FAQ on training and trialing



- I read on your website that craziness is your favourite characteristic in agility dog. But what do you do with a over-stimulated dog that in agility environment becomes a barking monster, can’t think at all, doesn’t hold his stay and has problems stopping on contacts? We work on his self-control before every dinner, could you recommend any other exercises?


Wow, sounds like exactly my type of a dog! I exchange my good, thinking, smart, calm BC for him any day, sounds like La’s soul mate! If it makes you feel any better: she also doesn’t stay on a start line and I’m 100% certain she would have problems with contacts if I chose to do 2on2off with her - that's why I was so motivated to think of running contacts to still be able to have one of those completely crazy dogs that I love so much - and contacts at the same time:).

Also, when I was deciding for La, a friend advised me to "not take a merle, they're too crazy for agility". I thanked her for making my decision easier: that's the best thing I can hear about my puppy! Yeah, I don't believe too crazy or over-stimulated exist in agility. I also don't think that agility ring is a place to think: it's a place to RUN. I have a thinker (my BC) too and while she is an easy dog to handle and a really good agility dog, she lacks that no-thinking craziness that makes La as great as she is. Bu is good, she is just not great.

I can understand that a crazy dog like yours is not an easy start for a green handler as you call yourself, but it's well worth it. Ask those that try to make their always-clean-always-slow dogs make run faster... You're in much better position as them, trust me, despite I do know it's not easy. It's NOT easy to handle a dog like that. BUT more you train him, easier it gets. So what I would focus on is to teach him left&right, "go", “out” and cik&cap (see an article on my website) - all away from agility, where he can think. Independent performance of all obstacles (weaves and contacts) would help too. When you teach all those little elements, it's very easy to put them together into a nice, fluent course - no need to think, just to run. I don't only not ask for thinking, I also don't ask for staying. Of course, it's a good tool to have, but in my opinion, there are more important things than that in agility.

Hope this helps you feel better and gives you some more ideas what to train on when you get bored by all the stays training:).



- What do you think is more important for agility dog: structure or drive?


I think it's attitude. Look at La's expression on the photo bellow. That expression is all you need for agility.



- How do you know when your dog is mentally prepared to run a trial?


My puppies are mentally prepared to run a trial at about 4 months. By then, we already did that much socialization that they don't have a problem to play in whatever situation, so they're mentally ready to go. Of course, I won't run them until they're trained, I just never understood what mental preparation is required from a dog's part??? I thought that's my part of a job!


Yeah, I have no problem entering my dogs in a trial very early as I know that I won't be doing anything that will go against my training and I don't think it's anything different from their point of view as a training. I'm more careful with my students, especially those that I suspect might have problems acting happy&positive even when things don't go exactly right or those that I suspect might loosen up their contact criteria in a chase of good results, but all my own dogs started the same day they were old enough to start. With Lo and La, as it was still allowed at that time, I even ran "for exhibition only" or as a "white dog" as we call it when they were very young, like 12 months: I just ran them on lower height and skipped the weave-poles. Yeah, they can run a difficult A3 (Masters) course before they know all obstacles and way before they jump their full height.

Anyway, to sum that up: basically, I make my decision when to send a particular team to a trial on how prepared a person is, not the dog. For a dog, it's just another training - if a handler can see it like it.



- So what would be your goal when you first enter your new dog to a trial? Just make it lots of fun for the dog to make him get to love the environment?


Exactly. I see every competition as an opportunity for the dog to find out that running with all that crowd around is even more fun - just don't overdo it as I did with La if you don't want a dog that turns into a monster when seeing a crowd: yeah, La always runs with 110%, but for every 100 people, she adds additional 10%:)



- Do you really train your dogs till A3 (Masters) level before entering them in A1 (Novice)?


Well, I train them for A3 from their first day with me as that's the class they'll be running in for 10 years or more, while they’ll run in lower classes for just some months. So yes, when I enter my dog to her first trial, my chances of a clean run would be higher if I could enter her in A3 as when I have to enter her in A1, as A3 is what we’re training for right from the beginning - remember: turns are what I teach first!



- What do you think about bitches in heat on agility trial?


I compete since 1994 (gosh, guess I’m getting old!)- and I compete a lot. Have ran with unaltered male and for last 10 years, with intact females – also when they’re in standing heat, of course. Have never seen one dog, having a problem with it even though in my part of Europe, about 95% of dogs and 80% of bitches in agility are intact. Bitches in heat are allowed on every competition and on every training, so… We just train through it right from the beginning. It’s not all that difficult if you don’t take it all that difficult.


- What do you do for your own fitness? You seem so fit and fast?


I don't do anything special for my physical training. Of course, I walk my dogs every day, do a lot of hiking, some jogging and some running while doing agility or playing with the dogs, that's all. I try to run as fast as I can when running my dogs in agility, to make them run as fast as they can too, but of course, I'm still much slower as those with longer legs. It's really not so much about running fast as about knowing where to run to.:)




- Just wanted to ask another puppy  question... How do you go about bonding with your puppies? Obviously playing, spending as much time together as possible, etc. but are there things that you do that you think are often overlooked? Any good 'games' you've come up with?


I don't do anything special with a puppy, just lots of playing and teaching tricks. While playing, I make sure to do lots of running and make him love to run full speed and chase me. And while teaching tricks, I make sure he finds it FUN FUN FUN to do things with me. I start with body awareness tricks right away and also do lots of thinking, balancing and "no-fear" tricks. But in general, anything you do with a puppy that he loves to do with you is the right thing to do, so... Don't worry, just have fun with your new puppy!


I guess you were hoping for something more like a plan, puppy training is in fact my favourite area, I just love puppies, but well, I'm afraid I don't do anything else as to relax, have fun with the puppy and just do what feels right instead of following some plan. Puppies are so different and require so different approaches that it's really contra-productive to try to stick to some kind of a plan. Having fun sure sounds like the best plan I can come up with!


- How did you teach “get in the bowl” trick?


It's actually an easy one if you make it that way, it's just a progression of shaping exercises I play with puppies: get on the box, get in the box... Even with a bigger box, you'll first get just front feet, but then I click every movement of hind feet, then every movement in the right direction etc. Of course, you can shorten the process by luring, but I teach it as a shaping game, to make them think on their own. At this point, a box is big enough a puppy can stand in normally, but then I start using smaller and smaller boxes and eventually a bowl. If you make it smaller gradually enough, the transition is actually very easy for the dog. I teach that already in my puppy classes.



Why have you adopted the clicker system to agility training?

When entering the world of dog-training with my Samoyed 17 years ago, I was given many advices how to do it, but none of them worked with my wild alpha puppy. I didn't gave up - what was also one of the advices
J - but tried to find something that would work with my dog. I discovered that he will give his 110% when he works for himself, what HE chooses to do. So I took advantage of that, took those 110% - and many, many years later learned that this system already has a name.

- "I do agility for my dogs. I don't do dogs for agility" is a sentence from one of your interviews.  It that the most important rule that every agility handler should live by?

Absolutely. I see way too often people forget about their dogs when winning and only think of them when they need somebody to blame when they're loosing. To me, results don't tell anything. In my eyes, I win every time I have fun with my dog on a course and I couldn't care less if a judge doesn't agree:).



- We all know you have no competition in medium class. How does it feel to run against so many great dogs&handlers in large class?


Let me start with a little story from my childhood: my teachers in primary school sent me to a competition for 600m run when I was 7 and in that small, unimportant kids' competition I felt so bad that I decided to never go to any other competition, the atmosphere was way too competitive for me, everybody just wanted to win by all means and that hate-atmosphere just killed me, I was a complete disaster and absolutely sure to never get close to any other competition. And I actually stick with that decision. It might sound weird to you since you know I'm on agility trial every other weekend, but I'm there just to test myself and NOT to run against anybody. Actually, I could easily live without competing in a first place (and I always start thinking about it when my alarm clock gets off in the middle of the night on the morning of a trial!) if only things wouldn’t be too easy that way: it’s simply too easy to be perfect in training, you need to compete to see how good your training really is.


For me, competitions are a test of my training methods, of my handling skills on new courses and of my capability to make my best in a competition environment. I compete with myself and not against anybody. I always wish my best to every competitor and I'm always happy to see a good, fast, happy, well-trained dog on agility course. Whatever competition I enter, I don’t enter it to beat anybody, I just want to test my training, handling and nerves and in a process, learn something to become better handler&trainer. Every good trainer/handler is simply a great learning opportunity for me.


- How do you control your nerves? You seem as if you don’t mind that everybody watches you?


I don’t mind. I never said I was perfect and I don’t feel under pressure to be it. I sometimes make mistakes, I’m sometimes too slow, too late, I even forget a course now and then. It doesn’t bother me people are watching me do stupid mistakes because there is no secret I sometimes do them.