Tag Archives: clicker training

Clicker Training for Dog Agility

Clickers for Dog Agility Training
We think clickers are so useful for agility training that we give one to each new student.

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

Strata on K9 FitBone - Clicker Training
Strata works on a K9 FitBone at Spring Forth Dog Academy.

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!

Get Clicking

If you’re new to clicker training, my two favorite resources are ClickerTraining.com and Clicker Solutions. If you’re not sure what to work on that might be related to agility, check out my recent post on what to practice at home.

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!

Beginner Dog Agility: What to Practice at Home

If you’re enrolled in a beginner dog agility class, you may be wondering what you can practice at home without any obstacles. Here are some ideas that will boost your dog’s understanding – no equipment necessary!

Click a Trick

English Springer Spaniel Learning to Wave a Paw
Finch learning to wave a paw.

Much like obedience training, trick training is an excellent way to improve your connection with your dog. Many of these tricks will improve your dog’s strength, flexibility, and proprioception (awareness of limbs), which is very important for dog agility training!

  • Spin in a circle (in both directions)
  • Sit up/beg
  • Take a bow
  • Backing up (train this from a stationary position – do not step into the dog)
  • Wave a front paw/shake paws
  • Crawl

Need more inspiration? You can’t beat Silvia Trkman’s trick videos! (They’re free on YouTube – although she does also have a couple of excellent trick training DVDs.)

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5 Common Stopped Contact Training Mistakes

Dog Jumping Through Contact
Are you confident in your dog’s contact training? Or are you hoping, wishing, praying he’ll hit every contact? (Photo Credit: Lil Shepherd, Flickr)

As I prepare Spark for his Standard class début, I have spent a lot of time watching the Novice and Open classes at local agility trials. I am trying to find the “holes” in those dogs’ training. What is causing them to NQ? Does Spark have that skill? (Do my students’ dogs have that skill?)

Contacts are a huge trouble area for dogs competing in agility. Some handlers haven’t really trained contacts at all, and are just relying on luck to get them through. More troubling to me are the handlers who think they’ve trained their dogs to understand correct contact performance, but don’t realize the dog’s behavior is still very much depending on what the handler is doing.

Here are five common stopped contact training mistakes I have identified.

1. Multiple Cues (Physical & Verbal)

Scenario: The dog charges up and across the first two planks of the dogwalk with his handler racing beside him. As the dog begins his descent of the third plank, the handler slows down, turns to face the dog, places a hand in front of the dog’s face, and/or points at the contact zone. This is often accompanied by multiple verbal cues (“touch! touch! touch!”) or reminders to stay (“wait! you wait! WAIT!”).

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My Crew’s Favorite Dog Treats

Do you have trouble finding great training treats for your dog? In today’s post, I share which dog treats work best for my three dogs in training.

Strata’s Favorite Dog Treats

Strata Gets a Dog TreatStrata is by far the easiest dog to find treats for. He will eat almost anything with a smile on his face and song in his heart. He wasn’t always this way! As a young puppy, he was so picky and I was always offering him new things. Once he hit about 8 months old, his “sheltie stomach” kicked in and he started eating anything and everything, including fruits and veggies!

Strata has some food sensitivities, so anything with feathers (not just “conventional poultry” but also duck, ostrich, etc.) is out. Previously, we thought his sensitivities included beef, but recently we’ve reintroduced it without a problem. We generally stick to the protein sources of fish, lamb, and pork for his dog treats.

Strata’s favorite treats are…

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Cat Food for Dog Training? Yes!

Today I’d like to let you all in on a little secret. My go-to high value training treat is…

cat food. 

Yes, really.

Why Cat Food Makes a Great Training Treat

The more I use cat food – specifically, wet cat food that comes in cans or pouches – for training, the more I love it.

First, it’s extremely portable. Small cans of cat food are just 3 ounces. The pouches usually weigh even less than that. It’s easy to throw a few cans into your training bag and you don’t have to worry about them getting crushed or spilling. (Is there anything worse than cleaning the “powder” from freeze-dried treats out of the nooks and crannies of your bait bag? If you get it wet at all it just melts… ugh.)

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Puppies in Dog Agility Classes

I am often asked if I offer a puppy agility class. Potential students want to know how young is too young. The myth of “puppies need to be six months old to begin training” persists. It’s not true for basic training, and it’s definitely not true for puppy agility.

Puppy Agility: Safety First!

Sheltie Puppies Playing Tug
How young is too young to start agility training? Well, it’s never too young to start playing!

Well-meaning veterinarians often advise their clients to wait until their dogs are “done growing” before starting agility classes. The thought is they might damage their growth plates due to excessive trauma or impact. It’s absolutely true that puppies should wait until their growth plates are closed before learning to jump, weave, or perform the teeter. But what these veterinarians are missing is that a good foundation agility class doesn’t focus on jumping, weaving, or contacts.

Bear in mind that I’m talking about foundation agility classes. I define that as a class which builds a “foundation” with the goal of enjoying the sport for years to come, and possibly even competing. My Pre-Agility class falls into this category.

I am not talking about “pet agility” classes designed to be a one-time, four- to six-week exposure to the sport. In many cases, these classes are taught by instructors unfamiliar with the sport of agility who may unknowingly push youngsters too soon. Continue reading

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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What is Pre-Agility?

Pumi Agility Training
One of the obstacles we introduce in Pre-Agility is a low table. The dog must get on and either sit or lie down, then stay for 5 seconds.

Are you new to dog agility? Do you live in Rhode Island? Our Pre-Agility group training class in Smithfield is perfect for you!

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!

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Dog Training in a Snow Storm

We were slammed with snow all day yesterday, into this morning. Every time I checked the weather report, they had increased the snow totals by another 3″ or so. I’m not anti-snow the way many New Englanders are, but I was pretty bummed about canceling run-thrus and the first week of Foundation Agility last night. :(

My buddy Rob shared that clip on Facebook last night. It appears that if you were growing up in the ’90s, that is your snow storm mantra. I was not the only person who admitted to singing this under my breath while shoveling!

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