Time for a little progress report on my trainings with little Roo. Since our last competition, I am trying to fix her start-up routine, because I believe that our current routine is not putting her into a right mode. My goal was to find a good routine that meets two criteria:
1. It has to put her into a right mode for a fast&focused run.
2. It has to be doable on competitions.
Her previous start-up routine (throwing balls) was really not convenient on competitions, because there is hardly ever enough space for it and it makes other dogs around crazy. Food and tugging however made her either too nervous or too handler focused. So I have decided for a following routine – I start with some ball throwing, because I can always find a place far enough from the ring to do that and it helps her blow off some steam. After some throws, I will start doing tricks and reward her with food for it. This I can do in a close proximity to the ring, because we need only little space and the other good thing is that it makes her more focused. I have tried this trick&food routine before, but the problem was that she became so handler focused that she would miss some obstacles or at least run slower because she would watch me obsessively through the first half of the course. What she needed to learn is that she is able to switch from food to ball throwing immediately (she was not really able to do that) and eventually to switch from food to agility obstacles expecting the ball as a reward, keeping her focus on obstacles.
As I mentioned before, she had the biggest problems switching from food to ball. So I simply ended every trick session with a throw. At first she would just ignore the ball and bark at me instead, so I went pick up the ball and move it around fast until she forgot all about food and showed interest in a toy. It took quite some time in the beginning, but I was patient, putting A LOT of energy into the animation of the toy. If she really did not show any interest what so ever I just picked her up and put her into her crate and tried again later. It only happened once actually, and it worked well, because after I took her out again, she was switching like a pro. I guess ball is still more fun than a crate. I practiced that in many different situations, I even took her to a competition she was not entered to, just to be able to practice in a “real life “ situations. To my big satisfaction, she was just perfect! During the training process I introduced the behaviors I will use for my new start line stay – lie down and back up on command. We are still having some troubles there, she is having no problems with one or another command separately, but together they are still problematic in agility related situations. But it is getting better, so patience is the key here!
On the other end I introduced the obstacles. The trick session now ended with an obstacle (sometimes with an “old” start line stay and sometimes running start) followed by a ball throw. The new start line stay is not yet strong enough to practice for real + I have decided to use the start line stay only when necessary, because I don’t want her do get fed up with it and most of the time you really don’t need it that bad.
Slowly but surely we have reached the point where she mostly will do well with the described routine, has good enough obstacle focus in the beginning of the course and has no problems running after a ball when I decide to reward her with it. You can see how it works in a short video. I really wanted to post her “before” video too, but I was just always training alone and had no place to put my phone/camera. But you can still see some of the “problematic” spots.