How hard do you work when you know at the end you get at most a thank you, and sometimes nothing? If you are like most people you don't. That is the whole point of a new class that Sarah and I (Go Dog Go) are doing. We've called it LMFAO- Learning, Motivation, Fun, and Agility Obstacles.
Tonite was the first night. I think it went awesome (although we could do without the millons of mosquitos...)
The whole goal of the class is to teach people to better use their motivators, and themselves. To be fun, and exciting, to be the center for their dog. To be more exciting than grass, or gophers. It doesn't sound all the hard- but trust me. It is.
We've found that for some people it comes naturally, and others it has to be drilled into their heads for them to get it. This class hopefully will improve the dogs performance, and their relationship with the handler.
I think often times it is easy to get caught up in the equipment side of agility- the sequencing, the handling, the training and we forget about the stuff we start with. The foundation games that we all do with our dogs (well, I hope that we all do!). We stop using it, and then it's gone. And when the training gets harder, we move to higher levels, the dog starts to learn how to avoid agility, showing stress in the ring, shutting down. And we are left wondering how it happened.
Not all dogs are super fast, super motivated, intense agility dogs. And that's okay. I know lots of dogs who aren't turbo charged who are still awesome agility dogs. Pixel is one of them. As long as I have (or might have) something she wants she is quite happy to run hard for agility. The tricky part for most people seems to be the "finding what she wants." You have to be creative, you have to train it, you have to proof it, and you have to build the value! The same as any other behavior. I remember when I was teaching Pixel to tug and we got to the point where I had a cookie in an open hand and asked her to tug. It took us a week to get past that. A week, of doing it every day. lol. But we worked past it- and now she will tug anywhere, any time I ask. It is something she sees value in. She wants it. Bad. Her eyes pop out of her head. It's awesome. We talked about how we unintentionally take away value for the toy by offering the toy, the dog doesn't want it, and then we give them a cookie instead. What did we just teach them? I hope by talking about that people will start to see that themselves.
We brought all sorts of things for students to see as rewards- a whole roasted chicken, hotdogs, big strips of jerky, canned dog food, a chip bag, whatever excites the dog- use it! I think they got the message. :)
Tonite we had people do things like play with their dogs for one minute- no toys, no food. Keeping them engaged just with yourself- your movement, your touch, your games. The collar game was refreshed- I showed people that when I grab Pixel's collar she immediately rears up like a horse and pulls against me- instantly excited and ready to go. We also played the gopher game. (the gophers at our training field are an incredible distraction...)To increase the distraction Sarah shoved a roasted chicken down a gopher hole. People had to spend a minute in a small space around the gopher holes/chicken and keep their attention using their top motivator. It was fun- but definitely challenging for some.
We also talked about random reinforcement, and how we deliver the reward. Our delivery is as important as what we are giving. Do you treat your dog while they are still moving? Or in a sit? If you have a slower or hard to motivate dog then I hope you said while they are moving. Make the delivery exciting. When you deliver the reward is important too- we did a tunnel loop with random reinforcement. Changing out the reinforcement and surprising the dog at different times. It really picked them up and everyone did great with that exercise. That was only agility equipment we did all class. :)
Anyway, I know there are lots of people out there who struggle with a lower drive agility dog. I believe in sharing information and thought it would be a good blog post. I sure wish that I knew all this stuff when I started with my shepherd way back when!