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Agility Craziness


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#1 Carol English

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Posted 31 March 2012 - 02:34 PM

I have been working with my young Border Collie Ellie Mae (female blue merle) diligently for about 4 months. At one point I almost gave up because she goes so crazy at agility class. She is extremely fast and eager, almost to the point of pure craziness. I am a beginner handler, and I think that is most of the problem here (super energetic eager border collie meets stupid naieve handler). Currently we are working on Ellie simply being quiet in class (she has to leave the room often due to barking etc), and just getting her out on the floor to do the work. Once she all of that happens she really does amazing. She is fast and has no fear.
Does anyone have any suggestions as to how I can continue to get Ellie to just stay calm and focus. The weaves are the worst, it really sets her off into crazy barking and what looks like pure frustration for Ellie. And honestly we had class today and she does seem to be doing much much better. The barking (while other dogs are working) is getting less, and she is more calm. So probably I just need to keep working and being consistent with her.

Thanks for any and all suggestions to a novice agility trainer,
Carol

#2 zenotri

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Posted 31 March 2012 - 05:26 PM

Hi Carol,

There are a few reasons dogs bark in agility:
Stimulation at the movement of other dogs running agility
Frustration at wanting to go faster but not sure where to go or what to do
Pure excitement of doing something they love

Sounds like your girl fits into all 3 categories? I can totally understand you wanting to change this. It's pretty hard to concentrate when all you can hear is your dog, especially when you are a novice handler.

Fwiw, here are my views:
There are worse things than a keen dog. Take heart in the fact that as you grow as a team, some of this craziness will turn into amazing focus and teamwork. I don't ever want to take keenness out of my dogs, but what I do want is to channel all their craziness into focus on earning a reward from me. How are you rewarding her? And how keen is she to earn that reward?

For dogs stimulated by other dogs, rather than removing them, I prefer only to take them far enough away that their desire to play with me is strong enough to overcome their interest in other dogs. As we build the game, we can move closer...until the point that we can be ringside.

For dogs frustrated at wanting to go faster or needing direction, again, it comes down to reward...and...a lot of practice as a handler. Plan short sequences and know exactly what your handling will be for her. If she is wild and picking off obstacles by herself, stay calm and make sure you reward exactly what you want and ignore the rest. Your instructor should be able to help you set up exercises to remind her that you are the one who chooses direction, not her. If she is doing super fast weaves, but missing some, try less poles and reward accuracy while keeping the speed. There is a tendancy for people with really fast dogs to hang back & try to direct from behind. Don't! Get in there, move as fast as you can and focus ahead to where you want her to go.

The last one...I don't think you can...or should do anything about it. It's very hard to run a dog and try to communicate that you are correcting the barking and not the agility they are doing. I had one dog like this, he just barked for the sheer joy of running. I never corrected or tried to change it, I just took pleasure in knowing how much he loved running agility with me.

Hope this helps :)
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#3 PSmitty

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Posted 31 March 2012 - 07:17 PM

There are worse things than a keen dog. Take heart in the fact that as you grow as a team, some of this craziness will turn into amazing focus and teamwork. I don't ever want to take keenness out of my dogs, but what I do want is to channel all their craziness into focus on earning a reward from me. How are you rewarding her? And how keen is she to earn that reward?

For dogs stimulated by other dogs, rather than removing them, I prefer only to take them far enough away that their desire to play with me is strong enough to overcome their interest in other dogs. As we build the game, we can move closer...until the point that we can be ringside.



Yes, this is good stuff! Well, the whole post is, but this is basically what I was going to say. :D

Be very happy you've got an excited, driven border collie. Trust me, it's a lot easier to channel that, than to have a dog you have to work at, to build up. I would encourage you to work on having her engage with you, only you, while other dogs are running. She has to play with you, and not obsess on the dogs running. Playing toys or tug with you is great, if you want to use food, fine, too. Use the time to get her focusing on you and you engaging with her, so that the game also becomes about your interaction, and not just her excitement about running. Start far away from where the other dogs are running and work your way closer.

This will not be easy, and will not come quickly. But, the good news, it sounds like she is already starting to show improvement.

Also, I've heard really good things about the Control Unleashed program, if you want to look into that.
Paula
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#4 gooddogs74

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Posted 31 March 2012 - 08:11 PM

I would suggest lots and lots of impulse control games away from agility to build a solid foundation of self-control. You don't say how old your dog is, but I personally would not take my dog to agility class where they had to be removed frequently and participate in that class with that dog. I would work on all the behaviors away from agility first, build their value with a strong positive reinforcement history, then transfer that to the class situation. Obstacles and sequencing will become much easier once your partner is not over threshold/overstimulated. While I do incorporate lots of toy play into my training, I also have to make sure that my dog does not go over threshold with it, which happens very easily. I see a lot of dogs being revved up prior to a run with tugging, and they are already so high that what they really need is to chill and keep their brains about them prior to running. I have been teaching a class in Focus and Impulse Control--all because I had to learn all the impulse control games for my young BC. Specifically when I mention Impulse Control games, some examples would be food zen/toy zen/it's yer choice games and Crate games and on/off switch games. I would also incorporate Control Unleashed work--specifically lots and lots of mat work and relaxation and other parts of the program such as look at that and give me a break. I would highly recommend that book and I don't have it yet but the new puppy book is supposed to be very good and more user friendly. Hope that helps.

#5 gcv-border

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Posted 31 March 2012 - 08:57 PM

I agree with all of the above^^^^ -- from someone who has been in the same situation - naive handler with super-fast and super-keen dog.

The road has been frustrating, but also incredibly fun when you come together as a team. IMHO having a dog like yours will teach you a lot more than having a dog that is easier to handle - at least that is what I tell myself.

One thing I will add: I have found that when you get to sequencing and running courses, you may/probably will find that your dog's commitment point is A LOT earlier than you expect - so your signals will have to be earlier. Learn what works for your dog, not what everyone else is doing.

Have fun and be thankful for your keen dog, she will take you on a trip -- :D
Jovi

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#6 Jumpin Boots

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Posted 01 April 2012 - 12:02 AM

I think you have been given great advice. Be patient, enjoy the challenge, it will be worth it in the long run.

There is a tendancy for people with really fast dogs to hang back & try to direct from behind. Don't! Get in there, move as fast as you can and focus ahead to where you want her to go.


Not to hijack, but I am curious as to why you are so adament against handling from behind.

#7 zenotri

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Posted 01 April 2012 - 12:27 AM

Not to hijack, but I am curious as to why you are so adament against handling from behind.


:) sorry, I wasn't very clear. I'm not adamant about it at all. Just adamant that it's not the best/only way to handle a fast dog all the time. Was just making the point that often people with fast dogs think the only way to handle them is from behind, I don't think it is.
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#8 mum24dog

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Posted 01 April 2012 - 04:29 AM

I agree with you.

A driven dog that gets too far ahead before it really knows what is expected of it
will often take matters into its own paws and go wherever it likes. You need times when you get in your dog's face in control it from in front, or at least close enough so it recognises you are still on the same planet.

I definitely agree with doing short sequences. Send ons are fine if they are to an obstacle where there is no choice for the dog to make but the send on needs to be combined with reconnecting with the handler after rather than the dog going into orbit.

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#9 Jumpin Boots

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Posted 01 April 2012 - 09:41 AM

:) sorry, I wasn't very clear. I'm not adamant about it at all. Just adamant that it's not the best/only way to handle a fast dog all the time. Was just making the point that often people with fast dogs think the only way to handle them is from behind, I don't think it is.


Gotcha, and agreed; especially in the beginning with a young dog, it takes work to successfully handle a dog from behind and will shut down and slow down many dogs or create a dog who drives on without any handler direction. Although I do think that handling from behind can help with handler placement on a course.

Thanks for your clarification.

#10 alligande

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Posted 02 April 2012 - 08:57 PM

I have only just a chance to read this properly, I have a very fast drivey dog, and between both my dogs I have experienced many of the things you are going through.

I highly recommend control unleashed for learning control when other dogs are doing agility. My older dog became very reactive when he first saw other dogs in class actually running a full agility course, with time and working on some of the exercises in control unleashed and we have really got control of the situation. This is the only situation he is reactive to, so it came as a complete surprise, he does not compete very often but last his last trial, my husband was giving him a belly rub at the start line while the dog in the ring was running, there is light at the end of the tunnel.

My young dog is very very fast, and we have issues with him at NADAC trials getting to far ahead, he turns, spins, screams and leaps at me in frustration as I was not able to get the information he needed quick enough, my approach has been to work on improving my timing and handling skills. My regular agility trainer encouraged me to slow my pace down so he would slow as well, but the national level trainer who gave me private lessons all summer said never ever slow down as she had seen many super fast dogs slow down through cautious handling, well I like living on the edge and I love the speed and thrill of running him so I took her advice and we have made huge strides, 95% has been with me and my handling skills and gaining the confidence that I could really get that front cross in, my weekly agility trainer thinks I am insane but has finally given in trying to get me to do rear crosses unless they really are the only option. I have also improved my fitness as well to be able to handle this way. Running flat out is not for everyone but if you can do it, it really is a blast.

One area she (the big name trainer) had us work on was running together, basically going back to shadow handling, he had a tendency to go behind me, or jump up and down next to me if we were running along together. So we would run up and down the sidewalk in front of the house, with me doing front crosses, and him running beside me getting treats. There is more to this and I would happily share the details.

Another problem areas has been with weaves he would yell and spin rather than weave, weaves just seem to frustrate him, once in he is fast, but getting started he was a drama queen. I tried all sorts of things until finally coming up with the idea to reward him with what he seemed to want speed. I only have a tiny yard, 12 poles and three jumps and it is full. ( At this stage anything less than 12 poles would not have worked but I agree with using less poles when starting these sort exercises) So we would do 12 poles then some combination of jumps maybe the three jumps, maybe wrapping back to the jumps, maybe just one jump and a reward. Sometimes circles poles jumps poles etc. The game stopped if he yelled, and we would go back in the house. Within a week there was improvement, three weeks later we went to a USDAA trial and nailed the poles with no bitching in any class, and I have had no problems since.

I think the key is finding what works for your dog, I know it is very hard when you are starting out to know what to do, and not all agility instructors are created equally, so ask around, talk to experienced handlers, watch dvds, read clean run, you will pick up tricks that work for you and your dog. If something does not seem to help do not worry about trying something else.


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