My Dog Suffers from Handler Impairment; the Perfect Analogy to Whats Wrong with Your Dog Training
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
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.
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.
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?
- 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!
I have been a professional dog trainer and pet sitter for over 20 years. I am a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, through the international Certification Counsel of Professional Dog Trainers. I have trained and worked with police, Schutzhund and personal protection dogs. I trained Assistance Dogs in a men’s prison and ran my own nonprofit organization to take adult dogs from shelters and to train them to assist children and adults with disabilities, at no charge to my clients. My nonprofit organization and I were nominated for several awards of merit and even made the front page of the Denver Post. I was a veterinary technician for many years, where I learned about all aspects of health and preventative medicine. I have trained and worked with exotic animals and cheetahs. I introduced a temperament testing program in my local shelter and sat on the board of directors. I volunteered with my dog “Mr. Snitch” and helped local children learn to read. I have attained obedience titles and several blue ribbons. I am constantly in search of ways to continue my education and excellence when it comes to animals, their behavior and their health.