Many people see my dogs perform tricks or see a video of them running agility and assume that they were just born that way. (My coworkers are convinced that whippets must be one of the smartest and most trainable breeds around.) That they were born loving tunnels, that they were born knowing how to focus on me and do tricks while there are a gazillion other tempting options around: other dogs and people, ground to sniff, birds to catch. They think their dogs could never do it because they are not like mine.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard someone say “we tried agility one time, but she just didn’t like it”. Really? You tried one session and already concluded your dog doesn’t like it because she doesn’t run through tunnels when you ask her to?
Agility is something that dogs learn to love if you do it right. Sure, some dogs love obstacles from the get go, but not all of them. Most dogs start out liking some obstacles, but they only start liking the others once we build value for them. That means we find ways to make it lots of fun for the dog.
But not all humans want to do agility and that’s fine. Back to reasons why people think their dog wouldn’t like training. They say he doesn’t like to play so much or he takes the toy and runs away or he just can’t focus around other dogs or he doesn’t care about treats. Guess what? Ruby had all those problems (and then some). He loves training now.
My dogs like training so much because I take the time to observe what toys and treats they like, and what type of play. Imagine a special someone would observe your preferences for months so that they could arrange a perfect date for you, cooking the favorite meal for you, taking you to all the places and doing all the activities that you love the most… Would you be impressed? My dogs are, too.
Training in this way is not a duty for a dog, it’s a joy and a privilege. Something that they look forward to and they are disappointed when I don’t have the time to do it. I have never forced or begged my dogs to do agility. During first agility sessions my dog might work for 2 minutes and then have a break for 15 minutes or more. If they’re not interested in working, they don’t have to. Another dog will get their turn. Soon, they find out that I will not beg for their attention and that if they’re not ready when I am, they will loose the opportunity to have fun. However, if they do give me their attention, all their favorite treats, toys and games will rain from the sky and life will be AWESOME. We will go on that special date. Thus training becomes a privilege, not a chore.
Of course to prepare a perfect reward for my dog I have to do my homework before I ever show him agility equipment. I train tricks to see how he likes to learn, what treats he likes and what gets him excited during training sessions. I play with him several times per day. My favorite time to play is on a walk and just after the dog has come inside, which means that as I’m doing my homework we play at least four times per day. I teach him some toy games, such as tugging, Two Toy Game and retrieve. Now that we have some activities that my dogs loves to do with me we are ready to take that training in public, among other dogs.
I don’t start training agility until I know I have some reward that my dog will go ga-ga over. For many dogs that reward must be built through time, so the dog might start out just mildly interested in play, but as we play more and I learn to play better, it will become a better and better reward. So don’t worry if your dog isn’t already crazy about something. Just take what he likes the most and do short, fun session with it. Even treats can become more rewarding with time if used correctly.
After my homework is done we can start with agility, with no obligation for the dog to participate – but of course now they WANT to, because I know what makes them tick.
This is Aki. He likes jumps, absolutely loves the dog walk even though it’s narrow and high, but he says there is something sinister about those tunnels. And yet, from this video you would never guess it, because his owner took the time to bring out his playful side and to find the toy that is worth going through the tunnel for.
Does Aki love tunnels now? Not yet, but with patience and keeping it fun… he will 🙂
This is a wonderful read as well: http://stacywinklerblog.com/2014/11/02/take-a-good-look-in-the-mirror/