Posts tagged ‘agile dog training’

Visualizing your way to great performance

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

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

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

You are now training your mind to achieve success.

Now does this really work?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How do you feel? Were you in that moment?

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

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

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

Happy Visualizing!
Jess Martin of Agile Dog Training

September 12, 2013 at 5:42 pm 4 comments

Is your agility training keeping up with the times?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Because the sport of agility is constantly evolving.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Training,
Jess Martin of Agile Dog Training

September 11, 2013 at 2:07 am 3 comments

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 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

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

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