Fly, baby, fly!
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.
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!!!
Posted on May 31, 2011, in Agility, Diesel and tagged Action Shots, Agility, Aussie, Australian Shepherd, Blue Merle, Dog Agility, Dog Sports, Dog Training, Dog Videos, Pet Photography, Pet Portraits, Photography, Positive Reinforcement. Bookmark the permalink. 38 Comments.