tend to focus on visualizing my end result and then the steps that I think will get me there.

Here’s a personal example that I’m going through at the moment. I’ve decided recently to temporarily abandon my running dogwalk project with my border collie Heist and instead teach him a stopped contact. It has gotten to the point where I’ve realized that the amount of time I’m spending trying to train one obstacle is limiting my time training things that are arguably more important. So I started coming up with a plan by:

  1. Visualizing what the end performance will look like
  • running into a two on two off contact with his head low and forward
  1. Thinking of what small steps I can take to help me train those skills
  • Teaching him to keep his back feet on an object (stairs work great for this)
  • Teaching a nose touch (I plan to fade it later)
  • Starting with him jumping onto the end of the contact and running into position…then moving him further up the board
  1. Actually doing the work!!!!
  2. Maintenance and proofing

Now, admittedly I’m only at stage 3 with him right now. People seem to think that retraining contacts is a slow, tedious exercise. I can honestly say that I’ve been re-training for less than a week and today it just seemed to click for him. Make sure you aren’t spending too much time obsessing over small details that likely won’t matter in the end! Otherwise you’ll still be re-training a year from now!

So you’ve got your plan and you’re putting it into action. Awesome, right? What happens if/when the past starts coming back to haunt you and creeps into your new behaviour? First of all, relax. People get way too bent out of shape about things popping up unexpectedly in their training. If you’re re-training, then it means that you’re essentially attempting to re-do something you’ve already taught. This means that your dog is likely going to confuse the two at some point in training. Be patient and stick to your new criteria. If you find you’ve hit a wall…take a break and try again later (sometimes they just get a little mentally stuck during a training session, as do we!). If the problem persists then you may need to change up your plan of action a little bit. Either way, be flexible and work with what the dog gives you. This is another reason I find that over planning can actually be detrimental to your training.

The final stage of the re-training journey is your ring performance. This is the real test. The goal is to make sure you get the new behaviour you’ve re-trained so that your dog learns that this also applies to a competition. Be strong here! Your consistency is the real test! If you let your training start to deteriorate you’ll be heading right back to where you started in the first place…fast.

Here are a few suggestions for passing the final test:

–      Have a plan for what you will do if your dog doesn’t do what’s expected

–      Enter some extra runs for the purpose of training (AAC only)

–      Try to use the same commands/body language you do in training (often trying to manage the dog’s performance throws them off a bit)

–      Realize that this is one run of many! (yeah I know it’s hard while in the moment, but believe me guys…perspective is a key motivator in successful change!)

Remember…“Learning is not a spectator sport” – Chickering and Gamson

Happy Re-training!

Jess Martin of Agile Dog Training

August 26, 2013 at 4:16 am 3 comments

Lead By Example: The Dog Training Double Standard

For this blog post, I’m addressing an issue that I see in my agility classes every week…the dog training double standard. I’m talking more specifically about situations where people expect certain behaviours of their dogs, but can’t replicate those behaviours themselves.

It’s my opinion that for a dog to truly reach their potential, the hander attached to the leash has to be willing to give as much as they want to get back. Way too often, this doesn’t happen, and we are left frustrated wondering why our dogs aren’t living up to our expectations.

Here are a few common examples of the double standards that I see in training:

  1.  Focus: We often expect 100% focus from our dogs even when we aren’t focused on the task ourselves. Is it really fair to expect your dog to stare adoringly at you while you talk to your friends or instructor and pay them no attention? How about while you focus on the course trying to figure out which jumps you are supposed to do, but not noticing what your dog is doing? If you want your dog to be confident and focused, make sure that you are leading by example. I know that I myself cannot stay completely focused on my dog for an hour class, so I make sure that my dog is either crated or tied to something. That way we both reserve our focus for when it matters most!


  1. Consistency: We tend to expect consistency on our start lines, contact behaviours, etc. but are WE really being consistent as trainers/handlers? If you make your dog stop on the contacts in practice but not in a trial, why shouldn’t your dog follow your example and figure that that leaping off the contact is the new expectation in a competition? If you decide that running the course is more important than reinforcing your start line then it stands to reason that is exactly what you are telling your dog. If this is okay with you by all means continue to do it. But is it fair to  blame the dog for doing what you have taught them to do? Afterall, if the environment is too exciting for you to maintain your own criteria as a handler, then does the dog really stand a chance?


  1. The Right Attitude: We’ve all had moments where we didn’t feel like training. I’ve learned the hard way that there is very little point to training when I’m in a bad mood, since it usually ends with both myself and my dogs being very frustrated. If you’re not in a positive headspace to train, then most likely your dog isn’t going to be either. Keep in mind that a high stressing dog like my border collie always wants to do agility, so he will gladly do equipment. He will, however, show his stress towards my mood by moving away from me on course…usually taking the back of jumps when the lines seem obvious to the front side. My sheltie Dice on the other hand, will usually just refuse to even enter the agility field if I’m in a bad mood. Of course this tends to lead to instant frustration for me (talk about a negative cycle!).  My suggestion? Take some extra time before you train to work on getting yourself in the right mood.


Here’s a scenario some of you might be familiar with… you get stuck in a traffic jam on the way to class and arrive late to find everyone already walking the course! In a rush you grab your dog and try to run the sequence flustered and unprepared. You forget the course numerous times, and your dog goes off sniffing in between. Doesn’t sound like much fun does it? Here’s an alternative scenario…instead of rushing to run the sequence you take your turn just playing with your dog and doing some one jump work where you know both you and your dog will be successful. You opt out of that particular sequence and join in on the next one feeling relaxed and confident in your ability to remember the course. Now which scenario do you think you and your dog will enjoy more?

Now I can honestly tell you I’ve fallen victim to all of these double standards at one time or another. It took a dog like Dice who absolutely would not work through them to teach me these valuable lessons. And I haven’t gotten it perfect yet…I still get frustrated with my dogs when they don’t focus or when a training session doesn’t go well. It usually hits me later on just how unfair I was being at the time.

I’m only human afterall.

 But our dogs are just that.

 They are DOGS.

 NOT agility robots.

They react to stress, make mistakes, and get distracted. We aren’t perfect and neither are they. Don’t they deserve to be able to have the same expectations of us that we have of them?

So next time you go into a training session or competition, ask yourself if you’re truly leading by example.

Happy Training,

Jess Martin of Agile Dog Training

August 25, 2013 at 4:33 am 2 comments

Hope for competing with a reactive dog


When I first started agility with my first dog Mikki, I had no concept of dog behaviour or proper socialization. As a 13 year old kid, my dog training knowledge was based on what I had seen on TV, or read about in magazines. Going along with what I thought was best for socializing my puppy; I introduced him to as many dogs as possible. The problem was that I didn’t know all of these dogs and some of them reacted negatively towards my puppy. I was told by my instructors at the time that my puppy “needed to be told off,” and I listened to their advice even against my gut instincts. Afterall, the more socialization the better right? Wrong. At about 8 months old my puppy started to show signs of aggression towards other dogs. Shortly after, he was labelled as “a reactive dog” and was kicked out of his training classes.

Heartbroken and embarrassed that my dog had been cast out of the training I was growing to love so much, I went on the search for a trainer that could help me fix Mikki’s problems. This is when I first started training with Adrian Rooyakkers. He enlightened me that my dog didn’t have to tolerate other dogs in his space, and it was my job to keep other dogs away from him. He didn’t send me through lengthy behavioural training, or tell me that my dog would never be able to do agility. He recognized that my dog was reacting because he felt threatened by other dogs. The solution? Manage his interactions with other dogs to him feel safe.

I stopped trying to get him to tolerate other dogs. I stopped pushing him outside his comfort zone. And while doing so, his confidence in me and his environment grew. He no longer felt that he needed to look over his shoulder because a dog might come attack him. In my training sessions, I kept him leashed and away from the other dogs unless we were running. When I started competing, I kept him away from high traffic areas with other dogs and was careful to avoid anywhere that another dog might approach him. We stopped having reactivity issues because I made sure there was nothing for him to react to.

Mikki and I competed successfully for many years with very few people even realizing that he had reactivity issues with other dogs.

Here are a few lessons I learned while dealing with his reactivity:

1.       Don’t assume people have control over their dogs. I learned the hard way that many people (especially in a public setting) don’t pay attention to what their dogs are doing. This meant that I had to constantly be watching the dogs around me to make sure that none of the approached my dog. Many people will let their dog try to approach yours, or not notice when their dog infringes on your dog’s space. Noticing those in your environment can help prevent issues from happening

2.       Stay away from high traffic areas. In an agility trial, this is likely the warm up jump or near the gate list. I always kept Mikki away from the ring until it was time to go in. Many people come up with their dogs to the gate list to see when it is their turn. This results in a large number of dogs in a small space….a disaster waiting to happen for reactive dogs. Send a friend to check the gate list for you in this situation so that you don’t risk having an issue.

3.       Know what triggers your dog: For Mikki, he was triggered by another dog getting physically too close to him. Some dogs react to the look of particular dogs, barking, or movement (like another dog running or warming up). It is important that you know what sets off your dog so that you can avoid it to the best of your ability. For example, you could ask people to stay away from the fence if your dog has issues with seeing other dogs close to the ring.

4.       Have an exit strategy: For reactive dogs, exiting the ring can be a big issue. Not only does a run typically end by running towards the fence which can be highly distracting for many dogs, but actually coming out of the ring without having any dogs around is quite unlikely. I would always turn away from the fence when I was finished my run to help stop my dog from noticing the dogs outside the ring. I know some people that have placed a second leash at the exit in case the leash runner didn’t have their leash there on time. You may want to ask the gate steward not to let the next dog enter the ring until your dog is on leash. Having your bag of treats or a toy near the exit can also help you have a way to distract your dog while you pass through the potentially high traffic area.

5.       Don’t be afraid to let people know your dog has an issue with other dogs: many people are quite happy to keep their dogs away from yours if they know that your dog has reactivity issues. Don’t be afraid to tell people that your dog needs their space. I’ve even seen embroidered tags that you can put on your leash to help warn people that your dog is reactive towards other dogs.

I feel that reactive dogs should be allowed to play in dog sports as long as the handler is managing their dog. I hate to see people give up because they have been told their dog has issues like mine had.  Obviously none of us wants to be put in a situation where our dog is attacked because someone didn’t have control of their reactive dog. But similarly it is our responsibility to make sure that we have our dogs under control as well and that they aren’t encroaching on another dog’s space. So let’s all do our part to be respectful, and keep our dogs feeling safe.

Happy Training,

Jess Martin of Agile Dog Training

August 24, 2013 at 3:48 am 5 comments

Are you dreaming big enough?

I’ve been on a quest lately to inspire myself and others through my teaching and blogging. As I’m sure some of you have noticed, I’ve been blogging daily lately with the goal of helping others through their training and life struggles. I’m planning on continuing this trend in the future. Why? Because I’ve realized that it’s not only about achieving my own goals and dreams, but helping others feel that they can achieve their own…even if they doubt it themselves.

When I mention goals to my students, I often find that many of them set the bar very low when it comes to their expectations. Some of them even claim to have no expectations at all. Have you ever gone into a competition or training session telling yourself, “I’m just here to have fun, I don’t care what happens?” I’ve heard it many times as a coach and instructor. I’ve even been tempted to take this approach myself sometimes.

But sometimes there’s a spark…a ghost of a flame igniting your desire to succeed. And you realize that you can have so much more; be so much better; if you just push for that next level, whatever that may be for you. You can take this chance to embark on a path worth doing, to create your own journey to greatness. The question is, will you do it?

Hang onto the images flickering through your mind right now. Your dreams are there even if you can’t consciously describe them. They are dwelling right beneath the surface of the barriers saying “I can’t”, “It’s not possible,” or “I’m not good enough.”

These are the barriers I had to overcome when I applied for the 2005 world team with my first dog Mikki. I was told that he probably wouldn’t make it. People had already begun cutting me down telling me that he was a nice “steady” dog. Some were even blunter and flat out told me he was too slow. But part of me felt that spark of inspiration. And rather than being discouraged I decided that I was going to push myself to achieve what I at the time felt was impossible. I was going to make it to the world team. Now don’t get me wrong, there were plenty of people supporting me as well, and for those of you who offered your support I will be forever grateful. There were also many negatives thrown my way. At that moment I decided not to let others lessen my dream. Mikki and I went on the represent Canada at the FCI World Championships for three consecutive years. He ran 7/8 runs clean in his worlds career. And I owe it all to having a dream for something more. If I had allowed myself to be discouraged by what others thought possible for me, I never would have embarked on a journey that has completely changed my agility career and in doing so, my life.

Remember that this was MY dream. Yours may be completely different and it doesn’t make it any less important than mine.

I want to share this powerful video with you that I watched today. While watching I realized just how much the sport means to me, and just how special the bond is with my dogs.

Your dreams are just that, they are YOURS. No one can tell you what to dream. But it’s up to you to make them a reality.

Dream Big.

Take this oppourtunity to help those around you by sharing this post with those whom you wish to inspire.

“The only place where your dream becomes impossible is in your own thinking.” – Robert Schuller

Happy Training,
Jess Martin of Agile Dog Training

August 22, 2013 at 4:18 am 3 comments

Think Less, Do More! What’s Holding you back?

Do you ever get stuck in thinking mode? Do you find yourself analyzing your dog or yourself while you’re running instead of being in the moment? This is a problem I’ve encountered quite often lately with my border collie Heist.

Why is thinking in agility a problem? It interferes with your reaction time, increases your own stress, and basically just interferes with your connection with your dog!

Have you ever showed up to a trial late and had to run the course without walking it? I’ve had many people tell me that they’ve actually had some of their best runs in this situation! Why? Because they didn’t have time to think about what they were doing…they just had to run it!

Admittedly, my best runs are the ones that I can’t remember what actually happened! It reminds me of when I’m driving an incredibly familiar route and get where I’m going without actually remembering the details along the way (I try not to do this, but it does happen). My best runs come when I’m in a sort of agility trance. I firmly believe that this is because reactions are much faster than thoughts. This is why you’ll often hear me say “There should be no thinking in agility, only reacting.”

I came across this concept when I got challenged to a Wii Fit “soccer ball” contest with a friend of mine. I had never played before and I was so terrible that it was embarrassing! For those of you who aren’t familiar with this game, it involves balancing on a board and leaning in different directions to head soccer balls that are being kicked at you. To make things more challenging, the kids also kick their shoes at you (you don’t want to hit those) and there are black and white panda bear heads that knock you off balance! Needless to say, I convinced my family that it would be a good investment to buy the game…of course I just wanted to practice and redeem myself. I practiced until I actually became quite good at it. I ended up spending a whole day trying to turn the whole leader board into perfect scores. What I realized was that if anything broke my concentration and I had to actually think about hitting the soccer balls then I would mess up.
Huh. Seems a little like my agility runs the past weekend!

Then I realized something. I cannot think fast enough to keep up with Heist. It seems the moment my focus breaks we fault somewhere. My best moments with him have been the ones where I haven’t been thinking at all. I was almost “feeling” the run instead of thinking about it. Just reacting on a subconscious level and he was doing the same. Magic!

Here’s a video that was shared on Facebook today of one of my favourite handlers to watch, Silvia Trkman. What I noticed most while watching the video is how she’s completely in the moment with her dog. There are no hesitations in her handling where it seems like she is thinking.

So how do we train ourselves to stop thinking and truly be in the moment?

I think a big part of it is letting go of the need to be perfect. We often are so concerned with breaking things down and getting it right, that we actually teach ourselves to always be thinking and analyzing while running. If we never practice running anything from start to finish, how are we actually going to be able to do it in the ring?

Think Less…Do More!

I’m done planning out extensive lists of things to do with my dogs which never actually get done. Or spending my time thinking of what I should be doing instead of doing it. I’m going to focus on where my time should really be spent…actually training! Not thinking about training.

Now I’m NOT saying that you shouldn’t go into your training session with a plan. or that you should run every sequence from start to finish without fixing your contacts or having your dog break their start line. But for me personally, I tend to get stuck at the planning stage or analyzing what’s happening and not actually running my dogs.

So today I’m taking action and scheduling some time to train my dogs and work on preparing my mind for staying in that moment.

Happy Training,
Jess Martin of Agile Dog Training

August 21, 2013 at 4:35 am Leave a comment

When you realize you don’t know what you think you know

Today I’m writing about my journey as a dog agility instructor and how my perspectives have changed over the years.

When I first started teaching, I felt like I had something to prove and for the most part I actually did. Gaining the respect of a group of adults when you are 16 years old was a difficult task, and I think I had to be a little arrogant to convince them that they really should listen to me. With success, my ego grew and to be completely honest, my people skills diminished.

 I had little patience in my classes and would sometimes even get angry with my students when I figured they weren’t listening to me. I attempted to motivate others by holding my accomplishments over their heads. I remember telling my students that if they didn’t want to do things my way it was fine by me…it would just make it easier for me to win.

Lesson: to truly inspire others you must build them up first, and as a result you will find that they lift you higher as well. This leads to a positive support system where everyone involved benefits. Now who wouldn’t want that?

Before I learned this valuable lesson I honestly didn’t enjoy teaching all that much. I was teaching for me and not teaching for the benefit of others.

I’ve since realized that I don’t know as much as I thought I knew.

I heard a speaker yesterday say, “If you’re green you’re growing, if you’re ripe then you rot.”

Imagine if all of us set aside our egos and focused on learning from those around us, especially our dogs. How much more would we learn without the ignorance of trying to prove that we are right while others are wrong?

This brings to mind my snooker run with Heist on the weekend. Now I have always preached to people about putting it on the line and going for maximum course points. When I looked at the snooker course I realized something. Going for maximum course points would not be good for my dog. He needs to gain confidence in the ring and confidence in me. Running him long distances with no obstacles in between would be detrimental to us both. Even knowing this, do you know what my first thought was? How are others going to see me if I don’t practice what I’ve preached for so long?

Then I realized something profound.

I was wrong. I have pushed people to follow my example by being more competitive. I haven’t taken into consideration that sometimes it’s not about winning right now. It’s about building up your dog’s confidence so that he can win later.

I chose to run a path I figure would give us both a boost of confidence. As it turns out, it still didn’t go to plan, but I am very happy that I made that decision and didn’t try to push him beyond where we both were comfortable.

It’s interesting how you can be so sure of something one day and then realize that your theory was flawed all along.

                Lesson: Always be open to the ideas and opinions of others. Most of the time “right” and “wrong” is all based on perspective.

Admitting your mistakes is not a sign of weakness. It shows you have the courage to know your wrong, and that you have become stronger.


Today I’ve decided to become stronger by admitting my mistakes. What will you choose?


Happy Training,


Jess Martin of Agile Dog Training

August 20, 2013 at 12:57 pm 8 comments

Sometimes inspiration comes when you least expect it

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Training,

Jess Martin of Agile Dog Training



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

Inspiration can come when you least expect it

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Training,

Jess Martin of Agile Dog Training

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

How to Play with your dog THEIR way

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

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

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

Does this situation sound familiar?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Training,

Jess Martin of Agile Dog Training

August 18, 2013 at 4:32 am 4 comments

A lesson in perseverance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Training,
Jess Martin of Agile Dog Training

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

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