My Dog Suffers from Handler Impairment; the Perfect Analogy to Whats Wrong with Your Dog Training

I Really Do Love Agility! It’s Not As Simple As It Looks!

I am goooood!  No, I am serious I am a good dog trainer!

When I decided to start competing around this time last year with my girl Fury; people HATED seeing us coming.  I have numerous blue ribbons and trophies on my wall.  And, she only NQ (did not qualify for those of you who don’t compete) once for running across the jump and then stealing the stuffed sheep…  It was hilarious, although I am sure not appreciated by the judge.

What can I say she is a herding dog?!!  Sheep, well… that just wasn’t fair ha ha.  It was if as she kinda took the jump and was then going to reward herself with the decoy sheep.  I’m sure it didn’t help that I laughed and clapped… although I knew we were totally NQed by that point!  Why not allow her to be her and have a little fun.

Life is too serious, why make it even more so?  Working with your dog should be fun and we should all be learning.

So our newest adventure is agility!

Actually we are taking agility for me.  When my old guy died, I was so sad and I began hating going out and doing anything.  So I knew I needed to get out and do something, so why not do something with my best friend?

I figured she would enjoy agility, probably not as much as protection or dock diving… but I figured she might like it.

She’s taken to agility like she was born on the teeter.

But Here is My Problem

This is the Heel I strive for!!! She is Looking at Me While I move!

I have spent most of her training foundation teaching her eye contact and focus and this envious, gorgeous heel that enabled us to get so many blue ribbons.

I can literally ask her for eye contact and she can give it to me for 20 minutes or more without breaking at a dog obedience or dog agility class.

She is simply amazing.

But, this doesn’t help us in agility.

Having great eye contact helps her not to get too amped up and excited or rip the fur out of other dogs while we are waiting our turn (yes, sadly she did this once to a friend’s dog) but it is a detriment to have that kind of eye contact in agility.

Agility requires the dog to move out on his own, seemingly ignoring his owner and taking obstacles as they are called out in sequence.

Your dog can’t stay with you and give you eye contact.  There is no way you could run with them, nor would your dog see the obstacles coming if he was staring at your eyes (although I still love this obedience!!).

So we are learning to dance a new dance.

And…. I am not so good at it.

I always tell everyone else in my dog agility class (they don’t know I am a trainer) that my dog is “handler impaired”.

I think everyone including my instructor is a little jealous because Fury has taken to the training so quickly (about 2 months we were put in a more advanced class with people who have been doing this a lot longer) and she is so fast.  She also seems to want to please (when it is her desire J and because she enjoys agility) make no mistake she is no Golden Retriever!

I am GREAT at obedience.  I have spent most of my career training Assistance Dogs for the disabled, and protection and K9 like police dogs.

My footwork, honestly sucks, I do my best to remember to give my dogs hints and to step off with the correct foot and to stutter step when we get ready to stop… but I am just not coordinated.

Therein Lies the Problem for Agility

Although I can learn to command her from a great distance; so that we don’t crash into each other and I don’t die of a heart attack trying to keep up with her out there.

The Dog is Always Looking for Information

She Needs Constant Information From Me

She can’t do it on her own.

I make jokes about teaching her to recognize her numbers and run her own course without me… but she needs me.

I am the crucial part of our team; which is a lot of stress!

I have to make sure I know where my feet are pointing, where my eyes are looking (most of the time NOT at her but toward her next obstacle) and where my body and fingers are pointing.

WHEW.  I barely know where my fingers are right now!

But tonight as I struggled to give her the information that she needed to be successful; I had an epiphany.

Our dogs ALWAYS need this information.  It doesn’t matter whether you are doing obedience, or agility, or protection sports, or working with Assistance Dogs.  Our dogs always need information to know what we want and to point them in the direction of where they need to be going!

And doing and saying the wrong thing is so easily confusing for them.  But we don’t always see that.  We think they are being obstinate or stubborn when really we haven’t given them the tools they need to be successful.

For Instance

Looking for More Information After Coming Out of the Tunnel

Tonight we were working on front cross overs and back switches (don’t worry I will attempt to explain) for those of you who aren’t agility aficionados;  with our dogs on our right side they were sent into the weave poles and then we were to send them to the tunnel.

Weaving by nature for most dogs (certainly not all), slows them down a bit.  It is a more meticulous kind of skill; yet the tunnel increases FUN and speed.

So as we gave them the information to enter the tunnel we were to trust they would go in the tunnel and continue in the same direction (not turn around and come out… which actually rarely happens) we were then off to change our position and cross over their path in front of them while they were in the tunnel.

This way when they come out of the tunnel; they see our happy faces and we “should” be ready to give them more information about where they would be traveling next.

There was a jump fairly close to them after screeching out of the tunnel and then a jump with a little turn to the left followed by another jump turning to the left followed by a second tunnel.

Now, Let’s Break that Down

If you don’t trust your dog to take the tunnel; you will be late in crossing over… causing your dog confusion when he comes out of the tunnel and heads toward you instead of toward the jump he needs to take.  Or sends him straight into your knees (ouch)!

If you are sprinting past the tunnel as he comes out, he will join you instead of positioning himself to take the jumps he needs.

If your appropriate hands/fingers are not raised to give him information he will be confused and not know where to go.

If you drop your information hand while switching hands or just drop it, he will come to you.

If your feet are pointing toward him instead of the jump he is to take and the line in which he should travel, or if your eyes catch your dog’s eyes he will come to you and not take the jumps as intended.

Sounds difficult huh?

Now add to that giving the commands with enough time to do the job; i.e. he needs to know what to do before he does it otherwise he is getting the information too late and will do the wrong thing!

Now if we were to correct, chastise or otherwise be negative to the dogs when they/we make a mistake… their/our mistakes would increase rapidly.  Because every time the dog is pulled away from where he/she should be it is the handlers fault!!!  Not the dog!!

Agility is the Perfect Analogy for All Other Dog Training

  • Why is your dog not complying or listening to your commands?

    Most of Us Can’t Out Run Our Dogs! We Have to Learn to Control from a Distance!

  • Are you giving all of the information that he needs?
  • Are your expectations too high?
  • Perhaps you haven’t taught him all the keys that he needs to understand.
  • Is your body language conflicting with what you are saying?
  • Are you constantly and consistently giving the right information?
  • When you make a mistake, with your tone or your body language does your dog get in trouble?  Or do you realize it’s your fault?
  • All too often we blame the dog, when the true blame lies with us.
  • There is no reason to get mad at either yourself or your dog, just recognize you aren’t giving the information you need to make your dog successful.

I messed up a few times tonight, I never got mad at my dog or even told her she was wrong “I WAS WRONG” but through our/my failures, we learn how to communicate effectively.

And, some day…. Some day…. I will have some agility titles and ribbons around this place.  And, I am a much better trainer for learning how to better communicate with my mutts!

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  1. paula kazarosian says:

    Whew, That sounds intense and I am not up for all that much work. Like most of the world we want the results but not the time and hard work ..LOL!
    But it was great to read this and to understand it.
    I KNOW that most of the time it is our fault and I admonish my kids and husband for yelling at or getting angry with the dog for barking at the cat and then frantically chasing her around the house breaking things.
    I know that it is our fault that we haven’t trained him correctly.
    He walks down the stairs right behind me than halfway down darts through my legs and nearly knocks me over.
    I KNOW I have to train him better but don’t have the time…


    Minette Reply:

    I bet you have more time to train than to spend in the hospital with a broken arm/leg/neck,

    Put a leash on him and teach him to walk next to you


  2. My adopted mommy dog,,Sissy, was kept in a cage for breeding puppies for 8 years…Now that I have given her a nice loving home..the poor girl is so scared to death at just about every thing…I will never give up on her! She is going to be mine for ever..How do I win her trust? She has many years of nothing but bad memories…I must bring her out of her past…Tell me…is this possible? She will always live as good a life as I can give her, even if it is not possible…She is my 5th rescue Yorkie over 40years. But, by far the most frightened of any dog that I have ever owned. I guess thats why I love her so much..she is in the greatest need… need of advise! AFESC@AOL>COM


    Minette Reply:

    She may always be a little apprehensive.

    Give her time and let her work at her own pace and soon she will trust you.

    Read this


  3. Kate says:

    Hi Minette! I loved this article. I loved the picture of your dog heeling, it looked so beautiful. How do you teach a dog to heel like that? My eight month old German Shepherd walks well on a leash, but when he is excited he tends to pull and not listen, a good heel then would be nice.


    Minette Reply:

    Read this and see if it helps 🙂 I love my focused heel!!


  4. Luann Johnson says:

    Hi Minette,

    Great article. I have Handler Impairment and it takes me longer to hearn how to handle my dog. I have tremors that make me stutter in my movemnets. My trainer for my dog Makita noticed this and has me trainer her more off leash because I am late on corrections and hesitate alot in just leading her. My dog takes in my disabilities and tries to guide,protect and lead me. I even have trouble using the clicker because of my tremors.

    Makita actually does better off lead inside. Outside I will never have her off lead..she is a husky. I put the leash over my right shoulder and if she ever thinks of running my left hand over the leash very loose on my stomach. Our training is much less stressed out and she actually watches me and stays by my side. Still distracted easily by cats, dogs and children but getting better with each walk.

    I had her in agility last year and when she is ready we will be going back. My goal is by the spring. I enjoy watching your videos with your beautiful dogs. I would love to see your agility video. We talked about this last week and this article reminded me about that.

    Thank you again for all of your atricles, training viseos and expertise. I have to change aliitle bit of my handling ways because of my Handler Impairment but whatever works and makes less stress for Makita and I I’m fine with it. I don’t expect any blue ribbons in the future but I’m getting a better dog and learning alot out of the companion dog program and articles like these.

    Thanks again,
    Luann and Makita


    Minette Reply:

    Good for you!!!

    Just learning to work together is worth a blue ribbon in my opinion.

    In March when I compete with her I may get some video… depending on how much I embarrass her 😉


  5. Koby says:

    Hi Minette,
    Thank you for all the wonderful articles. I posted a article on one of the other emails I received, about dogs tied down etc. About how wonderful my dog is and how blessed I am to have her, but I should have posted it on this site. the reason being with how intelligent and obedient
    she is, she does not seem to get to grips with calling or waking me, when
    very seldom, on the odd occasion when she has to go out after we have been
    for our “wee” walk before bedtime. Do you perhaps have any advise for
    me, how I can teach her to let me know she wants to go out!! Her name is Lucy, and I adopted her from the SPCA, she was only eight weeks old, now
    she is turning seven this year.
    Thanking you in anticipation>


  6. Jean says:

    Oh Minette! I can so relate!

    I thought agility would be a great way for my dog Lilly (an Australian Shepherd) and I to spend time together and to build her self confidence. I didn’t realize how big a part I would play or how challenging it would be for me.

    I am about the most uncoordinated person I know (other than my sister). And while Lilly is doing a great job and is pretty fearless in learning these new things, I am a dismal handler. Too close to the jump, too far away from the job, on the wrong side of the weave poles, crossing too soon, too late, feet pointed wrong way, out of breath after just a few obstacles (I think I forget to breathe!)

    They need to offer an agility handler class without using a dog because I am paying too much attention to her and not me!

    Best of luck to you!


    Minette Reply:

    I think we may be related!!! Good thing we have intelligent dogs, that save us when we are out there!

    I agree, I need a fake dog to run it with 😉

    We have entered our first competition at the end or March so wish us luck for that.

    And, best of luck to you!!!


    Jean Reply:

    Hey Minette,
    A quick question. Lilly has suddenly started shutting down at agility class. It seems to be the noise from the teeter. She is willing to get on the teeter but if she is off the teeter and hears it, she runs to hide in a tunnel.

    Any suggestions? I’ve ordered a desensitization CD of trial sounds and I’ve discontinued taking her to class until I get this resolved.


    Minette Reply:

    start banging things quietly giving her treats and working your way up to louder and louder. When she is getting better set up some private sessions with your instructor.

    There are some organizations that don’t use the tunnel at all like NADAC

  7. Michelle says:

    This was a fantastic read and so true! I started agility with my dog to try to bring more fun to her life and to give her more confidence. Well, she has it. And as she gets more of it, she speeds up! I’m not terribly uncoordinated (I was once a dancer), but making sure I do all the right things and get to the right spot when she’s actually moving at a decent speed, is difficult! I’m having to relearn how to communicate with her, which is both fun AND frustrating at the same time.

    But in the end, really, agility is just so much fun and so it’s totally worth it.


    Minette Reply:

    I love it too!! And, so does she!

    I wish I wasn’t so uncoordinated, but grace is not in the cards for me, hopefully I can learn to be better and keep up with my girl mentally and physically!


    Michelle Reply:

    Based on what I’ve read here I have no doubt you’ll get there!

    I first had to get my girl to have any sort of confidence to do it and now that she has I have to learn how to run with her to keep her confidence going. Any time *I* get frustrated or overly stressed out, she shuts down. So it’s a constant balancing act.


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