Let’s talk about faster responses to cues

Let’s talk about faster responses to cues by Jeanine Renzoni

Dog Agility Class
Dog Agility Class (Photo credit: andreaarden)

We’ve been going to an agility class weekly and having a blast.  I think the others at the class are enjoying it too, but many of the dogs aren’t moving all that fast and it sounds like they’ve been doing this a long time. Perhaps a fun game and the improved relationship was the goal. But if you are doing agility or anything else that needs more speed and wanted a faster dog, keep reading.

Agility is an off-leash speed sport, but it’s also an obstacle and directional handling sport. It is generally considered a “no” corrections in training activity, but actually clarifications are done by withholding rewards for incorrect actions, if the dog doesn’t jump = no reward, goes into tunnel instead of up the A-frame gets returned to try again with no reward/no comment in between. This concept is important since an unsure dog will not be fast to try to follow your directions – they are more likely to pace themselves with you or slightly behind you. All your training needs to aim for willingness to try and try again and confidence on different surfaces and different locals.

Food is used often as a reward and as a lure. And food is a great reward, especially on the contact pieces of equipment (the equipment where touching a certain area is required or brief stays are required). Food is calming and mostly universally liked. Food tends to keep the dog with you, which is a good thing generally.

However the topic of this post is faster responses to cues. To do this:

  • Shape behaviors or capture them but banish luring – luring is bribing and bribing is prone to not being good enough. Luring also often puts you into the position of needing to be just ahead which is not reasonable unless you can run faster than your dog.
  • Offer surprise rewards and base them on the value of what you’ve gotten and the preferences of your dog (great response gets great reward). Be generous.
  • Timing is key – get the reward there when the dog is doing what you wanted. Preparation to reward is key here. Being late will mean losing the dog’s understanding of what was rewarded.
  • Use games like tug to charge up the drive and raise the arousal for the game. Exciting games are more fun. Agility is more fun if it’s exciting. Aim for drive first then control.
  • Reward only if the response was average for your dog or better. If you reward for less then less is what you’ll get because it’s easier. Less is slower and sloppier and not improving.
  • If your dog doesn’t want to work with you – leaves work to go sniff then improve your value – better treats, better toys and you need to control the environment so you’re the best thing in it. And then watch for them to make the choices you like and reward them quickly and generously for it.
  • Practice speed off the equipment. In order to have a fast dog they need to practice bursts of speed – play fetch or Frisbee or recalls with you running away when they begin coming and then playing tug (reward) when they catch you.Snowdogs,StB,Max, Jazzie 019 In order to be fast they need to be physically capable.
  • Faster is also flow, a dog can only flow if they really, really know what the cues mean, which is daily, fun practice on basics like sit, down, come, stand, right, left, go, here, get it, side, close… Using doggy meal times for practice works exceptionally well.
  • The reward should not be dangled (lure) or otherwise used to produce speed itself, speed is gotten based on the dog’s choice and then your prompt rewarding reaction. The dog becomes aware that the faster they do something you want the better the potential reward.
  • After first using high value rewards, start trading and persisting until your dog will happily accept whatever reward you offer – food or game, best liked food or everyday item, make more things become ‘the best thing.’
  • It’s important to let the dog make mistakes and then figure out what is the path/the way to get rewarded. Exception is if the mistake is rewarding in itself then there needs to be a verbal marker of ‘non’ reward for that.

Well those are the things I can attest to making speedy, willing, joyful dogs. Do you have any that you think I should include?


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