The Key to Success in Dog Agility is Good Communication
Dog agility is all about good communication, but even the best communication can go bad if too much is given and at the wrong times. Some dogs will trick you into thinking you need to “babysit” them and you fall into a trap of giving too many commands or even conflicting commands. At some point you have to relax and let the dog work it out on their own. It’s a team, that means you do your job and your dog needs to do theirs.
Conflicting commands. This can happen when you are not focused on your course and you point to the a-frame but shout out tunnel. It can also be far more subtle when you say the correct obstacle, but your body is telling the dog to go to a different obstacle. Normally found on a course as a “trap,” it can also happen when you are thinking about the next obstacle before your dog is committed to the current one. It can also be a product of not having a plan when you enter the ring. You need to study your courses, stick to your plan and keep your head in the game.
Too many commands, too quickly. When we get in a hurry, this is an all too common error. Your dog follows the commands, but because they came out too close the dog ends up executing them early. Be sure your dog has time to process your commands in a chain before giving the next command in the chain. If your dog is not committed to the obstacle at hand, you can cause them to pull off that obstacle in an attempt to comply with your request. This can be a real challenge for a fast dog. A delicate balance between getting the information to them early enough, without getting too fast and cause an off-course.
Too much going on It’s hard to focus on work, especially when learning something new. If you try to practice recalls at the dog park when you can’t get the at home, you are destined to fail. Yes, you need to proof your work by adding distractions, but never so much that your dog cannot focus on you. And when you do “up the ante,” be sure you have high value rewards so your dog has plenty of incentive to stay in the game. You don’t want to create a “treat hound,” but a good worker is well compensated.
If you are finding yourself wondering if your dog even hears what you are saying, examine your communication system and see if it might not be a simple fix on your part. Then watch your team soar to new heights!