Gamblers is a USDAA agility game that tests a team's ability to handle obstacles at a distance. Gamblers classes test three different types of skills: contacts/weaves, change of direction and discrimination. It is best to prepare for Gamblers by teaching your dog commitment to obstacles, independent obstacle performance and verbal directions.
One very important skill needed for Gamblers is the ability to laterally push on your dog's path to cause your dog to move away from you. Frequently called "out," this skill is easier for herding breeds to understand but can be trained with any dog. This is part of our foundation training, and is taught and then reinforced throughout your dog's career.
To teach your dog "out," start on the flat with your dog and a toy or treat that can be tossed. Put the toy/treat in the hand closest to the dog and stand next to your dog. Your hand (and leg) should put perpendicular pressure on your dog as you toss the toy/treat. Do this a few more times so that dog is expecting toy/treat to land away from him and that he will have to turn away from you to get it. See Figure 1.
Next, leave your dog in a sit stay and lead out a few feet. Release your dog and push on your dog's path perpendicular to the direction they are heading as you toss the toy/treat. Eventually I put the toy/treat in my outside hand (so the dog doesn't see it) and handle the "out" as I toss the toy/treat underhand perpendicular to my dog's path. This can be hard to master; the mechanics are a bit awkward so continue to use the toy/treat in your hand closest to the dog if needed. See Figure 2.
As your dog starts to anticipate the lateral move away from you, you can add a verbal cue. Remember, "Don't name it until you love it" (quote by competitor Ann Braue). Some people say "out," "away," "go" or "get," but you could also call it "banana" or "cat" since dogs don't speak English!
This skill involves having the dog move away from you when they feel pressure on their path and hear the word "out." But at the same time I am teaching the "out" skill, I reinforce my dog for coming in to me as well. I want my dog to see the two skills side by side so he can determine which of my cues indicates each behavior.
Most dogs will come in to your side if you decelerate and pat your leg. You can attach a verbal cue to it if you want. Words like "in," "here," "with," "come," "peach" or "bob" would all work well!
Besides just training "out" and "in" with hand, leg and verbal cues, I also try to support these behaviors with motion. To get my dogs to go out, I will put pressure on their path but follow through with my motion; in other words, I try not to stop! Stopping is a cue for my dogs to come to me and slow down; if I want them to go out away from me, I can't come to a stop (more on that idea later). To get my dog to come in, I will pat my leg but also slow down, break stride, stutter step and so on. This helps create some handler focus and gets your dog to come in to you. The kiss of death in Gamblers is coming to a dead stop on that pink Gamble line! Unless your dog is 100% verbally trained and has also been trained to ignore your motion, he is going to look back at you.
Test your training of "out" using jumps. Set up three jumps using the configuration below (Figure 3). I like to wrap the first jump so I am already in motion as I ask my dog for "out" and "in." You can also try setting them up in a sit stay and run past them as you release them! Try to already be in motion as you ask for "out" and "in." In this example I used two jumps. You can use two of anything! A jump and a tunnel, a jump and a table, a tunnel and a dogwalk, a tunnel and the weaves, and so on. See Figure 3.
Figure 3: Do the white numbers then the black numbers. Notice that the white numbers begin on one side of jump #1 and the black numbers start on the other.
Please consider the ramifications of training these types of skills to your dog. Training for Gamblers will create a more obstacle-focused dog; your dog could learn to flick away from you on the slightest pressure, and might become more independent on the course. These things may or may not help you in your standard agility runs!
Next week we will discuss the idiosyncrasies of showing your dog the correct path when handling at a distance. Plus, you will get a few training exercises to try at home!
This article is part of USDAA's Training Tuesday series appears on USDAA's facebook page. We encourage you to discuss this exercise on our facebook and to upload videos of your class or training group trying it out. If you have a facebook account, please join in the fun here: https://www.facebook.com/USDAA.
Alicia Nicholas has been doing agility since 2001 and has been teaching the sport since 2004. She started her agility journey with two Corgis, and since then she has run Border Collies, a Swedish Vallhund and a Papillion. Alicia believes that dog training is a very important aspect of dog agility and encourages a strong foundation for dogs that do agility. Alicia teaches all levels of agility handling, from foundation to international level classes. She also teaches competition obedience, focus and relationship, puppy classes, how to coach yourself classes, tricks classes, and more. Alicia says, "Agility is a sport which requires mental toughness and goal setting while keeping in mind that your canine partner is in it for fun! Goals are an important part of the journey; it's how you attain them that matters!" Alicia can be reached via email at email@example.com or through her website (www.journeyagility.com) and you can read her blog at ffluffy.com