Keep Your Agility Dogs Mind Sharp all Winter

dog agility winter blues busterPretty sure we can all agree that it is now winter. We might all be able to agree that we are all bored with being stuck inside as well. Guess what? Chances are pretty good that your dog is bored as well. In fact, this time of year dogs will find very creative ways of releasing pent up energy. Though most of the time we don’t appreciate their creativity.

What can you do to keep you and your dog’s minds off being trapped indoors? Try training your dog something new! Tricks, games, handling skills like getting your dog to move ahead of you to an obstacle are all great starters. You can start training your dog “distance work” at any level by incorporating little games into your everyday training. Other great games are those that build impulse control and focus.

For send outs you want to prepare ahead by setting up a single obstacle in the living room like a low jump. Position it up so your dog has to go over it, not around it (like in a hall or between two things they can’t go over, under, or around). Put the bars down really low to start.

With your dog in a stay, place a plastic lidded container (like an old butter container) with a snack inside on the landing side of the jump. Poke a hole in the top so your dog can smell the treat. Then go sit down or lay on your couch for a bit.

When your dog has lost interest in the setup and is sitting around (not sleeping), point to the jump and give him your cue to jump. The first time this happens, unless your dog has been patiently waiting for you to release him from the stay to investigate that mysterious container, your dog might not know what to do. Get up and point closer to the jump and the container to encourage him to come over. When he goes over the jump, reward him by opening the container.

Try it again over the course of your TV time (during commercials), each time taking your dog over to the jump until he gets the idea. When he is good with the jump in that position, move it to another location. Keep playing this game, and eventually you should be able to just say “jump,” and your dog is going to immediately find the jump, wherever you placed it. Don’t rush moving the jump or expect your dog to catch on in a few repetitions. It may take a few days, but it’s a fun way to teach an important skill, and you can even watch TV while doing it!

For focus training, have a pocket full of treats and reward your dog for looking at you or touching you with his nose or paw on command. Ask him to go over the jump (which you’ve already trained him to do, right? :) ) and then recall him, getting him to focus on you. It helps to teach your dog to focus on you in a relaxed setting. Then come spring, you can move it outdoors to a more challenging setting with birds and bees and trees and…

I want it to be spring.

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