How to get more speed and drive in your agility dog

Depending on your dog of course, one of the common challenges in agility training is motivating an unmotivated dog. I think one of the problems that we as humans have in our relationships with dogs, is that we don’t know to really ‘connect’ with our dogs on a case-by-case basis. We pack yummy treats to our agility class, or their favorite tug toy, but what used to seem to work for our other dogs, or even the same dog, is no longer working very well. What do we do? We need to immediately stop doing what doesn’t work. There’s a neat saying that says “Stupidity is doing the same thing over and over again, hoping for a different result”. So if we want to be smart, we need to do something different. Maybe even something outside our comfort zone (Yes, I’m talking about acting silly and talking baby talk if necessary!). The main point is to find what REALLY drives your dog crazy. But what if there isn’t anything that your dog is gets really excited about? I suggest finding something then that he is most motivated by, even if isn’t as much as you’d like, and then using that item in agility training ONLY. Don’t flood him all week with something and then expect that during your training sessions that he’ll go nutsy over it.

Here is my list of ideas. If you have any others, please add a comment!

  • Don’t use anything that doesn’t work. Switch gears fast.
  • Pay attention to what motivates your dog best, especially during non-agility times. Then use this reward in your agility training, but not any other time.
  • Be willing to change your motivators from time to time as needed.
  • Be creative. Something the best motivator is one you’d least expect of your dog!
  • Get less serious. Take more time to play with your dog after a succession of accurately completed obstacles. Wrestle and roll on the ground if necessary.
  • Shorten your training sessions and always end them on a positive note. Do not drag it out so long that your dog gets tired and loses interest. The goal is to create only positive memories of your agility sessions.

For more ideas on this subject, we suggest this article in our Learning Center: Agility Help For My Dog. Also, this is a great article from Annelise Allen of Agile Canines…”The Importance Of Playing With Your Dog For Motivation”.

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10 Comments on “How to get more speed and drive in your agility dog

  1. Hello,

    When ever i take my dog outside to do agility she will always lie down or get a bone and get distracted by a bird or noises outside our house. I tried putting any distractions away but of course i can`t take away the public noises, it works for a few jumps but then she doesn`t want to do anymore and lies down. She gets snappy and dis-obedient when I put her on the lead so what do i do if she doesn`t want to do it? I have tried to motivate her by getting her favourite toys and bones but when i then go inside she will always follow me.

    • The best thing I did when my dog was losing interest was to stop training for a while. I took a whole week off. I went from training everyday to no training for a week. Then when we went back to it, she was highly driven to do it. She was having fun and I could tell I was definitely overtraining her. I don’t train her every day now. I might do training just once or twice a week (on top of her classes). And I never feed her before I do training. A hungry dog is more motivated than a full dog.

      • It takes experimenting to find out what makes your dog tick. Well done and great tip on the tricks! Also, some dogs work better for toys or praise. Again, it takes experimenting to find what your dog sees as a great reward. Thank you Kallie for sharing with us, we love to hear our readers feedback!

  2. Oh have I had this problem or what!! My dog isn’t motivated for anything unless you count meal times. I definitely agree with Sheila that it’s better if I can get my dog on some agility equipment by herself where she won’t be distracted.

  3. The whole secret is to keep your dog’s focus on you and off the other dogs and the one running in particular. My boy was all eyes for every passing dog when we started. He is a breed champion, so I started making him stack and bait. Great for focus. Then I added sits and downs and mixed it all up, with great treats for rewards. Once we hit the start line he is all business and the problem disappears.

  4. Ten years ago when I was first getting started, I used to stand in line starting about ‘2 jump heights’ before our turn. This made a very nervous dog,as all I did was watch and count, “How many until us?” Now, I find that dog that will go in about 2-3 before me, then I just stand back and pay attention to my dog, playing games, stretching, etc. I play a game where I hide the toy or treat on myself, under my shirt , in the back of my waistband, up a pant leg,wherever, then the dog finds it, or does a trick to get it (but the secret seems to be that ‘they don’t get it everytime’, sometimes they have to do two tricks or three stretches). This game continues all the way to the gate, minus the toy of course.

  5. Hello “havahav”,

    You asked a great question! While your dog could be very dependant on his toy for motivation, do you think its possible that even if you DID have the toy, he might still be nervous in line? Dogs are remarkably sensitive to us, and they can tell things are different. Here’s one idea I can think of. When you practice at home, set up a sequence of obstacles. Do it in a circular pattern, so you end up back where you started. Somewhere near this place hide your dog’s toy. Do not let him see what you are up to, or where the toy is. Then proceed to run through your mini-course. When you return back to the “start” line, reward him with his toy. In other words, you are not carrying this toy on you. This way, you are breaking your dog’s dependance on you having to be the holder of the toy. Instead, the goal is to make his toy more unpredictable. Hmmm… it may show up here, or it may show up there. He is left guessing!

    I hope this might give you one idea, anyway.
    Everyone else out there… any other ideas?
    This is YOUR community, and you are welcome to join in!

    ~Pam

  6. I have a question for you about playing with your dog with a toy to motivate. I do this and it works beautifully to train but the problem I’m having is at shows when we can’t have the toy so close to the ring. He starts getting stressed while we’re in line. Any suggestions on how to keep the same motivation when I can’t have the toy?

  7. Pam, I love this blog already! I will be a regular visitor. (of course the Friday contest is a big attraction too!). Thanks for putting this up. It’s going to be fun.

  8. Another thing that I do is to practice with my dogs when they are feeling most refereshed. For me, that’s usually first thing in the morning. They are rearing to go then!