First Fundamental Skill in Agility
One question often asked; what are the fundamentals one has to keep in mind or know to train in the sport of agility?
Before preparing your dog for agility training, it is advised that the dog should first complete the basic obedience class. This is very important and should not be over looked.
In my opinion, every dog and its handler must partake in an obedience class. You and your dog will get to learn more than just behaviors through obedience class. You will be learning the value of communication. This is what will develop the most important skill of all, teamwork.
The exercises to help build that teamwork includes things like, sit-stays, recalls, down-stays and also heeling nicely on a leash. These skills are helpful not just in competition, but more importantly they should become a part of you and your dog’s day to day lives.
The pace of your training is dictated by your dog, as each dog has its own abilities. Each dog has different learning speed and what may seem to be easy for one dog might not be that easy for another dog. So you will have to be patient with your dog in order for you to achieve your goal.
When training your dog, every task is to be broken down to the simplest form, from the simple sit, to advanced obstacle training or the complex maneuverers of an agility sequence. If the task is broken down into simple steps, you are doing your dog a great favor by not stressing it out. You can then decide to make these tasks larger ones once you are certain of their knowledge of the previous steps.
Of course you should be utilizing positive motivation training reinforcing each (baby) step as you move forward in the completion of each task. For example, if you are taking your dog through an agility tunnel task, first scrunch up the tunnel to a shorter length, then you would have someone place your dog at one end of the tunnel. Then, you being the owner of the dog, sit at the other end of the tunnel with clicker and a treat in hand. (In case you don’t know about clickers, see my post on this site devoted to this subject.) Then call your dog. As soon as your dog comes to you through the tunnel, it gets the click/reward. Then start expanding the tunnel, bit by bit, going longer and longer, but still click and treat for each successful run. Within a short time, your dog should be going through every tunnel like a champ, regardless of its length.
Dogs are exceptional animals and some can become confused and emotional to the point of just wanting to shut down during agility training. Especially if they overly reprimanded for doing the wrong thing. (Of course, your goal as a concerned pet person is never to allow your dog to get to this point, ever.)
As a trainer or handler, the best thing to do in times of your dog’s confusion, your job is to avoid scolding your dog. Instead, choose to simply ignore their improper performance by opting to just not reward any wrong behavior. This is one of the fundamental rules of positive motivation training (a/k/a operant conditioning.)
Trying going back a step, or if necessary, two steps allowing them the opportunity to do the right thing and then click and treat them. This will help get your dog motivated to work on the right response.
There are some trainers who use particular words (cues) to communicate with their dog when the dog does the wrong thing. Some of these words may be “uh-oh” or “oops,” but not in a scolding tone. Over time most dogs will get to know that it did the wrong thing, and will voluntarily try again, thus maintaining that priceless friendship.
Always remember to make the training session fun for both of you. (You and your dog.) This is important and helps a lot. If you get caught up in performance or competition, try to remember why you started the agility training. If your only focus is getting the behavior or winning that title, the game stops being fun. Whether it is during practice training or in a competitive trial, one of you should be having fun, and it better be your dog.
Agility is a game of fun and at the same time, builds a good relationship between you and your dog. Never forget the main aim; run fast, run clean, and above all, have fun.