Turning Into a Canine Delinquent

dog-mug-shotQ. I have a problem with Hudson, my Springer Spaniel. He’s great in training but at shows he runs by jumps, loops past tunnels and, if we are competing outdoors, he takes off over the fields. It’s no surprise when we are eliminated. My well behaved Springer turns into a delinquent. It’s like he’s a different dog.

A. It’s not Hudson that’s changed but his surroundings. And Hudson is indeed a different dog when he lacks confidence or is confused. His training venue is familiar and welcoming. There is his smiling instructor and fellow students. There are lots of treats and toys in the ring and you are relaxed. In contrast, an agility show has many new smells and sights. There are lines of nervous and noisy competitors. There are no treats or toys in the rings. And you are stressed and anxious! No wonder Hudson acts like a different dog. You are not alone!

Sit by the side of the ring at a show and watch. Yes, some dogs are born agility start, but others looked completely untrained. They run up to the judge or do a lap of honor before heading for the hills. Just like Hudson.

Relax Competition is stressful. The more you dread going into the ring, the more likely your Spaniel is going to find an excuse to leave.

Have fun Don’t aim for perfection. Ignore mistakes. Teach Hudson the agility ring is not where he gets into trouble, but the best place in the world to have fun.

Togetherness Try to leave the ring together. If Hudson leaves the ring and you chase after him, he will think that you, too, have found a good reason to say good-bye to the judge.

Check-in Teach Hudson to check in with you at training. Stuff your pockets with treats or a portion of his diner. Call him to you after the first obstacle. Third obstacle, maybe the fourth and so on and give him a treat for giving you attention. He will acquire the habit of looking back to you- just in case you are going to ask him to check-in.

Different places, changing faces Give Hudson a chance to get used to different distractions. Train him in new locations and introduce him to new people. You should be the constant he can count on.

Thoroughness Make sure you have thoroughly taught the agility obstacles. If Hudson is a teeny bit unsure how to make a seesaw tip in training, that flaw in his training may overwhelm him at a show. He would rather run by it than try and attempt to mount it. And your disappointment will just make it worse next time

I believe that once the competition environment becomes familiar to him, Hudson will gain confidence and start enjoying himself (provided you, too, relax and have some fun) . You don’t want running out of the ring to become Hudson’s way of coping with the unfamiliar or something stressful. Work now to show him what he’ll be missing if he leaves the agility party early.

Used with permission.
From Questions and Answers on Dog Agility Training, by Mary Ann Nester, T.F.H. Publications
Visit Mary Ann at http://www.aslanagility.com/

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6 Comments on “Turning Into a Canine Delinquent

  1. I too have had that problem with two of my three agility dogs. I do agree with the treat but not necessarily after an obsticle. This can teach a dog to wrap around the obsticle to create a path back to you just incase its treat time. I will randomly call my dog back when she is running inbetween obsticles and treat by my side then send her to another obsticle. If she has trouble running ahead on her own to the choosen obsticle, I will use a toy throwing it over the obsticle while telling her go. This will encourage her to be right. She then brings the toy back to me for a treat. When her she learns that go means to move on, then I will randomly throw a toy as she is working at a distance. I will also randomly call her to my side and treat on the side I want her to come to. I also do this while we are on walks using a long check cord or, when she is off leash.
    I also agree with don’t try to correct every mistake and missed obsticle at first. This is to be fun and if the dog is trying and you have already NQ’d who cares. Do your own course. If you are having trouble with the teeter and you finally get your dog over the teeter, stop, celebrate and run for the treats. If you have access to an obsticle your having trouble with, take it to different locations and practice. Try to find run throughs, show and gos, anywhere you can practice that is unfamilar.
    Don’t despair, I remember the time I had to get on my knees on the floor in the middle of my run, pounding the floor with my hands and calling just to get my first dog to come to me so I could leave the ring. When she matured, we eventually became a great team and she would read my every move working hard to be right.
    Be patient, be FUN & HAPPY. Good luck!
    Barbara and Ziva “the Weim”

    • Hi Barbara,
      Thanks for your great tips. Your story of being on your knees pounding the floor to get your dog to leave the ring with you is hilarous. But, we wouldn’t be able to laugh with you if we couldn’t relate! I had the same problem at the start line once. She just stood there and wouldn’t move, no matter what I said or did. I had to literally turn into a goofball and do a little dance and then skip away to get her to snap out of her zombie state. Last weekend at a trial I saw a dog just stop dead on the top of the teeter, and the owner couldn’t get him to budge for anything. This is more common, but either way, we all have to remember dogs have minds of their own, and sometimes I think they just like to surprise us with mischevious pranks so we continue to try and figure them out.

  2. Also, I would question whether having your dog return to you for treats in training is the best way to go. I always throw a jackpot toy AHEAD OF HIM stuffed with treats. I then go and open it for him. This felt very awkward at first, but has real advantages.

    I would say you don’t want to train your dog to be always looking back at you. Lots of times, we want to send our dog and have him go forward. He needs to learn to look ahead. After a while he look back at you only when he needs the next direction. I would say that’s the goal.

    Most of all, dogs that get treats from your hand often start running back to the owner in the ring. Check out the dogs you’ll see in a trial that return to the owner and jump on him (and even nip!) every time they complete an obstacle. Often these are the dogs that have been inadvertently trained to come back to the handler for a treat. “Where’s my treat?” they’re saying? Of course, in the ring it’s nowhere, but your dog shouldn’t be running up to you in hopes of a goodie.

    To train contacts, I put the treat on the target. The only time I think I give treats from the hand is when I’m rewarding the see saw (if needed) and occasionally reinforcing the stay at the start line. Otherwise, I use the jackpot toy.

    • No doubt about it, Patricia, you are spot on. Dog who are hand-treated too long are often evident on the course. As you said, they will run toward their owner inbetween each obstacle. Or they will perform the obstacle at a slant, or run off a contact (in the direction of their owner). I think giving treats from the hand can be used at the beginning stages of training and introducing dogs to obstacles, without too much detriment. It think it can benefit certain temperment dogs (strong willed, independant) to focus more on their owners. But without a doubt they should be weaned off of it, and by throwing jackpot toys (as you named it) ahead of obstacles they will begin to (1) increase drive and (2) see the obstacle itself as giving the reward, not the owner. This will make him excited about the obstacle. But before this, some dogs seem to have to learn first how to simply get excited working with their owners!

  3. Really, my dog was the prize winner at running around wildly in the ring, although behaving great in my yard and in class … It was frustrating, but I did solve it. Here’s how…

    I totally agree with the Answer that you have to make this the most fun experience in the world for your dog. Really forget about Q’ing, and for a long time, just go into the ring to have fun.

    Here’s the second part: It took TWO YEARS for my dog to get over this. And now he’s GREAT!!! Some dogs just stay puppies at heart, and some dogs take a long time to get confidence.

    That’s the part no one tells you. It can take a LONG time. So, just resolve to have tons of fun, and forget about Q’ing.

    I took Susan Garrett’s advice and I moved from thinking how to get my dog to improve, to focusing first and foremost and always on how to improve MYSELF on always jacking up the fun for him.

    It’s hard when we get so serious about trying to improve our handling, and the dog seems to just check out. But believe me – if my dog could past this, so can yours. But it may take lots of time.

  4. I have the same problem with my dog as your writer does with Hudson. I have tried taking him out to other places, but so far no luck. I guess I will keep working at it.