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Today I worked both Lyra and Brito through a series of simple behaviors. All of the exercises involved skills that they know well, like circle a cone or pivot on a disc, but I had to read exactly how each one was to be performed off of a piece of paper.   I had food and toys available to me and I was working in my home training area.

And it was a bit of a disaster.

Even with my dogs on a stay while I read, the lack of leadership on my part was obvious and as a result, each time I started a new behavior I could feel how we had lost our working connection. I didn’t have a clear plan for our working time, and they knew it.

This got me thinking about novice handlers; the ones who enter the competition ring without sufficient confidence in what is going to happen.  Or who train haphazardly and without a plan, losing energy as they move equipment or contemplate what to do next.

Leadership is critical.  Your dog has to believe that you know exactly what is going on, and that you’ll maintain the flow of training.  This doesn’t necessarily mean being energetic, but it does mean being connected and confident.

Regardless of sport – obedience, agility, rally or any others, you MUST handle with confidence and a plan, even if you’re not feeling it inside.  If you are training, then you must have a clear idea of what you want to do in the session, and a plan for getting there smoothly and with minimal down time. If you are in competition, you must know the order of exercises and where you are going.  And if you don’t – you get lost or confused – then fake it!  It’s better to go wrong and have your dog oblivious than it is to wander around like a lost puppy while your dog loses confidence in you.

Your dog is counting on you.

Try it and see what you think.  Plan out a series of activities, and work hard to maintain flow and connection at all times.  If something goes wrong and you’re not sure what to do, hand your dog a cookie and move on; figure it out later.  Keep the session short; rarely should good training go over fifteen minutes.  Keep you energy level even and work to project leadership and confidence in your plan.

And just for fun, arrange another session where you write out the exercises on pieces of paper, place them in a hat, and after completing one – go to the hat and pull out an exercise at random.  Read it, set it up, and then get your dog.  Try it out.  Repeat until you have completed your series of behaviors.

At the end of each session, evaluate how you felt and how your dog performed. Better yet, videotape and compare.

To be honest, I was shocked at how hard this was for both me and my dogs.  Later on I tried again, but this time I memorized the first several exercises.  It went well.

What did I change?  I added leadership.

About dfenzi

I'm a professional dog trainer who specializes in building relationship in dog handler teams who compete in dog sports. My personal passions are Competitive Obedience and no force (motivational) dog training. I travel throughout the world teaching seminars on topics related to Dog Obedience and Building Drives and Motivation. I own Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, a comprehensive online school for motivational training of performance sport dogs.

7 responses »

  1. Thank you for this timely post! This is exactly how I let Kiwi down at the fun match last weekend. She looked to me and I was lost myself. I’m still beating myself up a bit, but reading this helps. I was kicking myself because “I know better”. To hear that you struggled a bit and felt a loss of connection is actually quite comforting to me.

    I am always so appreciative for your honest self assessments and willingness to share the less than perfect. You are pretty unique in that! It gives hope to those of us who are not nearly as accomplished.

  2. Constance DeCoud

    This was an ah ha moment for me.

  3. For sure! A judge just suggested a book to my class last weekend titled, “Top Dog” that I am reading now about this. I put so much into training my pups and I should be doing the same for myself too!

  4. Thank you! Funny how the universe works. This last weekend a judge during our Rally briefing was discussing how we get so nervous in the ring. He recommended a book titled, “Top Dogs” I spend so much energy into training my pups. I should be doing just the same for myself!

  5. I have a dog show tomorrow and I have it all planned out all the way from packing up the cooler and chairs to the end of the day and walking in through the front door, playing outside and then a long nap!

  6. My love is agility. I have competed with several dogs and now I have a GSD who is my service dog. I’m not able to run so I do mostly fast walking when able or standing still and doing vocal commands. I’m doing this so he will not get bored. This gives him exercise and use to obeying me. I work what I have learned in agility class twice a day and then put exercises together. He is a quick study and there is no way I am able to keep up with him. I work about 15 minutes twice a day. Working like this also works his brain. I am not working for competition I am working for him. It also works my brain.
    We also do basic obedience in the driveway going to the mail box so he is getting his work in that. Our obedience club meets once a week and we attend when possible.


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