US versus Europe

After a visit to New York in 1996, during which time they observed and judged US agility dogs working and competing, Peter Ruegg and Pascal Peng shared their comparisions of our dogs and those in Europe:

I know that your top handlers and instructors do nearly the same with nearly the same results as ours do. The dogs are really not different. We also have a lot of different breeds, including mixed, in Switzerland. Not so in some other countries. In GB there are BC's, WC's and once again BC's and then some others.

Handlers are different! We do not compete as early as you do. That means we have more advanced handlers and dogs in our lowest class. Reason for that is we have the same rules for all classes, ie. a wrong obstacle is always an elimination, even for starters. Our handlers are running much more. We believe that all dogs are faster when the handler is moving. We use our bodies much more to communicate. We teach this from the beginning. At our trials and in practicing you can see a lot of toys, and handlers playing with their dogs. We play more than we practice with obstacles. In practice we use toys more often than treats to speed up or point and so on...This is not typical of the whole of Europe, but we teach: Your dog never faults, it is always you who missed something to do. If your dog does not touch the contacts, then you didn't practice the right way or you didn't point exactly or you were too late or...your teacher beside the ring or the video tape will explain all.

We always let our dogs play together (socialising), although not right beside the ring. In classes we often let our dogs first run around together and then we start practicing. (no bad experiences!!)

Another difference is we don't have titles. We just need certain qualifications for going up into the more advanced classes. But if it doesn't work, we can try again next weekend. (We had about 30 trials in the 96 season in Switzerland) So we risk more to win-just for fun!!!. When we fault we don't loose a possible leg, we just don't win. But we always try...
Peter Ruegg

You use targeting possibly at the expense of hand signals. If I never had to point to the obstacles and my dog would do them anyway to get to the treats I would never learn to give correct hand signals. As soon as the dog connects the jump to your command "jump" because there are some treats on the other side you can forget about using your body - BUT what if you have two jumps in front of you?

It is so easy to keep in mind a dozen different commands - one for each obstacle plus additional commands such as sit and wait. Fine if you are able to get the right word in the course- otherwise, you just might have a lucky day and say the wrong thing and the dog takes the wrong thing which turns out to be the right thing in the end.

I know this whole "voice rather than body language" is somewhat understandable from the point of view of your gamblers but still, I strongly support the thought that you should help your dog wherever you can and body language helps a great deal. Always use the hand/arm which is the nearest to the dog for directional pointing. Of course for that you need to have your dog's attention.
(Pascal Peng)

Food - dog will do everything for food? Well, yes and no. Just giving your dog food prior to the start and giving your dog food after the course is really no use. Food is not just food, it's a toy- and what lots of people do is just place that toy before their dog's nose. It's as if you put a dead mouse in front of a snake (sorry for the example) but the snake is surely not interested.

So, if you use food, for heavens sake do something with it- play with it in front of your dog, let it try to get the food out of your hand, let your dog chase your food. You have to get your dog's attention and at the same time motivate him. But so emotionless as people are giving the food - gee, as dog I would just say thanks for the treats and going on to look for other things.

So, why not use toys - I'm sure you won't just place the toy emotionless in front of your dog. Do something with it, get your dog's attention, that's what you want in the first place as that is what you request from your dog in the ring, isn't it. Oh, your dog is not toy motivated - of course, if you never tried to motivate him with it, who knows.

Not all dogs are the same, but don't just try it once and think, 'oh gosh, I'll return to food'. Food is good in training for exercises where you cannot reward the dog by playing, such on the contact zones but, otherwise, use a toy. Even with a high energy dog it is important to play in order to get the dog's attention. Agility only works with motivating your dog and getting his attention. You will no doubt reach that with food as well but never as much as with toys. Food might be good for rewarding but, even then , don't spend it too easily. Your dog has to earn it. Do not use food before going into the ring. Warm up your dog by playing with your toy and do some obedience in between to get your dog's attention. Please, no (emotionless) throwing the ball. Or at least not only that. You want your dog to pay attention to you - so you have to play together with your dog, not your dog playing alone.
(Pascal Peng)


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