obstacle independence

Image credit: Debbie Fuller

Tips Series on: Building Obstacle Independence

Tip 1: Super Charge that Forward Focus

Forward focus exercises ARE your bread and butter for building independence. You cannot do them enough. If you think you have done them enough, take it from us, you haven’t! Keep re-visiting them! One game we absolutely love is: Race your dog to something!

Start with a small distance from where you restrain your dog, to whatever it is that they are racing to. This could be a toy on the ground or food on a target plate. The key is that the reward has got to be something your dogs LOVES! If you have one, a Treat and Train is great for this (ask us where you can buy one, if you don’t have one!).

Allow your dog to build confidence in the game before making it a competition between you and your dog. By that we mean, once they are confidently driving to get their reward, if you get to the reward before your dog, pick it up and have a party for one. Reset and try again, now lets see if your dog has more grit to get to the reward before you this time around! The game is on!

It is important to remember to build distance from where you restrain your dog to the reward slowly. We are looking for true power from your dog, so only increase the distance when you like what you are getting.

Tip 2: Where do you want the value to be? We are talking about reward placement!

When building independence, what’re some people get wrong is where they reward their dog! Fabulous! Your dog took an obstacle away from you, but whoops, you then rewarded him when he came back to you? Does this sound familiar?!

To create true independent obstacle performance, your dog needs to be rewarded AWAY from you. That’s where we need to build value!
Use a toy that can be easily thrown or if your dog is food driven, use a Clam (from Tug-E-Nuff). When you are at your training class, ask your coach or a class mate to throw the reward in for you.

The reward needs to be thrown as your dog is finishing the obstacle, on to their line and before they turn their head towards you. That’s a lot to consider, so timing is everything! Your aim is crucial here! So if you need to practise throwing, do this away from your dog first!

Tip 3: Value, value, value!

In agility we need our dogs to have a equal balance of handler and obstacle focus. When we start out, the emphasis tends to be on the handler, which is crucial, we need to nail value for us first, right?! If we didn’t, we wouldn’t be able to negotiate a course with our dogs!

So to balance things out and to create obstacle value, one of the very first exercises we introduce to our dogs is obstacle shaping. This is best done with food and as it is thrown, it’ll need to be big enough and the right colour so that your dog sees it.

Stand right up at the obstacle, if its a jump, stand to the side right at the wing facing in (bar to be set low). Have the food ready in your hands and remain still. Without any cuing from you, lets see what your dog offers!

When they offer to complete the obstacle, mark with a clicker or word (we use yes or nice) and throw the food just as they complete the obstacle, on the ground, on your dog’s line, in front of him. Remember the tip from yesterday about the importance of reward placement!

Tip 4: Up Close and Personal

When creating obstacle value, we need to start close. People tend to want to work great distances away from the obstacles with their dogs, in the hope that the momentum to the obstacle will create independent performance. What it all comes down to is; where is the value? If you start close, you can reinforce lots, building reinforcement history, i.e. VALUE!

Starting close is key, once you like what you see, change your position and that doesn’t automatically mean build distance, that is just one way to increase the difficulty. How about; will your dog still perform the obstacle if you sit in a chair, stand on one leg, kneel down-you catch our drift! Building the love of completing an obstacle in this way will mean your dog will likely seek and drive to the obstacle at any distance.

Tip 5: Its all about you!

Congratulations, you have worked a ton on building your dog’s skill and value for obstacle independence. Before we move on, we want to point out that it is crucial to continuously re-visit those exercises. Never view going back over your foundation work as going backwards!
Our last tip is all about you as a handler. To explain what we mean, we’ll look at this photo of Lauren and the gorgeous Blink. Envious, right?!

First off, of course, Blink has been taught all the skills of obstacle value, focus and independence like we have mentioned in tips 1-4. But lets look at Lauren, lets go from head to toe here.

  • Head – slightly turned in so that Lauren can keep connection with and peripheral version on Blink, but she is also looking at the next obstacle.
  • Shoulders, chest, arms – supporting Blink to take the jump.
  • Legs, feet – pointing in the direction of the future.

To summarise: Lauren is supporting Blink to take the jump with her upper body and cuing where they are going next with her lower body, so that Blink has no doubt how and which way to turn.

If you aren’t clear with your cuing, your dog is likely to question you and this will most likely lead to them not taking the obstacle you want them to take! Doubt in your dog’s mind leads to commitment issues! This is key, and we see it a lot and is something for you to consider. To help, video, video, video! Watch yourself back, what are YOU doing! Without this initial feedback, how do you know what you need to work on as a handler!

Handling is a MASSIVE topic and we will visit our top tips here in coming weeks. If you are truly are stuck and need practical help but don’t know where to start, we do have 4 spaces remaining on our September Handling Camp! Once these spaces get snapped up, that’s it for another year. We only run this particular camp once a year! Its that unique!

Learn more by clicking here: https://www.devondogs.co.uk/event/september-summer-handling-camp-2017/

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