Persistence Pays Off In Dog Agility
What is it that makes the human think things ought to come so easy to our dogs? We get a puppy or adopt a dog and for some reason think they are so smart they don’t need to go to school to learn how to communicate with us as well as learn proper behavior and “manners.” Yet, I know of no one that would hold those unreasonable expectations on a human child. We take time out of our day everyday and in the beginning several times a day to interact with our children, teaching them how to talk and later how to behave. Then we enter them into school where they learn how to read, write and do arithmetic.
Or maybe you adopt a dog and expect it to know how to function correctly in a home just because it is older. You would not adopt a 3yr old child from a foreign country and then just let them “learn the ropes” and expect by default that they will learn our language, customs and rules. No. You would sit down and teach them the very basics and grow their knowledge on a daily basis.
Yet, that is exactly what we are doing when we bring a dog into our homes and families. They are dogs and speak dog and act dog until we take the time to teach them. Teach them a way to communicate, teach them how to act in our home, teach them how to to interact with other dogs as well as humans. As a matter of fact, we teach them how to learn. We are teachers, parents if you will, of our new family member. And just like parents, we have to be consistent, fair, loving, firm and at times persistent. We also have to study them to find out what motivates them, how they learn, when they need a break and when they need a push.
When we start dog agility it is the same as taking our kids to Little League or Dance class. They have to be taught the basics before they can play the game. This is where your persistence will be tested. When learning a new skill every dog has it’s own learning style and will have learning curves during that time. It is up to you to keep your focus and not change what you are doing when your dog goes through these ups and downs. Patience and perseverance will pay off and consistency is the name of the game. Plus, if you take notice, you will learn not only how to see these learning curves, but also when they will happen, how long they will last and when your dog has learned a new behavior.
And while you must be flexible in the way you approach a new lesson adapting to your dog’s style, you must remain consistent in your rewards and your cues. This is how your dog will learn the language that will be used between you and your dog. If you reward on one response to a request then later reward differently, the dog will become confused or worse will no longer respond. You need to be extremely specific on your request and your reward so your dog can learn faster. And your reward must make sense to your dog. Some love treats, others love toys, while even some dogs prefer praise and affection. Again, you must know what makes your dog tick.
And you always want to set your dog up for success. Don’t go too far too fast with your dog because you see other dogs “getting it” faster. Be persistent in staying with your dog on his level and with his learning style. Every dog and handler team is different. You will get there when you get there. The moment you decide you have to have something right now is the very moment you will lose it all. Remember, it will come, so if you find yourself getting frustrated, Stop. There will be no learning once anger and frustration step in. Sit back, look it over and see if there is something you can change to help your dog understand or find someone to help you find a better way to teach. Don’t be afraid to try a different trainer. Just like not all dogs get along, not all people get along either. It is far better to leave on good terms then to harbor bitter feelings and leave on a bad goodbye.
Consistency, persistence, practice and focus are the keys to building a solid agility team with sound communication skills, trust and respect. Whether or not you plan on competing, you and your dog will benefit greatly from these attributes in you the leader, teacher and parent of your pack.