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Is Training Becoming Obsolete?

What really constitutes your dog being "ready" to trial. By Stacy Goudy

As I was in my training building today, I was thinking a lot about my dogs, their training and what my ultimate goals are with each of them. This, of course, makes me think about the behaviors they need to know to actually compete in the agility ring.

Now I am thinking about competing and what really constitutes a trial "ready" dog?

It feels to me in this day and age of endless trials, weekend after weekend, that we are starting to fall behind in the actual training department. It seems that training is getting sidelined in favor of trialing.

In the "good old days" of agility we were forced to take "breaks" from trialing since there were actual seasons of agility and in between there were months off. I often hear people comment how they "need" to go to the trial coming up because they "need" this Q or that Q that has been eluding them for the last several months, or years.

Seems to me that a better way to go about getting that Q would be to take a step back, evaluate what it is that is actually keeping you from getting those Q's and create a plan to fill those holes.

A good example would be all of the great opportunities we currently have available to us regarding seminars and continuing education. It is the rare individual that will pass on a trial to take the opportunity to learn something new, or, just brush up on skills that have maybe deteriorated over time.

Once again, the thought being, there is a trial and I need that Q in...

Don't get me wrong, there is a ton of value in ring experience and there are certainly dogs that benefit from ring time in addition to training time, however, there needs to be a balance. There also needs to be plain and simple down time; time for dogs and humans alike to recharge their batteries and just be themselves.

The aforementioned spewing was more about the older more seasoned dogs, but what about the up and comers? When is the right time to start competing and what do the dogs need to know before entering the ring?

Another thing I need to make clear is that I truly believe taking a "test drive" as it were with a youngster is a great idea! You need to keep it in perspective though. Just because you enter a trial does not mean that you are now required to enter every upcoming trial.

Treat that first trial as a fun match. See where your strengths are, but, be very aware of your weaknesses, the dog's weaknesses and your overall weaknesses as a team. Take notes and evaluate whether these are training issues that need to be sorted out in a training environment, or are they stress issues that are better sorted out at the trial?

What are training issues v. stress issues? Primarily your training issues are going to revolve around impulse control and tangible obstacle issues.

How is your start line? Can you ask your dog to stay and stride confidently to your desired lead out position fully expecting your dog to stay there until you have verbally released them? Does your dog know how to find an obstacle when you cue it without needing you to be part of the whole visual picture of that obstacle?

Have you taught your dog the desired criteria on the complex obstacles to the point that they are independent? Are you maintaining your criteria? Is your dog fully aware that it is their job to pay attention to you?

Do they understand the various physical and verbal cues that you are planning to use to get your dog to offer specific behaviors while negotiating the space between the obstacles?

I know, lots of questions.

I think it is a great idea to list out what cues you are planning to teach your dog and what the expected criteria is for each obstacle. It is a good idea to list out the expected criteria on your dogs performance of each obstacle and evaluate whether you have taught the dog to take responsibility for them.

Stress issues that may need to be addressed in the ring would be the dog that reacts to adrenaline in a manner that takes them over the top in a trialing environment as opposed to the quiet steady worker in a training environment. I think it is a super idea to look all the way back to your foundation training, or, look at what you are planning for foundation training and know exactly what you are looking for as an end result. Plan your route to achieving this end result and take your time!

It is so much easier to train something correctly the first time than to go back and retrain it. I speak from loads of experience here. Try not to get so caught up in the fun of trialing that you forget what it is that will actually make you successful: clear, concise, consistent TRAINING along with breaks to just hang out and enjoy each other!

Don't be in a hurry to trial a young dog. I do not think age is the mitigating factor; maturity is what is most important. There are a lot of dogs that mature early and are ready to trial early. This often goes the other way as well. Let your dog tell you when they are ready. Mostly, enjoy the process!

The whole point of this sport is to demonstrate teamwork between a dog and handler. It is not one-sided. Each of the entities has responsibilities and time and care must be taken to create this understanding.

This perspective comes after a spectacular weekend of trialing and my first trial in two months! During those two months off we were taking time to smell the roses and most importantly train. It is said that the proof is in the pudding, and the pudding was darn good this weekend!

This article was shared with permission from C Spot Win.
Photos courtesy of C Spot Win and Stacy Goudy

Stacy Peardot-Goudy has been teaching, competing, and generally living dog agility since 1989. Stacy's first Border Collies "Jack" and "Secret" are 2 of the pioneers of the sport of agility and accomplished many firsts.
Stacy's accomplishments include:
- Representing the USA at the IFCS World Championships  as a competitor on 3 separate occasions with 2 different dogs, earning the first ever title IFCS World Champion in 2002 with her dog Secret.
- Stacy and Secret once again represented the USA in 2004 at the IFCS World Championships going on to win the all around Silver medal.
- In 2006 Stacy represented the USA yet again with Able who finished 5th overall with 7 clear rounds.
- In 2008 and 2010 Stacy was named IFCS team USA coach helping her team medal in numerous events both years.
- Competed in the ESPN Great Outdoor Games medaling with 3 different dogs at multiple events.
- Won numerous USDAA Regional Championships including wins in all categories, Grand Prix, Steeplechase and Dog Agility Masters team tournaments.
- National Finalist in each of the organizations that she competes in and has been a member of the National Champion Dog Agility Masters team 2 different times with 2 different dogs.
- Showing her diversity as a trainer and handler Stacy has trained and handled 9 different dogs to their USDAA Agility Dog Champion titles, more than any other handler in the country!

Stacy presents seminars worldwide and hosts agility camps, workshops, classes, and private lessons through her agility training school C Spot Win located in LaPorte, CO where she resides with her husband Geoff and son Nicholas.


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