Problems at Trial

Running off of the course

Try calling the dog's name (or get his attention) *before or just *as* his front feet hit the ground after an obstacle. If your timing is bad, the dog's mind can wanders. But if a dog *loves* to run and jump, and if you can keep him moving on toward the next piece of equipment, he'll be OK. (Peg Mueller)

If the dog runs out of the ring during training, calmly walk over to him, and guide him back to his crate and tell him "That's it, you're done for the night." It drives many dogs nuts to watch all of the other dogs having fun and they're not. They do not do any more agility the rest of the night. Same thing applied to shows. If the dog runs out of the ring, pull the dog out of the ring, (or carry him out), and ignore the dog for awhile. Your dog knows that after a good run in a show, you give them lots of praise and pats at the finish line, then walk over to their pen for treats. When you pull a dog out, they realize that something's wrong. Hopefully, your dog will catch on after awhile. Never give the dog a correction for leaving the ring, such as yelling or screaming at them. Guide them out of the ring and ignore them. (Nita Woulf)

One of the things that helps those dogs who check out while on course is to have classmates ready to show them that checking out ain't at all the thing to do. The corrections are coming from outside forces, not you. The classmates should stomp, wave arms, yell "angh" and move in on the dog. "You're not in the right place!" Dog usually reacts by high tailing it back to Mom, who has remained pleasant through it all. Done in this manner it doesn't dampen their enthusiasm, but does convince them that being with mom is better than checking out to do other things. For many dogs that are checking out due to stress avoidance, or lack of focus removing them from the area can reward them with just what they were looking for...a break from it all. It can become a reinforcer in itself. Reserve this for very severe situations, and use it rarely. (Katie Greer)

When the dog runs off to explore, put his leash on (obviously wouldn't work in a trial) and heel him back to the point on the course where he belongs. No verbal corrections. This is your way of saying "We're playing my game now." (Elisabeth Hyde)

Try the following. When your dog runs off to investigate or whatever, you run in the OPPOSITE direction, far away in the opposite direction. Then you are going to have the biggest, bestest party you can imagine with a make believe dog. Really whoop it up, super excited. Clap, dance, whatever it takes, ignoring your dog. See if your dog won't suddenly get real curious about what you are doing. Might even think that you have totally lost it. But, if you are wild and crazy enough, he should come over and investigate. Ignore him for a few moments after he gets to you, then suddenly notice he is there and make a big to-do about him joining the party. Then run back and keep running the course. (Billie Rosen)

Here is a method introduced by Sharon Nelson. Simply put, you don't play the game! Theory being it takes two to play. This is also a dominance statement, showing who actually is in control. The solution is so simple but hard to do. When the dog runs off you turn away from him/her and ignore them. Look at the ceiling if you have to. Your friends will tell you what is going on with your dog. It does not take long before your partner realizes that Mom/Dad is not paying attention to the game. They come back to you to get your attention again and say, "Hey, I went over here!" and run off again. AT this point it is VERY IMPORTANT NOT TO MAKE EYE CONTACT with them.

Continue to ignore and very slowly walk off. They will keep coming back to get your attention to get you back into the game. They will circle around you with smaller and smaller circles trying to get your attention. Eventually they will get right in front of you and you practically fall over them trying to ignore them. At this point they want you to acknowledge them soooo badly when you finally see them, act really surprised. "Hey, there you are, Where have you been?" kind of approach. Take hold of the collar or whatever and walk on off. No further correction is really necessary at this point. It's neat. You only have to do this a couple of times. This whole thing is a "game" as well as "who is in charge". Takes two to play, and no fun alone. In the space of 15 minutes, a dog will often be working with their partner and paying attention! (Carol Peck)

For a lot of dogs, just Puppy class and/or Basic obedience class really isn't enough obedience for the dog if you a) have a control problem and/or b) don't have a good solid bond with the dog.

The owner of multiple dogs (especially one that works) faces a real problem: how do you teach the dog that playing human games and responding and bonding to you is more (or as) rewarding than playing dog games and bonding with the other dogs in your household? This is a very important question because agility is best taught & best perceived by the dog when it is presented as one long cooperative play session. And if the dog doesn't know how to play with you one-on-one away from the other dogs, then the agility field is a particularly difficult/distracting place to introduce that bit of bonding. He is playing a very "doggish" game with you when he plays "catch me". You need to teach him how to play with a human rather than how to play with another dog. Here are three things to help work through this:

  • Enroll in an Advanced Basic class & plan to get a CD on him. This will take care of some control issues & will increase the bond between you.
  • Find 5 minutes twice a day where you can take him completely away from your other dogs and do nothing other than have a good game of tug or chase the toy with him. After 3-4 weeks of this, require him to a small jump before and during your game. If you don't have a little jump, make one. Two very small buckets & a broom placed across the buckets make a great practice.
  • Take him to agility class and keep him on a very long (20'), extremely lightweight line. For the first month, you're just taking him to agility class so that he keeps up on his obstacle work. If the rest of the class is supposed to run a course or training sequence, you should break it up into little "mini-sequences" consisting of 1 or 2 obstacles. Don't try to run sequences longer than 2 obstacles; you are asking him to do something slightly unsafe by being on a drag line and it is important that you be very diligent about ensuring that the drag line doesn't get tangled on something. You won't be able to exercise that diligence if you're trying to run a course with him.

After a month of this, you should be able to take that little game of toss or tug you've been developing at home and work it into your 1-2 obstacle mini-courses at class. For example, do one obstacle & then play for 15 seconds. Then do two & break for play.

Don't be discouraged if the first time or two he won't play very long with you at class; it's not unusual for a dog to be a bit reluctant at about wanting to play the same games at class that he plays with you at home. As the training hour goes on and his interest wanes, you can replace the toy/game routine with a recall to a tidbit, similar to what you are doing in your backyard (use the drag line without comment to make sure he comes to you, then praise & feed). By the 3rd or 4th time though you should begin to see his interest in coming to you to play or to get his tidbit increasing. Then you can start to think about shortening his drag line & increasing the number of obstacles he has to do in order to continue playing with you. (Janet Gauntt)

What we call a "control" problem is often an "attention" problem. To correct this situation with your dog, look at obedience competition trainers and how they teach attention to their dogs. You might want to do attention exercises before you take your dog out on a course. For example, take treats or a toy and set them on the floor scattered around where your dog and you are standing. When your dog gives you voluntary eye contact (don't pop the leash or talk to him here), give him a signal to a treat or toy and provide lots of verbal praise. He should catch on *very* quickly that the best way to get beloved treats and toys is to give you some attention.
(Edell Marie Schaefer)

One thing I never understood - when a handler has a dog run off course, they get the dog back and then try to repeat the sequence they were originally trying. The dog originally shut down because the sequence was too hard and there was not enough motivation (read, it was more fun to play with the other dogs than to do agility).

It doesnt make sense to me at all - it's almost like the handler is saying I Want You To Do This Now! Being the rebellious person I am, my response would be Make Me!

I also don't think the behavior should go uncorrected - under some circumstances, making the dog leave the field may be appropriate, but it isnt the only solution.

If one of my little darlings, does this, I bring them back, bring out a toy and do a single obstacle with lots of motivation. Then I go to another obstacle again with lots of fun and excitement - I might even try for an obstacle discrimination with lots of praise and fun. Then, depending on the response I get, I might end my training session at that point. For a beginner dog, I would put it on leash and do a leash safe obstacle. The communication has to be that this is more fun than playing with the other dogs or eating horse poop.

The dog learns two things - first, we are a team and I am the team leader, second it is fun to do agility obstacles; the handler learns that attitude is everything.

(Chris Miele)

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