Problems at Trial

Dog is too slow

If you have video tapes of your dog's performances, study them as you may find areas where you can save time without actually making him run faster. For example, you could save a couple of seconds on every run if I could get the dog to down on the table more quickly.

Speed on the contacts and weave poles are other areas that you might take a look at. How do you start the dog from the line? If you lead out and turn and face the dog, you might try facing down the course and looking back at the dog (facing the dog often intimidates and slows the dog down). For sheer speed try working on some straight line sequences with lots of enthusiasm and perhaps some restrained recalls by letting one person in your group hold the dog while you lead out and call the dog the holder holds on as the dog struggles to get loose and down the course. Then once the holder lets go the dog comes out of the blocks like a jet. Restrained recalls over the dog walk work very well for increasing speed on the dog walk. (Kent Mahan)

The biggest detriment to speeding up a dog is for the handler to say "hurry up" constantly. This is nagging and, as we all know, nagging gets you nowhere.

Start away from the agility field, alternately walking and running with the dog and praising it and making a fool of yourself (if neither food nor toy motivate it) each time the dog picks up some speed. Pretty soon the dog will understand that going faster is a good thing. Then gradually re-introduce agility equipment, praising like nuts each time the dog speeds up. When re-introducing sequences, make sure that the handler stops everything and praises a lot as soon as the dog speeds up. It is not the sequence that is important, it is the fact that the dog is picking up speed.
(Marie-Josee Thuot)

Here are some things that have been tried with some success:

  • Many dogs "turn off" if left too far back at the start. Try leading out only one jump, face down the course rather than back toward him. Most dogs will take off faster.
  • Keep moving; if the dog thinks you're not doing your part, he slows down. Especially true on things like the dog walk, try racing the dog to the end of the dogwalk.
  • Be sure he has a fast response to the drop command on the table. Then keep him revved up and ready to go when the count ends. You can waste precious time if the dog just sits there when the judge says "go".
  • Learn to cross in front. Dogs don't like to be left, and if they see "mom or dad" two obstacles ahead it should inspire them to speed up, or at least keep going without hesitation.
  • Does the dog KNOW he's SUPPOSED to go fast? Sacrifice a little control for awhile, if necessary, in order to really work on speed.

(Jo Ann Mather)

Another suggestion is biking with the dog using a Springer attachment. This is also good for dogs that *think* they are supposed to go slow with you. Praise the dog a lot when you first start and anytime they break into a canter from a trot. This will help to convince them that it is okay to move quickly with you. Be sure to check out the area you are going to start with for possible tangle points and glass or other sharp objects before you start riding. Start out slowly, wear a helmet and gloves and follow the directions that come with the Springer. (Rebecca Wong)

The first task is to find what the dog enjoys most...what food, what toy, what game? Restrained recalls over obstacles to a waiting handler equipped with the wonderful reward helps many get the idea that running is what is desired if just speed is the problem. If it's a confidence problem then just do one, easy ones, and build the dog's confidence of individual obstacles before moving on. For a dog that needs motivation of any kind, confidence or speed, it's particularly important to ignore the mistakes. Just go back and start over.

Sometimes it's a matter of teaching the handler how to be exciting and interesting to the dog. They gotta be able to let go and have a good time themselves. Praise like crazy when the dog does well, run around with the dog and make a game out of it all. A simple "Good Dog" isn't gonna get it. If the handler isn't excited then the dog that needs the extra encouragement isn't going to be excited either.

When practice is over with take some time to just play the dog's favorite game, or walk around socializing before going home. No matter how the session went, the dog should feel that the agility practice area is *the* most wonderful place to be.

This is important for dogs at all levels, most of us could sure shave a second here or there whatever level our dogs are working at. This of course doesn't apply to the turbo charged agility dogs, theirs is a different story! (Katie Greer)

To increase speed a motivator of some sort really helps. Break up training into several small segments with lots of fun play in between. Once you get what you want call it quits for the time being. So, does your dog have a favorite toy that you could throw out after a sequence to excite him? Sometimes backing up to individual obstacles to excite them to perform each more quickly can begin to shave seconds off one's time. Dog's slow on dog walk, or perching on A-Frame for instance, show 'em the motivator. "Come get it!" Works great as a game with weave poles, too. Send to a jump and throw, adding jumps as you go to increase sequencing speed.

If toys aren't an option, but the dog is food motivated you can create an interesting "toy". Get 5/8" aquarium tubing, cut it into 5" or 6" lengths, then put a diagonal cut in the middle. You know those coin purses you squeeze and an opening appears for the coins? That's the idea. Twist the tube and you can insert food. Then you can take this food laden toy and throw it after obstacle/sequence completion to make the whole thing a little more interesting. (Katie Greer)

Although most dogs LOVE agility, there is the occasional dog that just prefers to be a couch potato. HOWEVER, the vast majority of the time when you encounter "slug" dogs, the problem IS physical, usually thyroid. Thyroid problems seem to be very very common, and you should insist that your vet do a thyroid study as a starting point. When a dog is started on thyroid, his energy returns and he becomes much more energetic. Investigate the physical aspects until all reasonable physical explanations have been ruled out. (Billie Rosen)

If you need help reving a dog up at the start line here's a trick/game from Pat Charlton and Stuart Mah. It's called "ready, set ,go!"

Start by racing your dog to a food tube or target container filled with treats. If he gets there first, HE gets the food. If you get there first, you pocket it. It only takes a few races before your dog will get the idea. If your dog isn't food motivated, this is a great "dinner" game.

Once your dog understands the game, play "ready-set-go" at the park and at the beach; sometimes racing to food, sometimes just racing for the fun of it. Playing this game with more than one dog is a hoot.

At the start of an agility run, gently hold your arm in front of your dog's chest and say "ready-set-GO!" This game has helped a great deal in getting some speed right from the start of the run. It also seems to reduce some of the stress the dog may feel to because it's a fun game you always play together...You can almost see your dog him smile when you say the magic words … READY, SET GO!
(Laura Forgetta)

Slow competition runs are often a result of habit and or stress. Dogs do learn to do agility at a trot/jog. You need to retrain or set up new habits for your pup. You should probably take a break from competition for several months and work on enthusiasm and moving faster.

Train the dog before meals, not after. Start simple and add distance and complexity as the dog is successful, but only change the exercise by a little (add two feet, not ten). Go back a step or two if the dog falters. This dog doesn't want to be wrong. Cheer on any initiatives this dog makes -- EVEN IF IT IS A WRONG COURSE. YEAH! Do not fix weave poles -- cheer the attempt and go on.

Start by working on letting the dog know that you like it when she goes fast -- away from agility obstacles. Figure out what makes the dog ecstatic -- juicy treats, cat toys, happy clapping, licking the handlers face, etc. Have several such motivators for each training session (i.e.,. use cheese, then switch to squeaky toy, then to bread, end with hot dogs). Do short frequent sessions. Try not to get bored with the remedial work. Focus on improvements towards your new goal.

Do restrained recalls: 1) someone gently holds the dog -- by the chest or collar, whatever makes the dog the most comfortable 2) the handler, after handing the dog to the restrainer and showing the dog the motivator (if appropriate) and revving the dog up 3) walks 20-40 feet away and enthusiastically gets the dogs attention - jump up and down or crouch down, wave the toy, etc. 4) the dog is released after a small delay 5) the handler can run backwards a little ways, encouraging the dog to run 6) the handler makes a big fuss & rewards the dog when it reaches her/him.

Does that make sense? Set the dog up to do it right, so you can be sincerely impressed. Do 1, 2 or 3 of these a session, depending on the dog's tolerance. Some polite dogs won't want to lunge against the restraint. Its better to NOT do this from a sit-stay. You want to minimize the dog's worry. Build up the distance once you have improved speed. Jackpot! Give significantly more treats and praise for superior performance (i.e.,. a whole lot faster).

You can also do races to the motivator. Teaching that a margarine tub cover means a treat works as a target for non-toy dogs. Have the dog on leash, put the motivator on the ground, (the plastic cover keeps the food off the ground and minimizes searching for the treat). Make sure the dog knows it's there, drag the dog a short distance away, take off the leash and start running when you release the dog. The goal is to race the dog to the treat. If you get there first, you get the treat, not the dog. Polite dogs will need permission to take the treat, so give it happily ("Ok", "take it", etc.). For very polite dogs, let the dog win the first few times you play the game. Cheer the dog on -- be proud when they win!

Once you get speed at games, then you can add a jump or tunnel between the dog and the motivator. Do recalls or race to the treat. Set it up so the dog is right. (An impersonal treat guard can be helpful, but you can set up puppy gates on each side of the tunnel also.) Keep smiling.

Then you add two obstacles and work up as the dog is successful. Then have the dog do two runs for the treat. Jackpot superior performance. Cut back on the dog's meals if the training treats become a significant part of their diet. (This can be significant for dogs under 40 pounds.)

Try aerobics, including anything that get the dog panting. This usually involves running. Chase the toy is the easiest. Chase the other handler (restrained recall) works too. In inclement weather, use a safe set of stairs and have the dog run UP the stairs after the object of attraction.
(Lynnda Lenzen)

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