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Working through problems in the ring

For me ensuring the physical and emotional health of my canine teammates is a priority. My dog's welfare matters, and I want them to be with me for as as possible, and happy and healthy!

This isin't always easy. I'm often upset, frustrated, or disappointed that we didn't do 'that show', do a seminar, or have the results that they potentially could. Because everyone likes to win and get titles. But at the end of the day I'm just not prepared to sacrifice my dogs physical or mental wellbeing to do so. Because I make the decision to enter a show, not my dogs.

Not long after Grid started competing in the ring, he had a couple of events occur all involving weave poles, that resulted in a complete regression. He's a bit of a sensitive dude, and at the time weave poles were his newest (and probably weakest) skill. However it did catch me a bit off guard, as he seemed to be doing amazingly in weaves! But looking back he had a 'bird incident in the ring (freaken swallow flew about a foot ahead of his face in the middle of the weave poles), I pushed him too hard in weaves in a seminar, and he also moved up some classes in quick succession in jumpers, which added a little bit of anxiety to the ring for him.

When it became clear that he was no longer happy to weave, I made a plan.

  1. Give him a complete break from weaves in any form.

  2. Continue to work on how he felt in the competition environment, and boost his confidence and CER to the ring.

  3. Get a thorough physical check to ensure that the weave issues were not a result of any physical issues.

  4. Make a start back with weave movement skills in fitness and ensure he has excellent strength in his shoulders, chest, and core.

  5. Re start the weave training process from the very start, only at home.

  6. When he's weaving confidently at home, start to take weaves on the road to some new (but happy) places. This included the park, and some night training sessions at club.

  7. See if he can weave individual weave poles, at a show (but not in the ring).

  8. Start to weave in the ring - Picking courses to run in, ask him to weave (just weave), mark and run out to reinforcement. It's important to note when I started asking him to weave in the ring, I had a plan for if things went wrong. If he didnt make the entry I asked once more, and if he still didnt make the entry I left the ring and had the plan to go back some steps in my plan. If he weaved in any form (even skipping poles or not completing the whole 12) I decided to reinforce the effort.

  9. Asking for some obstacles in the ring prior to weave poles, marking in the ring, and running out to reinforcement.

  10. Running the course up until weave poles, marking and leaving the ring to reinforcement.

  11. Running the course, doing weave poles, and 1-2 obstacles prior to leaving to reinforcement.

  12. Running the entire course.

Key skills we needed to have to make sure this worked

  • A consistent communication system including continuation markers, and delayed reinforcement.

  • A consistent training process to train skills fast, with a positive CER with (ideally) no frustration built in.

  • A clear routine at shows to ensure he was happy before entering the ring.

Is this process really specific and long? Yes! But I made the decision early, that if I could not ensure he was happy and comfortable in the ring we wouldnt keep competing in agility. Because.... it was my decision to compete, and I do the entries. I'm making the decisions, so I have to make the RIGHT ones for us both. And I'm just not ok with a dog that is not loving being in the ring with me.

It's taken over a year. And we're getting there! We are now running full starters course, and training in the novice courses. And he's had a second, and a win! Now I guess it's time to get cracking on that contact training!

Interested in diving into this process in more detail? Check up my upcoming Fenzi Dog Sports Academy class: Caring for your Canine Athlete. In this class we will look at ALL aspects of caring for your canine teammate - physical wellbeing, emotional wellbeing, training and more!

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