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- What comes first for you: being fast or being clean?


Ha-ha, I thought that’s pretty obvious!


I often get asked what I find more important in agility: running clean or running fast? Well, the thing is that both is important, it's just that for me, running fast is more important. I understand that this might not be everybody’s preference and I don’t think it should be, it’s just that personally, I prefer fleshy off-course to a clean, but slow run – not that La would give me an option, but…


Speed is certainly my major focus right from the beginning and I won’t do anything until a dog is showing the attitude I want. Many people choose to do things slowly first to let a dog understand the job and then try to add speed: those with good drivey dogs with no problems – but an average drive dog might never add speed. And even if he does, very often adding speed to the picture changes that picture that much that a dog can’t do the job correctly anymore, then a handler re-does the exercise before rewarding and by that, gives a dog a message that going fast is not good. Of course, a crazy, drivey dog won’t care about your opinion on speed – most terriers for example just couldn’t care less. But most of herding breeds do care about your opinion and making a conclusion that going fast doesn’t make you happy will make them slow down. Most slow Shelties and PyrSheps that I met are slow from that very reason – they worry too much about being right and their handler fails to give them a clear message that they ARE right, that all the mistakes are either handler or trainer’s mistake.


A story from one of recent seminars: a rather slow Sheltie that speeds up significantly at the end of the course to run after the ball. So I say to the handler, play with the dog, forget about that start line stay and just run first three obstacles of the course again and then immediately throw a ball. He starts again, the Sheltie shows three times more speed as before, first three obstacles are perfect – and a handler just keeps running a course. I yell to stop and reward a dog, he continues and before I manage to stop him, he gets to the weave-poles, the dog is still running at great speed and of course, weaving looks completely different to him now, so he pops out and a handler goes “ooo-ow”.


This is exactly what you shouldn’t do if you have speed issue: you should reward right away when a dog shows more speed. I know it’s hard because it’s just so much fun to run a fast dog, but if you reward anyway, this will happen again. If not, it might never happen again. Rewarding is your only way to give a dog an information that fast is good. If you keep running and then even comment the possible mistakes that more speed brought, you’re giving your dog an information that speed is bad.


Of course, you don’t want a dog to make a mistake after mistake since dogs learn by repetition and repeating mistakes is not a good start, but it’s your job to make an exercise easy enough for the dog to succeed and if he fails - blame yourself and reward your dog!!!



- Three most important things to get a fast dog?


1. Make sure your dog understand agility is about running, not about doing obstacles. To beginners, I teach running first and then we include an obstacle or two that are on their way. Obstacles are the easiest part of agility and you shouldn’t be too obsessed by doing them all and in one particular order, at the beginning. Teaching a dog that it’s all about running is for me much more important part of agility. I don’t know even one dog that wasn’t eventually capable to do all obstacles – but I know many that weren’t able to do them at their maximum speed, so again, for me, speed comes first.


2. Keep agility training short and fun. Do all the necessary drilling outside agility field – no drilling allowed on agility filed!


3. If you want a fast dog, put is as your priority and act like it. Be happy and reward enthusiastically everything that is fast or at least faster as usual. Don’t worry about skipped or additional jumps. When you have a fast, motivated dog, you can work through whichever problem you might encounter. If you have a slow, unhappy dog, doing everything right is simply too easy – the only hard thing is to make such a dog RUN.



- A question to “three most important things to get a fast dog”: so how do you start beginner dogs to teach them to run first? And does “no drilling within agility” means that you do the drilling part away from the running part?


The exercises we do with beginner dogs first are playing with a handler that runs as fast as he can and make a dog run as fast as he can: someone will hold a dog for a handler to get some advantage before calling a dog and making him chase him, then throwing a ball ahead for a dog and then running at the opposite direction to make a dog chase him again etc. - Games like that. When a dog absolutely loves it, we will put in a tunnel or a wing of a jump to do some cik&cap (that a dog has already learned at home, away from agility equipement): a dog is restrained, a handler runs away, call a dog while running, send the dog to the tunnel/around the wing when a dog catches up and while a dog is doing it, a handler already starts running away to make a dog chase him again - things like that. Dogs already know and love to run fast, they just need to know that you want them do it:).

And yes, I do the drilling away from the running part. Most of it, I do it at home or on a walks (cik&cap around the trees etc.). Of course, I also make that part lots of fun by lots of rewarding and playing. By “no drilling”, I meant that you should by all means avoid practicing handling moves by making a dog do the sequence over and over again: try to do it without the dog, then take a dog, do it once, reward and then think if it could still be better and how. I hate when people just keep doing it, without thinking, making a dog do it over and over again with no rewards because something was not good about their handling. Of course, most BCs can handle it just fine. But most other breeds can’t.



- I have a puppy in one of my classes that wont run, the trainer is very motivating and the dog likes toys/treats but even on restrained recalls or running to food the dog just lopes...never drives with speed.

She should try to reinforce speed first in normal life: when a puppy plays with other dogs, go "go, go, go" with a happy, excited voice whenever she runs fast. Also, they could play racing games: whoever gets to a toy/food first gets it (adjust handler's speed so that a puppy wins in fastest 70% of tries). Click&treat any burst of energy, reinforce whenever a puppy gives more energy out (like when the handler comes home, prepares food, is getting ready for a walk etc.). When playing with the puppy, play short, but very energetically: growl and jump and push the puppy when tugging, run FAST when playing chasing games etc. It's a long process, but if I got some speed out of Bu, everything is possible, so...








- Did you differ at all from how you trained Lo and La versus Bu, a longer-legged dog?


I did train La and Bu much differently as I trained Lo because agility had changed a lot in that time, it all became about speed and turns. I also try to learn something from every dog and improve it with the next one, so every next one is better trained. But no, the size doesn't really matter to me, not training- and not handling- wise. Of course, some things are more important with big guys (like jumping skills and tight turns) while some are more important with little ones (like fast contacts performance, running till the end of the see-saw etc.) - but I try to have it all with all of them.:)


I also handle them the same way. Some people think large dogs are more difficult to handle, but I don't agree, I think it's simply a question of speed and while it's true that average large dog is faster as average medium/small dog, my medium dog is way faster as any large dog and therefore more difficult to handle. And much more fun!:)



- What treats do you use?


I’m afraid the catch is not in the treats I use… I use their normal kibble, the same they get for a dinner… It’s not for the treats they work. They work because they love working with me. I don’t use rewards to make them work, I use rewards to let them know what I appreciate most in their work. And I use them that much just because I like to reward and just can’t help myself.



-  How often do you train?


I do agility two to three times a week. On other days, I do tricks and/or obedience and/or frisbee. I try to do something with them every day – minimum is once a day for adults, four times a day for puppies. Personally, I don’t think I train with them all that much. But I sure do lots of walking and hiking with them.



- What is for you the most important characteristic in agility dog?

Craziness. Everything is much easier if you’ve got a crazy dog. Lo for example is pretty fearful dog, but she is crazy enough to forget about it all when it’s time to work. Bu is not like that. She is just not crazy. She is a very smart, wanting to please dog and is therefore very easy to train, she is just not crazy enough to make training her as much fun as it is training a dog like La for example. The only thing Bu is really crazy about are tunnels. I always say that tunnels are the only thing that saved us and can make us look good. We would be a disaster without tunnels!



- How do you teach left&right?


I teach left&right as a trick of spinning in one or another direction. I lure first, while repeating the command and then fade the lure as soon as possible, only using a verbal command. When a dog understands it, I just use it on a course: first a dog might not respond since they're not too good at generalizing bahaviours, but I just keep saying it every time I turn a dog left or right with my body language and within a couple of trainings, they get the idea that it's the same thing as the spin, just not for so many degrees. It's a pretty easy trick to teach and dogs are much better at it as people, so I highly recommend teaching it. Body language is of course still the most important way to handle a dog, but on some places, directional commands can help you a lot, especially if you have a fast dog and you're not just as fast handler.



I guess that's all for now... More to come when I get new questions...


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