Wednesday, March 7, 2012

If I Knew Then What I Know Now (Dog Agility Blog Event)


I came into Agility in January 2009 so green that Kermit the Frog would have been jealous! My dog Gilda, then a one year old was just as green as I! My goal was to enjoy a special bond with my dog.

Gilda is our second dog. Our first was a Golden Retriever Mix rescue that we had for 15 years. He was a wonderful dog which I naively attributed to our most awesome care and training. I figured we'd just do the same things with a new dog... which may have worked out well with another Bruno. Not so much, it turns out, with a Herding breed mix!

{Bruno the Great Dog!

We were very fortunate to start our training at a top-notch local facility with instructors who all have vast knowledge and understanding of dogs. Each of the instructors owns at least one 'Herder' so they understood Gilda a whole lot better than I did at the time! They tried their best to start us off right but I'll admit, I knew ZERO about Agility. I was in a hurry to get to the fun stuff: the running, jumping and climbing part of Agility!

{Agility Underground!}

Gilda is clearly built for the sport with good speed, great muscle tone, long legs, and good intelligence. She had good basic obedience skills and I figured she'd excel quickly. However, it has been 2 years and we have yet to enter a trial...

{Our Little Liquid Lightning!}


1. I would have picked the same dog!

I wanted something different from Bruno and that's exactly what we got in Gilda! She has taught me more about dogs and dog behavior in 3 years than I ever could have imagined!


2. Chances are good that we would still not be trialing yet!

While Gilda is clearly smart and built to do Agility, she wasn't really mentally fit to do Agility when we started. We have since learned a whole lot about Dog Reactivity, especially thanks to Grisha Stewart and Leslie McDevitt and their Books and work. We have made major improvements in Gilda's dog socialization and stress threshold. She is a much happier and more confident dog these days and that's more my goal than anything!

{Still Leery of the Teeter}

3. I would have taken Clicker Training classes when she was still a puppy.

When we started taking Agility classes, my only exposure to Clicker Training was from a dog show I had recently attended at the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, IL. The show was aimed at children but I, of course, was fascinated by the dogs performances. It was our instructor Jessica who really urged me to take a Clicker training seminar and I am forever grateful. I am amazed to this day at the power of the C/T! If you are new to Clicker training and don't have access to a class, check out Emily Larlham (Kikopup) on YouTube. She has lots of free videos and has a wonderful teaching style. I also like that she has all different sizes and breeds of dogs in her videos.

{Puppy Pic!}

4. I would have worked on developing an Attention Behavior.

Gilda was a very frustrating student for the first 1.5 years! She sniffed, she ran off, she shut-down! All of her behaviors left me feeling very frustrated as a novice handler. Our early progress was s-l-o-w! Once Gilda started to learn focus, classes were magically much more enjoyable! Many 'big name' trainers have Attention videos online. Check out: Jane Killion's book When Pigs Fly  and again, Emily Larlham,  one of my faves.

{Will Focus For Food}

5. I would have worked More on Foundation Behaviors.

Like most novice Agility students, I was eager to get moving and didn't comprehend the sheer importance of Foundation Skills (I know, it's right there in the name, right?!). To me they seemed boring and dry and Gilda didn't seem to enjoy them either! In all honesty, having no Agility background, I couldn't grasp how what we were doing applied at all to the actual running of the course. If you believe nothing else I've written, believe this: it totally applies!

Foundation exercises include Shadow Handling with your dog doing Front Cross On the Flat, Rear Cross on the Flat, Push, Pull, Foundation Recall exercises, Contact Training, 2x2 training and much much more! If you and your dog have good Foundation Skills, you have set yourself up to be a solid team from the start! A great place to get Foundation exercise information and video examples is on Steve's fantastic website, Agility Nerd.
Many of the foundation exercises can be worked while the dog is still too young to jump and climb. Some dogs, like our second dog, Pico, *love* foundation work. Pico finds it just as thrilling and reinforcing as obstacles.

{Pico Loves
Foundation Training}

{Gilda's thoughts on
Foundation Training}

Luckily for me, dogs are flexible! I may wish I had done these things from the start, but we are doing pretty well adding them in as we learn more. A longer learning curve is an okay thing especially if it's what your dog needs to thrive.
If you're trialing, Run Clean. If not, Run Happy!

For many more blogs on the topic "If I Knew Then What I Know Now", please go to: Dog Agility Blog Events


Elf said...

I so agree about everything. My own bugaboo is about foundation training. By the time I got to my 4th dog after 16 years in agility, I felt that I *was* taking my time and learning the basics, but in retrospect, I realize that I, also jumped the gun and ignored the early signs of the dog's confusion about her job. So--amen on spending time on foundation training!

Agility Gurl said...

I couldn't agree more. I don;t think you can ever have enough foundation!

Kathy said...

Gilda is very beautiful and it sounds like you guys have a really fantastic relationship. Great post, thanks so much!!!

Kathy with Liz/Breeze/Cricket

WonderPupsMom said...

Thanks everyone! It's hard to be an expert on anything when you're as new to Agility as we are... It really helps to get feedback from some real pros!
(& Gilda too)

Antor Biswas said...

Ingredients are so very important to look at when picking out a dog food. The number one ingredient needs to be a protein. Avoid foods with by-products, artificial colors, and no-name meats. If a food says meat instead of chicken, for example, that meat could be absolutely anything. You really need to know what you are feeding your kids.