Spring Classes at Game On! Dog Training

Happy Spring!
I know it doesn’t feel much like Spring here yet in the Northeast but it will come eventually so let’s talk dog agility training.  With limited winter training opportunities have you built up a list of skills you want to work on – either handling skills or dog training skills?  I certainly have!  As an instructor, I would like to help get you off to a good start.

Game On! Spring Class information

Online classes

1) Nick’s Boot Camp – A jumping program for technical sequences. This course has 6 lessons with 3-4 exercises in each lesson designed to give you the foundation blueprint for achieving efficient and safe turns, even on technical courses.  You will build your dog’s understanding of how to physically manage turns on technical sequences including wraps, threadles, backsides and serpentines; and at the same time you will build the physical and verbal cues that you will use as a handler to prepare your dog for the turns.

2) 2on2off Contact Behavior – This course describes a step by step method of teaching a reliable 2on-2off behavior for use on the dogwalk, A-frame and teeter in dog agility. There are 6 lessons with multiple parts per lesson. Whether you are starting out a puppy or need to re-train an adult dog or just clean things up a bit, this course will help.

Online classes

Outdoor classes start in May – near Rochester, NY.

Check it out details here!

Never mistake activity for achievement. —John Wooden

Today, I read an article by James Clear (he always makes so much sense) about the difference between “being in motion vs taking action” and thought how applicable this is to dog training.  Have you ever gone to a trial or a class and faced a handling challenge that would be soooo much easier if you had a) more independent weave poles;  b) a better start line; c) lateral distance on the dogwalk;  d) an efficient collection cue;  e) left/right directionals; or — fill in the blank.

The article highlights the difference between studying, researching and planning the steps you will take to get a result— being in MOTION….and the ACTION you take when you actually get the dog, pick up the training bag and head to the field to train that skill.  Being in MOTION can give us the feeling of accomplishment but unless we take ACTION, we will never get the results we want.   Just like my brand new spin bike – carefully researched before purchase – won’t give me the results I want unless I take ACTION to get on the bike regularly – even after the novelty wears off :-).

Remember the great John Wooden quote above:  “Never mistake activity for achievement”.  Here is the full article…ENJOY!

The Mistake Smart People Make: Being In Motion vs. Taking Action

When you hit a training bump…adopt a Solution Focus!

We train many behaviors in our dogs as we move through life and sport.  Often the process goes smoothly, sometimes we encounter a few bumps in the road and occasionally we hit a wall and are left scratching our head, like 9 week old Nick who was trying to figure out the purpose of the tunnel.  This post is about what we can do and how we respond when things go wrong.  It’s about an approach to solving problems and applying one critical question: “What is the one thing I can do RIGHT NOW to make things better?”  It’s about getting rid of “ego” and adopting a Solution Focus.

Let’s take a (relatively) simple behavior like an agility start line stay.   A cue – usually verbal and sometimes combined with a physical cue — is given to the dog to assume a position of sit, down or stand.  The goal is for the dog to stay in that position until released, usually also with a verbal cue.   During the training process, the dog is reinforced for his response to our cues and learns to ignore distractions, stay for longer periods of time and to do this with the handler at greater distances away and while anticipating the excitement of running agility!

As we train this behavior, our mental model goes something like this…Can my dog maintain his stay:

  • as I walk away
  • as cookies or toys are dropped on the floor
  • as I run away or fall down
  • as other dogs or people walk or play nearby
  • as I walk 10 ft away, 20 ft away, 30 ft away, 50 ft away
  • in front of an agility jump while I do all of the above

We heavily reinforce the dog’s stay with praise, cookies and play at each stage and rely on the reinforcement to communicate to the dog that he is making good choices.  Right?

But what if you go to agility class – or worse, your first trial – and your backyard start-line-stay disappears?  “All of a sudden” your dog is self-releasing as soon as you walk away, or as you reach your lead out position, or as another dog walks behind him.

Just as the dog has choices, we have a choice in how we respond.

  1. We can…Respond with Frustration, describing the problem like this “Why is he doing that?  I keep having to go back and reset him and I just want to get out there and run the sequence! He’s perfect at home or in class.  I don’t understand why he can’t just stay there.  He knows this.  Why can’t he just sit there?”.  Note that this rant may be where a little bit of our ego getting in the way.
  2. We can…Accept the dog’s behavior…”he can’t maintain a start-line-stay in this exciting environment” and live with the good, the bad and the ugly of not having a start-line-stay.
  3. We can…Adopt a Solution Focus….by stepping back, objectively analyze the situation and putting a training plan together to strengthen the behavior.

I’m arguing that the third option is the best choice – make the situation better by adopting a SOLUTION FOCUS.  Here is how you can get started:

Step one:  STOP AGONIZING over the problem and endlessly describing WHAT is going wrong.  While it might feel good to complain or vent, it isn’t going to help solve the problem.  Worse, the more you describe all the times the dog has failed and the fallout from that failure, the less likely you are to BELIEVE the problem can be fixed.

Step Two:  COMMIT to the need for the behavior.  This is important because if you don’t believe the behavior is important, you won’t put in the work to train it to fluency.  In the start line example, don’t try to convince yourself that you don’t need a start line.

Step Three: ADOPT A SOLUTION FOCUS. Rather than focusing on the problem, focus on the solution. Even before you have had time to think through the entire training plan, ask yourself:  What is one thing I can do right now to make the situation better?  For example, if you are in agility class and your dog has repeatedly failed at maintaining a start-line-stay, the one thing you could do “right now”, is to apply the first rule for getting out of a hole…”stop digging”.  Have someone hold your dog so the mistakes stop or eliminate the need for a stay by starting your dog from a tunnel or a send to a jump.

Then step back and evaluate the current situation.

  • Video tape your training sessions.  If you haven’t done this before, you will be amazed at how much you can learn from watching your own training sessions.  It’s simply too difficult to evaluate or remember all that is happening in the moment.  Adding a bit of record keeping can be helpful too!
  •  Test the dog against distraction, duration and distance.  Find out where the dog’s limits are and start from there.
  • Evaluate your reward structure and mechanics.  Does your dog value the reinforcement you are giving him?  Are you delivering the cookie or toy in a way that allows the dog to keep his butt on the ground or are you inadvertently training your dog to scooch?
  • Are you only reinforcing when you lead out within 5 feet but never if you lead out 10 feet?
  • Are you marking the good choice to stay BEFORE you turn around and run back to reinforce the dog?
  • Are you releasing on verbal only or sometimes on movement?

Adopting a solution focus can be applied to any dog training or handling skill including contact behavior, weave poles entries, weave pole exits, front cross execution, course analysis, ring nerves, etc.

Sometimes the honest answer to the question: “What is the one I can do right now to make things better” is “I don’t know”.  Don’t accept that answer…gather more information, study, read or seek out an expert.  Keeping your focus on the solution rather than the problem frees your mental energy to work toward positive improvement instead of eroding your confidence and potentially leading to more errors.

Give it a try by remembering this one question:   “What is the one thing I can do right now to make things better?”

For an in-depth discussion of this topic, read “10-Minute Toughness” by Jason Selk.

DOWNLOAD THIS ARTICLE AS A PDF:  2017-11-22 When you hit a training bump

Agility Handling Fundamentals

I’m offering the Agility Handling Seminar…Putting Fun in the Fundamentals AGAIN…on Dec 9th at Five Points Training in Rush, NY. There are just a few WORKING spots left. AUDITORS are welcome!

Mastering the FUNDAMENTALS in any sport is essential. THIS IS NOT A FOUNDATION seminar…it is designed for Novice to Master teams. This seminar will clarify 4 essential basics in Dog Agility Handling: Connection, Commitment, Crosses and Lines. This seminar is for any handling system because the FUNDAMENTALS are the same.

This is not your typical handling seminar… Each sequence is designed to drive home one of the core concepts and you will leave with a much better understanding of how to achieve efficiency and accuracy on course by improving your FUNDAMENTALS.

Auditors will benefit greatly too including going home with a 16 page summary of Agility Fundamentals.

Register today!  Agility Fundamentals Flyer Dec 9th

“Stay focused. Learn to trust a process. The ultimate advantage is doing the basics better than anybody else because most people won’t put in that kind of focused work.” — Agility World Champion and Coach Kathy Keats

Here are some comments from the Oct 8th seminar:

** Thanks again Anne, It was a awesome seminar please do another one soon !!!!

** Fun, fun seminar! Thanks Anne!

** Great seminar…Thanks Anne!

** Thank you Anne! Awesome seminar! Score and I learned more about each other and had lots of fun!

** It was a fun day and we learned a lot. Thanks! Elliott slept all the way home!

** Wonderful Seminar!! Loved seeing the dogs progressed throughout the day!

** It was a great seminar!

**Would recommend to anyone.

The value of videoing your training sessions

Most of us make an effort to record our trial runs.  The video let’s us know with certainty what went well and what could use some improvement.  But what about when you are at a practice session or a class?  With today’s technology options, is there any reason NOT to record your agility training sessions?  With slow motion, stop action and frame by frame analysis, you can learn so much!  In a class setting, when your instructor, says “that was perfect!”  don’t you want to be able to watch that sequence back and see why she said that?  If you are training alone your camera may be the only way to judge your timing, the effectiveness of your handling cues or your dog’s performance.

These days, if you have a smartphone or tablet, it’s super easy.   Accessories are available to put the phone or tablet on a tripod.  And video editing software is inexpensive and easy to use.  I’m not going to provide a review of all the options out there but perhaps you’ll find it useful to know how I go about recording my sessions these days:

Smartphone: iPhone 7 Plus

Video editing: iMovie

Analysis: Coach’s eye  for frame by frame analysis or timing sequences

Tripod: Standard tripod with an accessory that holds my phone.

Storage: Videos take a lot of space so I have an iCloud storage account…yep, there is a small monthly fee.

Here’s how a typical training session might go.  I plan my training session…let’s say I’m working on a double box setup with my young dog Nick.  I setup my smartphone on a tripod so that I get a view of the working area.  I warmup Nick and when ready to begin, I start recording.  A typical session might last 5-10 minutes.  Let’s say the session has gone reasonably well…that is, we haven’t run into any “head-scratchers”, I’ll stop recording and then either immediately or later in the day, I’ll input the 5 minute video into iMovie.  I quickly edit out everything except the performance.  Now I’ll have a 30-45 second video that I can look at within iMovie or inport into Coach’s eye and examine critically, slow down or look at frame by frame.  I can examine my timing, position, footwork and my dog’s response.  I might even see that Nick “scooched” on his startline when I wasn’t looking :-).  This input is invaluable for evaluating our progress and planning our next training session.

At this point, I can either save that day’s shortened training video or delete it.  I always delete the longer 5 minute video…it’s just taking up unnecessary space on my phone.  Often if I save the video, I’ll only save the best bits to look at again.  I don’t want to review my mistakes over and over, I want to review what I did correctly.

Now let’s say I have run into a “head-scratcher” moment within the training session.  Where the dog is responding in an unexpected way.  Maybe a bar is repeatedly coming down or I’m getting an off course that I can’t figure out.  I can break off the training session and immediately go to the camera and review what has happened…simply by opening the video with the Photos app and reviewing.  Often, I’ll immediately see the problem and be able to carry on with my training session with much more success.  Or, if you can’t figure it out, you can bring this video to your instructor for advice.

I hope these ideas have helped…most importantly, get out that smartphone or camera and give it a try!


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