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Agility Dog eats Dirt

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OK, Torque just started a new behavior at agility trials, and I think I know what is going on, but am not sure if I should ignore this behavior (and hope it extinguishes by itself?) or try to distract him from repeating it.

 

I welcome comments and have you heard of any other dog doing this?

 

Torque is 8.5 years old and has always been passionate about agility. It is very high value for him. He is usually one of the fastest dogs in his 20" class (although he doesn't Q often due to a habit of dropping a bar, or if not that, then jumping a contact). But he seems to have great fun. He can not wait to get into the ring, and he runs his little heart out.

 

I have been to 3 agility trials recently - around Thanksgiving, mid-January and this weekend. At the Thanksgiving trial, I noticed that after the last jump or just before the last jump, he will put his head down and bite at the dirt. (All rings were packed dirt.) Once or twice, he did it when we were walking into the ring for our run. Then the behavior repeated itself in Jan and just this past weekend.

 

I am mystified. My best guess is that his stress level is so high - despite his obvious? passion and enjoyment of the sport. Maybe it is displacement behavior - his way of dealing with his heightened stress level when he is not actively running the course?

 

One time he stopped just before the final jump to put his head down and grab a bit of dirt. I know I was behind him at that point, and I think he may have been unsure that he was on the right path and supposed to continue over the last jump (despite the fact that I was saying "Go On", "Go On").

 

Just wondering if you have ever heard of this before? And any advice for dealing with it?

 

Hopefully I have clearly explained what is going on, but if more information is needed, just ask.

 

Thanks in advance.

 

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I don't have much useful, really, and what I do have is speculation - but.

 

It is my understanding that displacement behavior is often the result of conflict between desires or what a dog wants to do and what a dog knows it needs to/should do. Given how much Torque loves agility, I don't find it surprising/unreasonable to think that entering and leaving the ring are times he'd do *something* - one requires a lot of self-control and the other one is, well, leaving/getting leashed up again.

 

I don't have a clue how to handle it, so I'm useless that way, but I *don't* think it means he's unpleasantly stressed by agility, necessarily.

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OK, so I am not so off-base. CptJack and herdcentral also seem to think that he is showing over-the-top excitement. He is stressed, but not in an entirely negative way?

 

Thinking on this some more: This winter, the weather has been more extreme than normal in my area. More snow (one snowstorm of 18"), then a couple of Polar Vortexes, then rain (flooding) on top of snow. We have outdoor classes, but have not been able to hold a class since mid-November due to the weather and holidays. I think Torque's excitement is so pent-up without a weekly 'release', that it ratchets up even more (I didn't know that was possible) than his previous level of excitement at agility trials.

 

If this is just hyper-excitement, I don't feel so guilty about possibly causing him harm. Hopefully, it will temper since the weather is now a bit warmer, and we should be able to hold some classes again. He can get some of his craziness out that way. [i was worried what other people at the trial were thinking when they see my dog biting at the dirt.]

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Based on what you describe, I'd probably keep an eye on it, but not worry too much about it at this point. If he were stopping and really chowing down, I would think it a lot more strange, but it does sound like it might possibly be a stimulation thing.

I would keep an eye out for further change in the behavior to see if it intensifies, starts to interfere with his ability to run, etc . . .

 

Does he do this in any other context that you have noticed?

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It's important that dogs have pre- and post-run rituals and these need to be proofed in trial-like conditions (eg no toys or food in pockets).

 

If he were just biting the dirt after the last jump, I'd say that it was a case of too much adrenaline with no place to go.

 

For biting dirt going into the ring, I'd be tugging or doing tricks as you are walking to the start...he doesn't need to be inhaling dirt (thru his mouth) while he is running.....for eating dirt doing the run, I'd put a stop to that...as soon as you see him hesitate or his head go down, tell him to GO (hopefully he already knows what "GO" means")

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It's important that dogs have pre- and post-run rituals and these need to be proofed in trial-like conditions (eg no toys or food in pockets).

 

If he were just biting the dirt after the last jump, I'd say that it was a case of too much adrenaline with no place to go.

 

For biting dirt going into the ring, I'd be tugging or doing tricks as you are walking to the start...he doesn't need to be inhaling dirt (thru his mouth) while he is running.....for eating dirt doing the run, I'd put a stop to that...as soon as you see him hesitate or his head go down, tell him to GO (hopefully he already knows what "GO" means")

While I am waiting outside the ring for my turn, I am trying to keep his attention: walking back and forth while talking and treating and keeping his attention on me. I also ask for bows, back-ups, twirls, sit pretty, etc. interspersed with walking about. This all involves treats because I learned early on that playing tug, or using any toy, as many handlers use with their dogs, just drives his adrenaline level up even more. So I work on some focus and stretching type of exercises and try to keep it light and fun.

 

As you probably know, once you walk in the ring, you can't be playing tug with your dog. [Actually, he is pretty good at the start line.]

 

He was better today, but still had one incident of nipping at the dirt after he finished a run. He knows when he has cleared the last obstacle, and his job is done. I am sure that he knows that when I decelerate, he is done with the course. Perhaps I should keep running to the leash so he keeps his attention on me, rather than looking for something else to do.

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My BC his adrenaline levels go through the roof as well if I tug and play games while waiting for his run. I tend to use a few pieces of food to get him in a nice calm, focused on me mode before walking up to the start line. This calms and focuses him. He has quite enough speed without sending him over the top. I guess you just have to work out what suits your dog best.

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