Tag Archives: competing

Our New Dog Agility Training Program

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

Dog Agility in Rhode Island
Photo by Smiling Wolf Photography

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.

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Solutions for the Ring Wise Dog

Ring Wise Agility Dogs
(Photo Credit: Katherine Martucci, Flickr)

Recently, I was asked for advice on dogs that shut down on the start line, or shortly before entering the ring, only at agility trials: commonly known as “ring wise” dogs. I think this is a topic worth discussing, so here goes.

Let’s start by assessing your dog’s behavior. You might observe your dog turning his head away from you when asked to do a cue that he “knows.” He might sniff the ground, lick his lips, pant excessively, get the “zoomies,” and/or whine.

Your dog is telling you that he’s not comfortable performing in a trial setting. The sniffing, yawning, sneezing, etc. is a stress response. These behaviors are often called calming signals.

It’s important to note that your dog is not “blowing you off.” Your dog either does not understand what you are asking him to do, or is too overwhelmed by the environment to respond. Blaming stress on the dog absolves the handler of her responsibility to improve the dog’s training level and/or work to make the dog more comfortable in a show environment.

(If there’s one thing I don’t tolerate, it’s blaming the dog for mediocre training. Around these parts, it’s “Train, don’t blame!“)

Now that we’ve taken a good guess at our dog’s internal state, let’s backtrack and try to figure out why he feels that way.

Considerations at the Trial

First, how is your dog outside of the ring at agility trials? If he will eagerly perform cues that he knows well, with few to no calming signals, right until you enter the ring, then your dog has made some sort of association with being “in the ring.”

From the dog’s perspective, “in the ring” might mean one of many things:

  • the physical act of entering the ring (generally marked with obedience ring gates or snow fencing)
  • lack of visible, available rewards from his handler
  • his handler acting strangely (generally because the handler is experiencing some ring stress herself)
  • leash/collar off, when he is generally not “naked in public”

If your dog has discovered there are no rewards in the ring, you have a couple of options. If your dog will tug, you’re in business – teach your dog to tug on his leash, and use that in the ring. If your dog is only motivated by food, clever use of matches, run-thrus, and drop-in classes can change your dog’s feelings about entering the ring.

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Agility Roundup: Good Stuff on the Internet!

It’s time for another Agility Roundup, the somewhat-regular series where I link to stuff you should check out if you’re a bored agility enthusiast! Here goes:

  • How to Use an Agility Table for Fun or Sport – Hey wait, I wrote this one! (So you better read it!) It’s an article I contributed to Clickertraining.com that takes you through training the table start-to-finish.
  • The Bad Dog Agility Power 60 has been updated through February, if you want to know which AKC dogs are running really really really fast.
  • NeverMind Dogs (video) – Just watch it. Or don’t. Whatever.
  • 2014 Americas Y El Caribe – This event was held in Lima, Peru last week. Huge congrats to my friend Rita and her awesome Cocker Spaniel, Lucy, on winning the small dog combined event!

And if you missed it, here’s what I have contributed to the blog-o-sphere lately…

Finch the English Springer Spaniel on Agility Table
Finally – Finch pictures! I do love this little brown dog. (Photo courtesy of Katie Rogers at Smiling Wolf Photography)

Did I miss something interesting this week? Tell me about it! I’m always looking for new blogs to read and videos to watch. Leave a comment and let me know what I should check out next.

Our Trip to AKC Agility Nationals 2014: Part One

Strata at the 2014 AKC Agility Nationals!
We have arrived!

Wondering why the blog went quiet for a little while? I was a busy bee getting ready for the 2014 AKC National Agility Championship in Harrisburg, PA!

We started the journey to AKC Agility Nationals by trialing for a few weekends leading up to the big event. I know some handlers feel better if they focus on training, but I feel that my dogs and I do better the more we compete. So compete we did.

The weekend before the NAC, we showed at the LEAP AKC agility trial in Tolland, CT. This was our first opportunity this year to trial on a surface other than rubber mats, which was nice for a change. The facility in Tolland has field turf, which really lets the dogs dig in and run as fast as they can.

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GSSSC Agility Trial 3/1-3/2/14

Spark with Agility Ribbons
Spark was a very, very good boy this weekend!

It’s March! Time to start getting excited about Nationals! Time for my agility “season” to begin in earnest! Time for it to stop snowing already! (Mother Nature? Are you there? It’s me, Catsie…)

Well, I don’t have any control over the weather, but I have some degree of control over the start of my agility season and my level of excitement about Nationals, which is nearing “through-the-roof” levels for those keeping track at home.

With three weekends of local trials before The Big Event, my focus with Strata is on laying down solid runs with him to make sure we are on the same page.

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Agility Playlist: Music for Course Walking

iPod photo by Alejandro Mallea
(Photo by Alejandro Mallea)

I’d like to continue the theme of my last post and share my dog agility playlist that I listen to on the way to the barn and during walk-throughs. Considering that three of my dogs are named for bands, this is a topic near and dear to my heart!

My taste in music is pretty eclectic. At my core, I’m a rock fan – the closer to punk/ska, the better. I also like to keep tabs on what’s on the radio, so you’ll find some top 40 mixed in for good measure, much to Dan’s chagrin. (He likes his rock music as obscure as it gets…)

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Dog Agility Handlers – What’s Your Inspiration?

One of my favorite motivational training quotes. (Image from The Savvy Sistah)
One of my favorite motivational training quotes. (Image from The Savvy Sistah)

Many of my fellow dog agility competitors have mentioned on social media that are inspired by watching the Olympics. It motivates them to get out there and train their dogs, to go for the gold – or qualifying score, as the case may be.

I totally get it! I, too, am inspired by watching the Olympics. I also enjoy behind-the-scenes sports shows, like HBO’s “24/7″ hockey series leading up to the Winter Classic and more recently, “Behind the B” documenting the day-to-day trials and tribulations of running a professional hockey team (in this case, my beloved Boston Bruins).

In addition to sports-related inspiration, I’ve also stumbled across a few things over the years that have motivated me to put my backside in gear, and I’d like to share them with you.

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Westminster Kennel Club Agility Trial: What You Need to Know

Westminster Kennel Club This Saturday, February 8th, the Westminster Kennel Club is holding its inaugural Masters Agility Championship in New York, and it will be televised LIVE on Fox Sports 1!

This is the first time in a long time that agility has been televised, so I encourage everyone to tune in and tell your friends to do the same. The coverage is from 7PM to 9PM ET.

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ACNH Agility Trial 1/25-1/26/14

Last weekend I attended my first agility trial in three months! I took a much-needed break over the holiday season to give the dogs time off and tackle some training projects, most of which are unrelated to agility. I don’t like entering trials in the winter anyway, due to the unpredictable weather up here, but I wanted to squeeze one trial as a test to see what skills we need to refresh before our main “trial season,” March through October.

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Why Are You Doing Agility?

There are a variety of reasons for participating with your dog in agility. Here are some that come to mind:

Strata with Ribbons on Chair
One of your goals may be to earn lots of ribbons. Another one of your goals may be to travel to beautiful places with your agility partner. (Check and check!)
  • To spend time with your dog engaged in a mutually enjoyable activity
  • To improve your dog’s physical and/or emotional fitness
  • To spend time with friends and likeminded individuals
  • To improve your dog training skills
  • At trials, to see how your dog’s performance compares to the other dogs’ performances on that day
  • At trials, to test your dog’s skills at a particular level or on a particular type of course (Gamblers, Snooker, etc.)
  • At trials, to qualify for a major event (regionals, nationals, international team selection)
  • At trials, to earn qualifying scores toward a title
  • At trials, to win

None of these motives are “right” or “wrong,” just different. What motivates me to get up at the crack of dawn, travel for hours, and spend a chunk of change on entry fees for less than sixty seconds in the ring is not necessarily what motivates you, and that’s a-okay! :)

I’m not going to analyze each of these reasons here, because I don’t want to inadvertently imply that some are better than others. No one goal is more wholesome than another. I encourage my students – all of my students, even those brand-new to the sport – to have goals and to clearly identify what they are so they have something to work toward and stay on the right track.

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