It has been quite the year for me and Dan. It was just about a year ago that we moved our agility program to its current home, Once In A Lifetime Farm in Smithfield, RI. Two months ago, we expanded our dog training business, Spring Forth Dog Academy, to Providence, RI and have been very busy there!
It’s time for us to make a change to our agility classes to better reflect what our goals were when we started teaching classes.
Making a Change
As a student, my biggest problem with agility training classes was the lack of feedback or instruction away from class. I paid for six hours of class and that was all I got. No one was there to answer my questions between lessons, or give me feedback on my runs at trials, or make sure I did my homework well.
I grew up riding horses, where lesson programs are much more “inclusive.” Your trainer doesn’t just teach your weekly lessons, she coaches you at shows and helps you find a horse to lease or buy. I wished for an agility training program that mimicked that, but nothing like this existed a decade ago when I got into the sport.
Today is another Dog Agility Blog Event, and the topic is “Outside the Ring.” Specifically, Steve asked us to write about the things we do that aren’t specific to agility that make ourselves and our dogs better inside the ring.
The first thing that came to mind when I read about this topic was clicker training! I spend hours “clicking” each month. My work as a professional trainer helps me hone my skills for my agility dogs, not to mention my students and their dogs! I am a Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Partner, and use clicker training with all of my clients.
Why Use Clicker Training?
Clicker training speeds up the training process so dogs learn new behaviors faster. (Nearly 40% faster than training with a verbal marker, according to this master’s thesis.) It also helps develop your timing and observation skills. Anyone who has trained a dog for agility knows how important those two things are! Agility is a precise sport, and I think all elements of our training should be just as precise.
Personally, I’ve found this statistic to be true. My students who use clickers more often in the early stages of their training get results faster. I understand that it’s difficult to juggle all the different pieces of equipment (toys, treats, a leash or long line, etc.) and worry about clicker timing, but it seems that the effort pays off.
Besides, not much in agility is easy. Most handling maneuvers push people outside of their comfort zone at first, even the basic front cross! Embrace the challenge of learning a new physical skill and perfecting your timing early on. It will pay off as your agility journey continues.
Clicker Training in Providence
Speaking of working with clients, Dan and I just opened Spring Forth Dog Academy in Providence, RI, which is an expansion of the dog training business we’ve run in Massachusetts since 2010. At the Academy, we’re doing Puppy Day School (a combo of daycare and puppy kindergarten), private dog training lessons, and group classes. If you’re local, check it out!
In my down time at the Academy, I am doing tricks and physical conditioning exercises with Strata and Spark. (They come to work to help us socialize the puppies in Puppy Day School!)
We installed safe flooring for the puppies to play on, but it also gives us a great surface for agility behaviors. We’re looking forward to reviewing one-jump exercises, tricks, heeling, stays, and Crate Games. These are many of the same things we work on at home, but with the added distraction of puppies!
If you’re a little more experienced and need help applying clicker training skills to dog agility, the best book on the subject is Agility Right From the Start by Eva Bertilsson and Emelie Johnson Vegh. I adore this book, and use many of the exercises for my agility students.
If it’s been awhile since you used a clicker, grab some treats and get started. It’s never too late to start. I think you’ll find that you make even more training progress!
May is a crazy month for us at Crossbones! I have to apologize for the lack of posts recently. Dan and I have been so busy planning for these upcoming events that my creativity is running dry. I’ve got a couple doozies in my “drafts” folder, almost ready for you all to read!
Here’s what we’ve been working on:
Friday, May 9th: Our first non-sanctioned agility match in Smithfield, RI. Pre-entries are now closed, but we’re taking day-of-match entries. RSVP on Facebook for the latest news about the event.
Sunday, May 11th: We’ll be vending at the Middlesex County Kennel Club AKC agility trial at Wide World of Indoor Sports in North Smithfield, RI. This is the first of (many) weekends we’ll be vending at WWIS this year. Come say hi!
Friday, May 16th: Another non-sanctioned agility match! Pre-entries for this one close on Monday, May 12th, and we expect to have room for day-of-match entries as well.
Saturday, May 17th & Sunday, May 18th: We’ll be vending at my club’s AKC agility trial, Colonial Shetland Sheepdog Club and Labrador Retriever Club of Greater Boston, also in North Smithfield.
Saturday, May 24th through Monday, May 26th (Memorial Day weekend): More vending! This time we’ll be at LEAP’s AKC agility trial in Tolland, CT. If you’re braving the bubble, be sure to stop by for some goodies.
Most dog owners have heard of agility, but don’t realize there are competitions happening nearby. Here are three places to see dog agility in Rhode Island.
Wide World of Indoor Sports – North Smithfield, RI
Wide World of Indoor Sports in North Smithfield is home to almost all the competitive dog agility in Rhode Island. It’s an indoor, climate-controlled soccer facility, with a second-floor viewing area that makes it an awesome place to watch agility. Another bonus? Bob and Timmy’s Grilled Pizza is right across the parking lot and they have downright incredible food!
There are at least a dozen agility trials at this site every year. Here’s a sampling. (An asterisk denotes trials we plan to attend.)
Beginner agility classes vary greatly from one training center to another. I have been answering a lot of questions about what goes on in this class, so here’s an unofficial FAQ for Pre-Agility!
Our Pre-Agility class meets weekly for one hour, and you have eight weeks to attend six classes. This flexible attendance policy means you can skip a week or two if you’re unable to make it to class, or you can be an over-achiever and attend for six consecutive weeks. It’s up to you!
I put together this quick video of Strata and Spark working on some jump sequences at the barn before teaching my Competition level class at Crossbones. With a bit of luck, this will be my last iPad video production. I ordered a GoPro camera the other day and I’ve got my fingers crossed that it will arrive before I do any more sequencing at the barn.
The video shows Strata’s first time back at 18″ after taking a couple months off, then resuming training at 16″. And Spark, well, everything is new to him, being such a babydog. (He’s a year and a half old.) I trimmed out the beginning of the video when he insisted on cutting behind me to the wrong tunnel entrance about six times. He’s also started vocalizing a bit while he runs… uh oh… he better not become one of those “barkenstein” shelties!