Today was the final session in Beanie’s ‘Introduction to Agility’ course. It was a lovely sunny morning with blue skys so the class took place in the park. Next week she progresses to her second course.
As always, the dogs took everything in their stride but it’s getting harder every week for the poor handlers. The difficulty is that our dogs don’t yet understand verbal commands or hand signals so they are relying on us getting our body language, cues and use of treats perfectly co-ordinated in order to direct our dogs over the apparatus in the correct order. In a straight course it’s easy. You basically put them in a down-wait at one end of the course then do a recall from the other. But when the dog has to make 90 degree and 180 degree turns in order to tackle the apparatus in the right order it’s not so easy.
Todays course consisted of a raised walkway, a tunnel, a 180 degree turn then over a jump, a 90 degree turn then another jump, another 90 degree turn and a final jump. The 180 degree turn after coming out of the tunnel gave all the handlers major problems.
Beanie started off very well…
…but soon got bored and frustrated by my bad handling and Carol got to see our little girls naughty habits. I’m quite pleased about this as Carol had lots of excellent advice to offer and reassurances that she’s seen it plenty of times before and it’s always easily overcome.
The first problem occured when we had to repeat a sequence a few times because I was getting it wrong and Beanie wasn’t clear what she was to do.
She showed her displeasure by wandering off across the park ingoring me completely. When she finally came back she put her nose down and completely ignored all of my commands despite the fact that I was waving the tatiest treats known to hounds over her nose. Carol gave us some fantastic tips for dealing with this and I think with practice we’ll manage to put a stop to this habit once and for all.
She pointed out that the dogs that did best were those that were toy oriented. They don’t get their reward until they had completed the course. This meant that they remain more focussed throughout and their toy becomes a highly prized reward. Food oriented dogs like Beanie are used to getting little treats every time they do something. Give them too many treats and they loose value, but if they don’t get enough treats they get bored and wander off because they are focussed on getting the next treat rather than on the job in hand.
Carol suggested popping Beanie’s treat in a little tupperware box at the end of the course thus making it work more like a toy. Beanie gets her treat when she’s completed the course and not before. This focusses her on the idea that she has to do everything that I’m asking her to do, and not to just look for treats after every step. Initially she’d run straight to the box the moment I released her, missing all the apparatus. However, as the box was closed she was unable to retrieve the treat without my help.
Carol told me to say nothing but just grab Beanie’s collar and take her back to the start without releasing the treat. Each time I took her back to the start the little box with the treat in became more and more desireable to Beanie. Sniffing the ground lost it’s appeal. Eventually Beanie started to grasp that if she wanted the treat she’d have to do everything I told her to do.
A couple of pictures of Beanie’s classmates in action…
You can view more of today’s pictures here