11 July 2013

Get less serious

Often I can see training and dogs break down - either at shows or on the training field. The handlers instinct is almost always the same - to try and encourage the dog, complete or redo an obstacle/ exercise - now I am not saying that this is right or wrong, and I am not talking about anything to do with fear.. been there done that... I am talking about real confusion and lack of understanding, leading to the dog eventually breaking down completely to the point of stopping dead, as does your training session(s)... and eventually the exasperated handler too! The handler, in this case may not be doing the right thing by trying to correct the exercise or redo the sequence...

The dog's behaviour can vary, and you may not even pick it up at first - maybe the dog keeps turning the wrong way when you (think) you specifically asked him to turn the other way.. or maybe he is not looking at you at the startline, but looking away or maybe it is really blatant - he leaves the course while you are working!

No matter how he shows you, your work will not be as you want it while this is happening. Often handlers blame the dog, get irritated or angry and will start demanding better work, and this is definitely not the way to go if you want to achieve and have great rounds with your dog!
At events I have seen stroppy, argumentative handlers, yelling at do-gooders on the sideline that were asking them to go easy on the dog "X KNOWS this", "X is being sooo naughty" and "X WILL get this right!!" I feel sorry for their dogs because those handlers will never get it :(

How to deal with it?

Take a time out - and I don't mean just from that round or event, but from some training sessions! Take more time to play with your dog. Get silly. Laugh. Wrestle on the ground.... create a fun game that doesn't involve right or wrong.. Get less serious!

I am one for being serious, I admit... I have been doing agility for 15 years, and I have been learning new stuff all the time.... but only recently did I get the whole picture.... What really matters??? Me and my dog(s) together, our relationship, enjoying our sport together. Don't get me wrong.. I am SERIOUS about the sport. If anything is worth doing, it is worth doing correctly. I even try and surpass that to learning new things, having faster rounds, training to higher levels to be able to compete against the best in the country...  but.... it's not everything.

So... train.. enjoy.... you and your dog need to have a mutual respect. Take a chill pill, a moment to smell the flowers :) Have fun with your dog!

And then when you start up again, build up his confidence by doing really easy tasks/ sequences that he can ONLY get right. Reward exuberantly! Use your voice, your hands and have a great game! Redo the basic exercises with enthusiasm after the first set of rewards and rev your dog up so that he is pushing you. Only then increase the level of difficulty or the complexity of the tasks.

I like to have sessions in between training to do clicker tricks with my dogs - there's no better way to get tons of behaviours thrown at you :) My dogs really enjoy this!

And when you get back to your 'real work' and running courses, REMEMBER: to avoid breakdowns, give CLEAR instructions to your dog. Keep your mood light, keep the energy fun. If he gets it wrong, clearly it wasn't CLEAR enough! Keep praising what you like, and keep remembering to keep any corrections in handling light, but firm.

Most of your time will be spent training (not competing), so make it count.

Stay less serious....

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