Question for AgilityFusion.com:

My dog and I have been in an Agility class since February. Jenna, a rescue saved from euthanasia, ended up being Great Dane/American Foxhound according to a couple DNA tests, so you can imagine she is a tall girl. She has always been the class clown and would rather play with the other dogs or visit with their human moms and dads. However, as she gets closer to age 2, she seems to be focusing more. In fact, amazingly, our instructor said that two dogs in our class are actually very close to being ready for competition – a gorgeous, purebred black standard poodle named Sadie and amazingly, my Jenna, the only mutt in class. (Their human Moms however aren’t quite as ready!)

We really just joined agility to give high energy Jenna a “job” and to give me some exercise. But she is turning out to be quite a jumper and can successfully handle all the obstacles including the weave poles. (The big problem now is what happens “between” the obstacles. Many of the dogs, including Jenna, are still wanting at times to run their own courses and aren’t following their handler’s lead too reliably yet. Lots of class time is spent dealing with that right now.)

But, according to our instructor, it looks like Jenna and I may have to start thinking seriously about someday competing. We have both made progress especially in the past couple of months.

Except when the instructors put out orange cones to mark the obstacles. Jenna thinks these are toys put out just for her and she will grab each one and run with it and forget about doing any agility. She is also a serious chewer and just grabbing the soft plastic cone in her teeth can do damage to the cone.

How can we keep her from grabbing the cones without affecting her enthusiasm for performing the obstacle? Is there a positive way to teach her to leave the cones alone?

Thanks for any thoughts!

Karen (aka FoxyDane)

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5 Comments on “Question for AgilityFusion.com:

  1. Agility is all about what happens between the obstacles. If she is grabbing cones, she is telling you there is more value with the cones than staying connected to you. Play lots of games that she loves before and after one-three obstacles. keep the focus on you and remember do not take you eye off the dog, stay connected. Be generous with your rewards. Most important make sure you are having fun.

  2. Karen,

    Good luck with your ‘mutt’ — we attended an agility trial this week end, one of the first where AKC Canine Companions (mutts)and they did quite well.

    I think your instructor should have some suggestions about the cone grabbing. I’d suggest that is she likes agility, then when she grabbs a cone, call her to you, take the cone and quitely lead her off the course — no paying attention, no agility.

    I’ve seen this work for an Austrailan Shepherd who barked the whole time on the course. To break him of this habit, at the first bark (usually at the starting line), the handler just quitely lead him off the course and back to his crate. No yelling, no scolding, just back to the crate. In just a month, the dog now can hold the bark most of the time (you can hear him swallow a bark once in awhile – very hard not to laught, which would encourge him).

    So take it slow and easy and you’ll get there.

  3. Well, a couple of things….first just keep running. The more attention you pay to her having cones in her mouth, the more likely she is to keep picking them up. Second if she’s disconnecting from you between obstacles you’re moving to quickly from one obstacle to more than one. Reinforce good behavior more frequently and be very aware of your own actions – are you disconnecting from her and focusing on the course? If you disconnect from her she’s well within her right to disconnect from you.

    I don’t like the bitter apple idea – it’s a bandaid over the the larger problem of extended focus and reinforcement history.In competition cones aren’t going to smell or taste bad – so your dog will learn that she can pick up the yummy cones in trial – just not the bad ones in training.

    Stay connected and break things down successfully.

  4. Try spraying the cones with bitter apple or lime. Then she’d problably ignore the cones and focus on the obstacles. I mentioned bitter lime, because some dogs like bitter apple, and you don’t want to encourage the picking up of the cones. I think you should also try spraying your own cones when you practice. You don’t want to distract other dogs that don’t have that problem with the cones. Dogs sense of smell is about 10,000 times more sensitive than our sense so it’d be too distracting to try that on cones that everyone uses.