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Discussion Starter #1
Hi everyone!

My heeler and I are four classes in to intro to agility and I have a question or two...we are super newbies to dog sports.

Hazel seems to be technical and careful when it comes to agility work we have done so far, and surprisingly brave. She loves the teeter, A frame, dog walk, and pause table. She does not like the jumps or even remotely going any speed faster than a slow trot to jumps.

Is this concerning? Will she develop speed and jump ability as we progress?

I don’t want her to burn out by practicing constantly. But honestly, she is our third heeler and I have never seen a lower drive in a heeler than I have seen in her! It’s almost comical.

We are signed up for novice agility after the completion of this course because it’s fun, she seems to enjoy it, and I think it’s good for her.

My concern is this-I want to make sure she is involved in something she enjoys. There are so many options and just not enough time! We are also participating in intermediate obedience after a great experience in intro obedience.

Then someone suggested rally. Gah! Like I said, so many options! We are going to try a drop in rally class a time or two in between the end of intro agility and the start of novice agility to see if we like it.

I guess my bottom line question is... how does one know what to stick with? I know the dog will eventually tell you which is why we are trying different things. But I do not want to overwhelm her and myself and spend time doing one thing when we should be focusing on something else!

Advice please!

Thanks!

Molly and Hazel
 

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In most sports that require training, and this includes agility, turning onto the game takes some time. It's also part of the game. It's about building confidence and vaule and understanding in fairly complicated behavior. Almost all dogs speed up - a lot - as they gain better understanding of what's expected of them, what their job is, and of course a lot of reward history.

Dogs turn on fast to things that are... simpler and more instinct/pure play based - disc, lure coursing, dock diving - not always but if the love of disc, chase, or water is there, it's an easy thing because the reward/value is already there and there's little they need to understand about how to perform, and the behavioral chains aren't very long, unlike agility, rally, or obedience.

So, while I encourage you try to try all the things and play all the games and do all the training, because I think it's all excellent for dogs, I would also advice you kick back, relax, and wait a solid YEAR before making any decisions about whether or not your dog enjoys the game 'enough', for both rally and obedience. Rally might have more reward value inherent right now, even, because there's already some clear understanding in most of the behaviors for most dogs, but that doesn't mean it won't come with agility.

Dosen't mean it *will*, but I see way more people decide their dog doesn't like it too early (IMO) and give up and move on than ones who are trying to drag unhappy dogs through. Heck, I see more people who decide too early that the dog doesn't like it and give up than who continue on PERIOD and I'd say most of the dogs would, yeah, gain speed and enthusiasm with experience, confidence, and reward history.

(THere are dogs who turn on fast and just want to run. At that point it's very, very difficult to control, train and have them go where you want. Thoughtful is good!)
 

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I wouldn't worry too much about it. Slow speed does not necessarily = dog doesn't like it. Some dogs are just a bit more careful and thoughtful and take time to build speed, or even understand that they're supposed to be speedy (and really, accuracy counts more than speed in most agility classes, unless you're doing Time to Beat or something).

I mean, you said yourself she seems to enjoy at least some of the obstacles! That's good enough! She doesn't have to be fast to enjoy something! My dog was just the opposite. He HATED the contacts, especially the teeter, but loved the jumps. It took a good year and a half for him to confidently do the teeter. Really, its kind of irritating to have a dog that just RUNS and needs ALL THE SPEED at first, especially when you're new to it, too. Having a dog that might be considered "slow" and careful can be a good thing, because it it gives you chance to teach them how properly do an obstacle rather than have them just barrel all over the place!
 

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I know you said you don’t want to burn her out by practicing too much but you may find it beneficial to do a little bit of just jump work. One thing I’ve noticed in agility is that we often overlook jumps and don’t reward them as often as the contact obstacles. Some dogs just need more value built into jumps and bigger rewards.

When Renegade(my GSD) started training over a year and a half ago, he was definitely not a fan of jumps. He would even go out of his way to avoid them sometimes. It wasn’t until I made some jumps and started working on them at home that he really started to enjoy them as an obstacle. Now he loves jumps(and all the obstacles) and has built so much enthusiasm for agility.

*Now I’m not saying this is the case with you. At only four classes in, there is plenty of time for her to develop confidence and speed. However, if that still doesn’t come for jumps with time and experience, it may be a good option to try to see if it helps.
 

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Jumps need heavily rewarded for dogs that find no excitement in them. They have to be made fun. Working with you has to be made fun. If your dog likes toys or has a favorite food, bring em! Be excitable in your praise/body language and reward quickly and often. I find this is the biggest issue in our beginner agility classes. Reward timing, high value rewards and rewarding often is soo important. Eventually the reward transfers to the obstacles/you in time.

It's best to start dogs out with just the poles or wings and no bars just to build value in going through and around those. Then add the bars at a low height - then build from there (as dog matures.. they shouldn't be doing full height bars until they themselves are fully grown).

Agility is a fun game. I've seen dogs that seemed like they weren't going to excel really come to love the game. It's always good to know when your dog just doesn't enjoy it though and play in other venues instead. :)
 

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^All of this is also true.

There's a fun exercise called 'choose to jump' where you sort of lure the dog into doing a jump the first time or two, then wander around and reward the dog for finding and taking the jump on their own. Tends to build a lot of fun and value into it for the dogs fast.
 

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Discussion Starter #7
Thank you SO much for the tips and advice! I greatly appreciate every word!

Pictured is Hazel. She’s a good girl that I am trying my hardest not to confuse!

A08433D1-BAC5-4D13-B946-D41414B4CA45.jpeg
 

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You'll get there! Four classes is just the very beginning and it takes time to build confidence and value in the game. Does your class do any drive building activities like restrained recall or circle work or catch the handler games? Some intro classes just focus on getting dogs on equipment because that's what most people want, but finding a class that does those more foundational training will help a ton and you'll see more speed and excitement from her if you build the drive first and then add in obstacles. Or you can do a lot of that stuff yourself

I've found jump grids to be great for building value and confidence in jumping. To start the dog just has to run to a target at the end of a line of jumps and the jumps are kept low. They learn to use their bodies and don't have to think too hard about what you're asking (just drive to the target). A lot of times novice handlers add in a lot of confusion as they're trying to learn things too, so dogs slow down and wait for the handler to figure out where they're going. That's normal and will get better as you both gain confidence, but it's another reason to do things like jump grids that mostly take the handler out of the picture so the dog can focus on their job.

And some dogs are just not that fast. My older dog trots courses about 50% of the time, but he absolutely enjoys agility and will run if I push him or there's a long straight line. He's fast enough to make course times and I have no goals of being super competitive with him, so if he wants to trot because it's hot then he can go for it. A dog doesn't have to run agility like a border collie to be enjoying it.

As far as how to know which sports to stick with, I think it can take a long time of training to really figure that out. I've spent 6 years with my older dog working on obedience and agility and it's now clear that he really enjoys rally, enjoys agility, and doesn't enjoy obedience. But I had to put the work in on all of those sports because I wanted to do them, he didn't decide a few weeks in what he enjoyed and for all of those sports we've taken long breaks here and there and come back to them. The only sports most dogs like right off the bat are instinctive games like barn hunt, nosework, lure coursing, and disc. The other ones require a lot of reinforcement history and building value in the activity as something fun to do with their handler. So find a sport you really enjoy, and then take classes and go for it. There will be ups and downs but most dogs really can enjoy most sports at a basic level if the reward history is there.
 
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