Tag Archives: behavior chain

3 Ways to Ruin Your Agility Dog’s Start Line Stay

Border Terrier Start Line Stay
(Photo Credit: cswtwo, Flickr)

As a handler, there are few things more frustrating in agility than an unreliable start line stay.

As a dog agility instructor, there are few things more frustrating to me than a handler blaming their dog for a broken start line. Remember that your dog’s behavior is a reflection of your ability to teach and maintain criteria.

Here are three common ways handlers deteriorate their dog’s start line stay behavior. By learning to avoid these mistakes, you’ll keep your dog’s start line strong.

Release With a Flourish

In this scenario, the handler moves her hand (usually) or head at the same time she gives her dog’s release cue.

This deteriorates your dog’s start line because all dogs pay more attention to our body language than our verbal cues, unless they have been explicitly trained to ignore our bodies and only listen. (This is why it’s so difficult to train reliable verbal cues in agility that override our physical cues.)

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Distracted Agility Dogs: Environment Focus

Finch Distracted by Sniffing the Table
Finch sniffs the table during a training session. (Photo by Katie Rogers, Smiling Wolf Photography)

Is your dog too distracted by the environment during agility training? In my last post, I compared and contrasted handler focus and obstacle focus. But in a way, there’s a third type of “focus” to consider: environment focus.

In the context of training, dogs that are displaying environment focus are distracted by what is going on around them. They could be looking for birds, sniffing the ground, or leaving work to visit other dogs.

Just like the other two types of focus, this is a training issue. Our goal is to get the dog’s environment focus as close to zero as possible while he is working with us. We want the birds, other dogs, and squirrels to fall by the wayside because he is so focused on his task that nothing else matters.

If that sounds challenging, read on – it’s not as impossible as it sounds! In this post, I outline a few things that I would have loved to have known back when I was training my first agility dog, Tessie. She had a lot of talent, but also an incredibly high level of environment focus!

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Agility is a Behavior Chain

Do you know what a behavior chain is? All agility competitors should understand this concept. If this is unfamiliar to you, this will change your understanding of how dogs learn. Buckle your seat belts and enjoy the ride.

What is a behavior chain?

A behavior chain is an event in which units of behavior occur in sequences and are linked together by learned cues. -Karen Pryor

What does that mean in English? A behavior chain is a performance in which behaviors are strung together by cues the learner understands. Cue-behavior-cue-behavior-cue-behavior-cue-behavior, followed by a consequence at the end of the chain (reinforcement or punishment).

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