Q. I have an 18-month-old Labrador called Charlie. He started agility a couple of months ago and was excellent, but lately he has turned into a social butterfly. He ducks and dives in front of me and then sprints out of the ring in great excitement looking for four legged friends to play chase with him. As soon as he gets a little distance from me he runs off to party. What should I do?
A. Charlie is still a baby. He doesn’t have years of agility behind him and the world out there still holds surprises and temptations. You can help him learn to stay with you, though…
Make Agility Fun Don’t take it personally when Charlie accepts an invitation to boogie with a friend off course. Continue to teach Charlie that the best place to party is with you in the ring. Make training irresistible fun and call a halt to training sessions while Charlie still wants more – not when he’s exhausted and has lost interest.
Distraction training the temptations at agility are many – squeaky toys, dropped treats, new people and barking dogs. Start distraction training by inviting some friends to watch you in class. If Charlie leaves the ring to visit them, call him back and give him a treat for returning to you quickly. When you are in the ring, reward him for being there with lots of play and treats. He will soon learn to keep his attention on you.
Stressed or Confused If a dog is stressed or confused, distractions can be very hard to resist. If Charlie doesn’t fully understand the rules of the agility game, he’ll opt to play something easier that comes naturally, like rough and tumble with his canine buddies. Remember, he’s confused not naughty. Running out of the ring may be Charlie’s way of telling you that your instructions have not been clear or that the task you have set him is too difficult.
Great Expectations Charlie may feel pressured. Are you expecting too much of him? Just because he can do all the equipment doesn’t mean he can run a course. Working the space between the fences is not as easy as it often looks. Perhaps Charlie is happy doing five obstacles in a row, but not ten? When you ask more of him than he is able to give, he takes off. Stick with shorter sequences. If Charlie looks uncertain, rebuild your basics and return to exercises that he finds fun and easy. Increase his confidence and yours will get a boost too.
Charlie sounds very lovable! You will soon become not only his best friend but also his favorite playmate. As soon as he understands all the rules of the agility game, he won’t want to play anything else.
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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You might want to check out the book Control Unleashed by Leslie McDevitt if your dog continues to have this problem when you have tried everything else. Although some people don’t believe that dogs have attention deficit attacks and that stress from this will heighten a dogs response to dealing with it by running around the ring or out of it. As you continue doing agility with your dog, you will be able feel when your dog is getting disconnected and unable to concentrate on working with you. Just remember this can be an alternate way to look at it and maybe a different approach to a situation that seems unmanagable.