Fly, baby, fly!

"YAY! I did it!"

I have something to confess: I’m not the greatest agility handler in the book.  Many people unfamiliar with the sport do not realize that agility is much like a tango, an intricate partnership requiring immense amounts of teamwork between human and canine.  The dog may be the showstopper in this high-speed sport, but the handler is far from a spectator.  Anyone can have a fast dog – it takes consistent, accurate handling skills to be able to take that promising dog to the top.  Everyone sees such talent in their own dogs, and I’m no exception – I see unleashed potential in my guys and as their handler, I don’t want to prevent them from succeeding by letting them down on my end of the bargain.

So, I’m trying hard to better myself as a handler.  Here are some things that I am working on.

  • 1) Fitness.  With a new gym membership in hand, I’ve finally gotten back on the workout wagon.  Dogs are much faster than us and even little 11.5-year-old Evee can blast ahead of me on a course!  Instead of trying to catch my breath after running some exercises (embarrassing, I know), I want to feel as if I can at least attempt to keep up with my crazy canines.
  • 2) Communication.  I’m working on being more consistent and accurate with both my verbal cues and body language.  Dogs feed off of what we ask them to do and how we ask them to do it, especially when it comes to what our body is saying to them.  Diesel in particular is incredibly in-tune to my body language; he can even pick up on subtle changes in my breathing pattern.  This can be a double-edged sword — if I’m accurate and consistent, we should have many clean runs, but on the other hand, I can send him flying over a jump or into a tunnel instead of over the A-frame if I don’t position my body correctly.
  • 3) Confidence.  Something that I really need to work on is having faith in myself and having faith in my dog.  Like I mentioned above, dogs read us.  They feed off of our energy and our emotions.  If I display confidence, so will my dogs.  This is especially important in the case of Diesel, who as I mentioned before has some fear/anxiety issues.
  • 4) Praise.  I’m a huge proponent of positive-based training methods and they are the only methods that I use when it comes to my pups.  My dogs know when they’ve gotten it right — a click or “YES!” is followed by high-value treats or a high-value toy.  Why is this a problem?  Our agility instructor pointed out a ‘bad’ habit of mine – Diesel almost always gets a “YES!” or “Good boy!” after every single obstacle.  This causes him to flip his head to look back at me after every jump or contact or tunnel, which in turn causes him to slow down or even get distracted.  In dog training, I believe that it’s important to give the dog something that he wants to work towards.  In Diesel’s case, he’ll get his beloved ball or Frisbee at the end of the course.  He knows that he’s going to get it when he finishes his job and I also believe that as an enjoyable activity, agility in itself is rewarding.  So with that being said, my constant praise is hindering and unnecessary until the end of the course, at which time I can throw a praise party.  🙂

Which brings us to today’s two pictures.  I was doing one-jump exercises and working on direction and speed.  In the above picture, Diesel heard his “YES!” and turned at me to look for his reward.  In the picture below, I threw the ball (his reward) as soon as I saw that Diesel was committed to taking the jump.  The point of this exercise was to get him to accelerate quickly and to look out and ahead for the next obstacle, hence his tight, collected form.

Go, go, go!

Phew.  Hope you all didn’t fall asleep reading this … I at least had a blast writing this all out.  😀

And here are some video clips from Diesel’s Intermediate (3rd) agility class, which we took during the fall.  The main reason that I try and record our agility sessions is so that I can review and evaluate my handling successes and errors.  Hope you all enjoyed at least some of today’s lengthy post, which by the way, is my 50th post!  Wahoo!!!

About Kas

An occupational therapy graduate student, Virginia Tech alumna, positive-reinforcement trainer, and proud mum of 5 crazy canines.

Posted on May 31, 2011, in Agility, Diesel and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 38 Comments.

  1. I couldn’t relate more to this post. With Bailey’s agility, almost all the mistakes he makes during courses are my fault as his handler. He is great at doing exactly what I, or my body, asks him to do, however many times I make mistakes and lead him to do the wrong thing. It isn’t his fault. He is just following my cues. All of our classes are so much about training the handler, in addition to the dog.

    Also I need to share with you, because I know you’ll appreciate it, but Bailey is SO close to mastering his weave poles! We went out today to practice them and he did sooooo well and was basically weaving on his own! With a little more time of home practicing, he’ll have it down 100% in no time. We just need to work on his entrances.

    • Definitely — as Jodi said, it’s “handler error”! Diesel and I worked on some tunnel/tunnel discriminations today and I was playing around with my body position with “here” and “out”. It’s amazing at how sensitive dogs are to what seems like minute differences to us. Our classes/lessons are the same — much more about training me than the dog haha!!

      And WAHOO, Bailey!!! I bet that he will be a little weaving machine. Once you have entrances down pat, everything else falls into place. Can’t wait to see more photos/videos of the little agility star weaving. 🙂

  2. 100% accurate. I always say, “handler error.” LOL, Sometimes I focus so hard it’s like I forget to breathe.

    Good job, I love the tips and the video. (I have to figure out how to put music to mine to drown out our talking.) 🙂

    • So true!! If only we could be as talented as our dogs. 😉

      And thank you – glad you liked the video! I have to add background music to most of them due to screaming dogs/talking people.

  3. Let’s throw a praise party for your 50th post! I always look forward to reading your updates. 🙂

    Just wanted to let you know I stayed wide awake while reading this. Since Oscar and I don’t have experience with doggie sports, I found your post to be quite informative. Participating in doggie sports is such a great way to build a special bond with your pet. I should sign Oscar up for a class or two once he loses a bit more weight!

    • Thank you, thank you! I am glad that you enjoyed the post. I felt like I had written a novel by the time I finished lol! Dog sports are GREAT for both the handler and the dog, and like you said, they help you build a stronger relationship with your pet. I hope that you and Oscar get a chance to try playing agility — I bet that he will LOVE it!! 🙂

  4. Great and informative post. Enjoyable read! It sounds as if all that goes into agility training can get you through life too. Interesting. 🙂

  5. I use the “Yes!” signal word with Chester and Gretel too. That top picture is too cute. It’s like Diesel is jumping and posing at the same time….like a good doggy model 🙂

  6. Your post definitely hit home for me, too. When I first signed up for agility, I thought it was all about Grace and then I quickly found out it was mostly about me! She is absolutely gifted in her athletic abilities; me — not so…. I have to work hard to keep up with her, and tho challenging, very rewarding! I have learned many lessons about being clear, giving supportive and accurate direction, exactly the things you talked about. It’s fascinating and fun and I love our time with it. The two pictures of Diesel are amazing; what a difference! And the video angle from above is really cool to see.

    • I’m glad that this post applied to you and Grace as well! The main reason that I take lessons is not for the dogs, but for me — I’m slowly but surely learning how to be an effective, efficient handler. Agility is such a fun sport and I’m happy to hear that you and Grace have alot of fun doing it as well. And thanks for the comments on the photos/video — I really enjoy documenting our training progress by photos/videos to evaluate how we’re doing and how we can improve.

      • The few times that someone has taken pictures for us at agility, it has spooked Grace. But I guess that’s also helping her adjust to different distractions and find ways to remain focused. I can see how watching the videos would be a helpful way to see improvements. I’m sure you have experienced this — but I think being a better agility handler will spill over to other aspects of your life, too. That’s what I love so much about learning through Grace, she helps me be a better person.

      • Diesel has definitely had to learn how to work with many distractions in his environment. He still needs work, but he’s learned how to handle most things very well. Agility, dog training, and even dog ownership in general can teach us so many life lessons – I too feel that the dogs have made me a better person in many aspects of life.

  7. Love the video! Love watching Diesel training. And that picture of him going over the jump is spectacular. Your new camera is certainly being put to good use. 🙂

    In the higher level hunt tests, handling is key. Knowing how and when to handle and giving the correct command is very important. I have seen dogs fail a test due to “handler error”. Part of the reason Storm has gone to a trainer is because for right now she requires handles with exact timing from someone with experience. Thunder on the other hand, is a different kind of dog and we are training/handling him ourselves. We continue working with our trainer for the benefit of the dogs, but also to learn how to train and handle them ourselves.

    • Thank you!! I am so thankful to have this new camera … I love it! And I’m glad that you liked the video – I need to make an updated video to show our current level of training.

      I love learning about hunt tests on your blog – it’s definitely a completely unknown dog sport to me! We also take lessons to not only improve our dogs’ skills, but our handling skills. Having someone more experienced than you watch and help you is invaluable.

  8. Diesel’s impressive! I love how he seems to be looking at you in the first one. All of the goals are laudable. I like that you want your dogs and you to do better.

  9. Woof! Woof! Great I used to do agility. Happy Wednesday. Lots of Golden Woofs, Sugar

  10. Looks like you’re doing a darned good job to me! Those are great photos, but I LOVE the one of Diesel looking at you with such a pleased, happy expression!

  11. Wow! My sister BOB is a Austrailian Spepard! She loves to run and jump! That would have been a great thing for her!

  12. your video looked great – this looks like such a fun sport to get yourself and your dog into. I think i’m going to have to try actually taking an agility class, rather than just entertaining myself and Gwynn with home-made jumps and weaving poles!

    • Thank you!! It is definitely a blast for both handler and dog. I started out playing agility with Evee in the backyard using homemade equipment and eventually started classes in 2009. We’ve been hooked ever since! Hope you get a chance to try a class – I bet you and Gwynn will really enjoy it!

  13. Happy Wonderful Wednesday & congrats on your 50th post!

  14. What great action shots! I love them 🙂

  15. We have 2 years of agility in our pocket and I totally get it.

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  16. Nice work! I’ve been working with Sage in agility and you are right, the handler needs to know her stuff! Love your pictures.

  17. Oh wow, I never knew how complex a sport agility can be—and here I thought it was just about running alongside your dogster with treats and in your hand and pointing to the next obstacle! How naive, right? *blush*

    But, seeing the way Diesel’s tail is sweeping side to side throughout the whole video, I’m even more keen now to try it out with Maple. However, I foresee having to work on #3, the confidence factor, as well—this is one area I really need to buckle up on (even when we go for our walks).

    P.S. Congrats on your 50th post! What a milestone 😀

    • Agility definitely takes lots of practice, patience, and positivity! All of our dogs LOVE to play agility — if you get the chance to try it with Miss Maple, give it a go! It really is such a blast for both handler and dog. 🙂

  18. Very cool post! Toki and I have only completed an intro to agility course, so I was very impressed to watch you guys in your video. We’re at the baby steps phase at this point, so it’s hard to imagine running around and doing a whole course. Very impressive! I also think it’s pretty adorable that one of your big obstacles with Diesel right now is that you give too much praise, and that he’s so tuned in to that praise. It really shows how much of a team you are. Good luck with your continuing agility training!

    • Thank you!! He’s definitely very in-tune to me … just last night we were practicing obstacle discriminations and it was so neat to see how just minute changes in my body position would affect his performance. Are you and Toki going to continue agility training? I hope that you do – we just have a blast playing!

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