Improving Agility Motivation with Obedience

Agility blog action day!  The topic this quarter is on Life Outside the Ring.  My life revolves around dogs, from my job as a service dog trainer, my secondary job teaching obedience classes, my own dog's training, and to the fact that Vito's separation anxiety means that he's not left alone, ever.  So yeah I have no social life outside of the dog community.   I laughed when the current topic is on Life Outside the Ring.  What life?  I guess I'm going to be writing about the dogs.

Their life outside of agility is 95% of their week.  Until recently I didn't even have a yard or equipment to do stuff at home so we were a once a weeker, plus the occasional trial.  Not much has changed with the new house and yard.  It's great to be able to go outside and practice on the weekends we're not trialing, but most of our time is spent just lounging, going for walks, and a tiny bit of "cross training."

I spend quite a bit more time training tricks and obedience than I do on agility. Part of that is because I just love obedience.  But I also feel strongly that obedience training can be a huge benefit to agility.  It has way more of a benefit than having solid start line stays and stopped contacts!  If you have a dog with motivation or focus issues than training obedience is a wonderful way to develop a deep connection with your dog and work on those issues away from the agility field.  If you are able to make heel work not just fun, but actually exciting for your dog than focus and motivation for agility should be a piece of cake.  And if you take obedience even further and work on that precision, then you're also improving both your skills as a trainer and the dog's ability to stay in the game even when wrong.

All of Vito's motivation and speed issues in agility not only replicate themselves in our obedience training but are magnified.  I credit the work I've done with him in obedience- on not (*or less!) begging him to work with me, insisting on full engagement and drive, building the value of personal play, and getting the rewards off my body- as crucial to the agility dog I now have in a group practice.  We may not quite be merging Practice Toller with Trial Toller, but the agility dog in my backyard is now pretty close the dog I have in our weekly agility class.  A fact that wasn't the case a year ago when it took tons of effort from me to get him to want to play the game with any speed when people were watching.

In case you're stuck on how to make obedience fun for your dog, just think of adding in movement games.  Lots and lots of movement.  Run away from your dog, run backwards from your dog, have your dog spin, have your dog jump up for a hand touch, let him run out around a cone and run back to you, jump at you, bark at you, just be naughty.  Gradually you can add in more and more actual work in between games :)

Here is a video I have of our practice a few months ago.  We have been working hard on engagement and fun in obedience for a long time and still struggle at times, but this was a pretty good day.  My focus was actually on behaviors rather than just attitude.
If you're curious, a year ago we FINALLY had drive and engagement, but 50% of our "work" was complete play. http://youtu.be/Ag1dJk-iVro

So on this agility blog post day I am writing about obedience.  As Silvia Trkman states, heeling is just another trick :)

Michele Fry  – ( September 4, 2014 at 11:14 AM )  

Enjoyed your video of Vito. It always amazes me how our dogs will focus on us totally and how much they aim to please. It's an irreplaceable joy.

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