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This weekend my local agility club hosted agility seminar presenter Lisa Bonker of In The Zone Agility for some half day workshops.  Lisa has been competing in agility for many years and currently competes with her various dogs across the country.  In addition to being an agility competitor and instructor she is a canine fitness trainer.  Zora and I participated in the “Cuing for Crosses” and “Advanced Distance” workshops.

Out of respect for Lisa’s knowledge, I won’t be sharing the videos of our working sessions here, but I was very glad I was able to get each working time we had on tape.  I’ve found video to be so helpful in reminding me of things to practice and think about.

Some of my take aways from the seminars were:

  • Consistency and congruency in hand and verbal cues.  Especially with making distinction between the body language cues for rear and front crosses.  And timing on cues especially before the dog exits the tunnel.  She gave some great ideas on training set ups with tunnels to really work on the timing of this.
  • Do not assume a turn as a default.  It makes driving down a line so much harder.  Make no assumptions.  Cue and direct everything.
  • Practice, practice, practice our driving off the start line at speed.  With me behind or beside her at various lateral distances especially.  Reving Z up before cuing the start line stay, and me jogging/running into position seemed to really help this for Zora.
  • Practice, practice, practice our driving straight up a line.  Especially calling her to me down a line, then pushing her away driving away up another line.  At speed.  With confidence.  Practice with our ball play without equipment then add in equipment.  I really need to get more confident with this skill, and start to use it!  The seminar set ups made it really clear to me how much I lack confidence in that skill and so avoid doing it and rely on our stronger skills that I am more comfortable with.  Get out of my comfort zone and push it.  Learn it.
  • I also much appreciated Lisa’s point on maintaining congruency with cues even after throwing a toy.  Hold my hand up to drive her forward until she actually reaches the toy (I have a habit of dropping my arm, and disengaging from Zora right after I throw her ball.  All that does is water down my ‘drop arm means come in, up arm means keep driving forward’ cues).  And using my “get it” or other consistent verbal cue to release her to get the toy, every time.
  • Work the drive up a line.  We really need to maintain that and I need to keep building Zora’s confidence and trust in the path.  Using driving to targets or toys to help with this.
  • Good reminders to keep training sessions short.  And train the attitude you want in a trial setting.  Don’t train tired.  Train fresh.
  • With Zora, more so than any dog I’ve ever run before, my feet are so key to her.  She will cue off of my feet faster and more accurately than any other body language cue I give her.  Lisa was able to help me brain storm and experiment with ways to use and move my feet to keep her on the path without my getting stuck on a line (bonus or chances line).
  • Consider using toys that don’t encourage the dog to dive and grab, wrenching their neck.  Lisa recommended holey-rollers and lotus balls.  I totally agree with her.  I flinch and cringe every time Zora happens to grab a tennis ball like that.  When she was younger I tried so hard to get her to love larger, easier to grab balls and toys.  We have so many sizes of holey-rollers and other big softer toys from those efforts.  To no avail.  Zora dislikes the taste of the holey-rollers, she literally will pick it up and then spit it out with disgust.  The closest compromise we could find were the Jolly Balls.  But they are hard to throw into position without them bouncing (which is worse as then she launches, twisting in mid air and I scream in panic as I swear she’ll break her back on day doing that).  So I will go back to the drawing board, see if anything new on the dog ball toy market and for the time being tennis balls are it.

All in all, excellent seminars.  Lots of good take aways and things to remember, set up, think about and practice.  Excellent way to spend our weekend!

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