Proofing in Dog Agility

agility in the parkMany, many handlers are perplexed at their dog’s behavior at a trial. Their once obedient, willing and cooperative dog becomes a stark-raving-mad-lunatic once they start a course. What they fail to do is see the world from a dog’s view. They are being slammed with sensory overload with so many sights, sounds, smells and emotions they become overwhelmed. Unlike us they cannot tell you they are really stressed out and need to go chill or walk it off, but they cannot internalized it either. So when the collar comes off, they release the stress with a case of the zoomies or worse try to find a safe place to hide.

So what can you do to help your dog deal with all the newness of trialing and help them gain confidence before stepping foot onto competition course? A lot actually and it’s called proofing. It starts with the very first behaviors you teach your dog and will continue until competition years are over.

Whenever you introduce a new behavior or obstacle to your dog you want to start with the lowest possible distractions you can. However, you do not stay there. Step by step you add distractions to the behavior so you dog becomes solid in their performance. When it comes to dog agility that means at some point you need to take your dog out of the backyard or club yard and practice other places. You may find a walk at the park or beach is enough sensory impact to distract your dog without any obstacles. Try obedience work or tricks until your dog is focused on you.

You always start with basics when adding a new level of distraction and be sure your dog is solid at one step before moving to the next. For example, if your dog is solid at home with weaves or maybe a few jumps you can pack them up and head to a park or open lot. Once there you want to warm up with easy requests before moving to your obstacle. Then give your dog time with the obstacle while asking for more when they are ready.

Fun matches are a great way to expose your dog as well as just perusing a small local trial to get your dog accustomed to the goings on of a trail without the stress of competition. When you are ready to have a go, most fun matches will let you leave a leash on or treat your dog on course. Take advantage of these opportunities if your dog has issues. Be sure to bring your tastiest treats, but don’t over do it. You don’t want your dog so focused on the treats he avoids the obstacles.

And remember it is good for you as well. Many if not all of your emotions will be picked up on by your dog. If you are nervous or “out of it” your dog is going to wonder what is wrong and get stressed out too. It has to be about having fun. If you aren’t having fun, neither is your dog. Proofing will help you both gain the confidence you need to compete without falling apart, completely.