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First agility class and Foster Boy shut down

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Has anyone out there used tennis balls instead of or in tandem with treats in agility training? If yes, how do you use the tennis balls? My foster boy is doing ok with clicker & treats, but a short experiment with a tennis ball (on figure 8's) makes me think he will have more fun and be more interested in agility / obedience games if tennis ball games are included.

Example: in tightening up on figure 8's (heeling / "follow me" as agility foundation work), he may or may not shut down. If i have treats in my hands, he is interested & nibbling at my hand..if a tennis ball, he is mauling my hand. Tennis balls are his ON button in a big way. (Oh, and there is no Flyball in my area.)

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I've used balls in agility with Dean.


The thing with toys is that you have to make sure there isn't another dog in class that isn't going to get sent "over the edge" by it.


There was a lady in Dean's class who used a tennis ball on the sidelines to keep her dog's attention. Every now and then she would "bounce . . . bounce . . . bounce" and Dean would get distracted. I had to ask her not to do that while he was on the equipment because he wasn't trained to a level where I trusted him not to fly off in her direction and I was concerned for his safety. It was fine while he was on the sidelines, but not when he was on the course.


So, if all of the other dogs in class are fine with it, it might be a good thing. Personally I like having the option of using both - clicker/treats and toys.

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With Dean, I use it in place of a click/treat.


So, I send him through a tunnel. As he's coming out the other side, I hurl the ball. Same with weave poles, or the chute, or jumps. I don't use it with contacts since I want him to mind his footing. I use food to teach and reward contacts.


I never use the ball to teach a new piece of equipment. So, I used food to teach him the weave poles (with wires). Once he had the "gist", I started letting him do it on his own (with wires) and used the ball to reward/motivate.


I use the ball with him mostly to send. So, I say, "chute" and point to it. (I started this close to the entry). As he is getting to the end, I would throw the ball straight out, but stand near the entry to wait for him to bring it to me. He soon learned that to get the ball thrown, he had to go through the chute. Then I could start moving around to send him from different places. He quickly learned to find the entry on his own to get me to throw.


Now that he knows more pieces of equipment, I can pocket the ball and have him do a sequence and throw the ball to reward him once he has completed it.


I actually use a squeaky ball to motivate Maddie.


With her it goes like this:


I run out to the start line, call her and make the ball go "SQUEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!" She comes running out, tail thumping and plants her rear on the ground in front of me. Now, we're ready to go. I pocket the ball, and do some stuff with her (she has already been trained on all of the equipment) and then I release her with "OK" and send the ball, with a good "SQUEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!" out ahead. She gets it and brings it back. Or she gets it and drops it. Then we continue.


It has been nothing short of amazing watching her drive increase since I incorporated the squeaky ball into her agility training! But I didn't do that until she could do all of the equipment with confidence.

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And don't forget the tug toy - the softer plaited polar fleece ones are great, and even non-tuggy dogs seem to get the hang of tugging pretty quickly. To me, the advantage of a tug-toy over a ball is that while it can be thrown, and is great for that, it's primarily a game that the dog plays with you, so it's building up the partnership. So in the on-ground following exercise, you could have the tug-toy in your hand, use it as a lure, reward after a couple of turns with a game of tug, and then maybe the next time reward with a throw and game of tug - gradually build up the amount of work the dog has to do for the tug.


Can you tell Ilike tuggy :rolleyes: . My girl has always liked to play, but my boy was never a tugger - but has become one lately, and it's lovely to have that extra tool in the toolkit.

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Ok; i see. You're using it as others use a tug toy....to send them through, as you said. But you're down the road a bit further than I am--dog isn't even introduced to the equipment yet.


Maybe the real question is: What should my response be when he shuts down? My guess at this point is he is unsure about being handled....(take him by the collar and reposition him). Or he is unused to things being requested of him.


Should I reposition him and then click/treat? should I reposition him, walk a few more steps and then stop & play fetch? Should I bring out a tennis ball to show him "it's not all bad--look!"? Do I stop when he stops? Do I switch venues when he stops? (stop working on figure 8's and work on the phone book, for example)? Do I coax him on? Do we play fetch for a few minutes? Do I put him up and work with the other dog?


I"m going to guess that fetching balls is very safe for him...he doesn't have to remain close to a human (me or anyone else), and he doesn't have a lead attached....balls are easily managed, et al.


Are we moving into agility too early? Are we missing some foundational socialization skills / work, or is agility a good venue to get that socialization?

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Personally, if I had a dog that was shutting down along the way, I would take it slow - so slow it would seem painful to me!!


There is a balance, I think, that one needs to strike between providing motivation and giving the dog a chance to start to want to work with the handler on his own. KWIM?


Based on what you describe, I probably would step away from agility for a while. Personally I never physically maneuver my dogs in training. If I can't get my dog into position by simply waving my hand to where I want him to be, I go back and train the dog how to do that first! But if I were going to physically position a dog, I would take the time to make it something that my dog really, really found rewarding.


With a dog like you describe, I would go back to the most rudimentary basics. For example, I would put the dog on leash, click and treat several times for eye contact and then break off and work with one of the other dogs! I would start with 20 - 30 second training sessions and gradually build up to 5 minute training sessions. I would keep it low key and pressure free. And yes, I would follow these short sessions with a short, fun game of ball.


Once I had the dog excited about giving eye contact, I would move on to hand touches. Once I had hand touches, I would start to move my hand around to condition the dog to follow. Once the dog followed my hand, I would move on to positioning just using hand motions and then c/t for holding the position.


From there I would move on to sits, downs, stays, and recalls. Then tricks. And then agility - but I would keep it short, light, and fun.


Agility is a wonderful bond-building activity, but I think that some measure of understanding and mutual enjoyment toward training between handler and dog is definitely something to have going ahead of time!

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Great post, Kristine!


Sorry HDS - yes, I was way ahead of you. I'd certainly be stepping back for a while and just concentrating on confidence and relationship building. As far as introducing a tug toy goes, some good advice I've had is that for a shy/unconfident/over-polite dog, it's good to have either a really long tug toy, or to tie a shorter tuggy to the end of a leash. That gives the dog a measure of safety and distance, as with a ball, and you can run around dragging the leash/toy and stiumulating the dog's prey drive. As the dog gets used to grabbing the toy himself, you can ever so gradually shorten the length of the leash, until you eventually get a closer up tug game going. My weird Fergus, my non-tugger - responded really well to this approach, and I still need to give him the full length of a plaited fleece lead, until he gets into the game - then we can shorten up and really tug.

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Thanks Kristine & Barb:


Excellent ... the sequence of "readiness" training areas / activities was just what I was looking for. Now I see our gaps which include the touch as well as tighter working relationship. He is shy & fearful at times.....but has drive, smarts and has really had to learn polite behavior. At home he is enthusiastic about learning (we are already up to 5 - 7 minutes of training at a time) for the most part but is really reticent about the space issues. AND I was ignorant of the degree of cooperation we need to have established.


He came to me with the very basics somewhat proofed (sit-which means down to him, stay, distance stay, come, out--and he's coming along on an offleash recall.)


Splitting the behaviors down is something i'm learning. That's ok--it's winter....we'll enjoy walks in the brisk afternoons over the break. The advice on getting him to tug is also very helpful.


A couple more questions:

What is a "plaited fleece lead"?

Edit: "KWIM"? = Know what I ..... ('do now!)

I've had a big "aha" about the precision that agility requires. Regarding the hand signals (to position the dog), is there a "standard" so to speak? (I can make up my own of course....)


Thanks a LOT!!

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Here's a link to show you the sort of plaited/braided fleece tug toys I was meaning tug toys. Scroll down the pge to see some pics. They can be made in either ordinary polar fleece strips, or even bette, faux fur fleece strips - really soft, and a bit stretchy. They can be various lengths, and can have handles on the end - and can be turned into a leash by putting a leash clip on the end. We've found here that they're the best things to get non-tugging dogs to play tug.


On the hand signals - a couple of things. Key is that you're using your hand to indicate a couple of things - usually, the hand you use is the side the dog should be on (although you can in more advanced handling use an off-arm signal). in the handling system I uses, the hand should be pointing the dog's line of travel (almost as if that line was painted on the ground) - the closer your hand is to your side, the closer you expect the dog to be. The further you raise your arm, the more the dog is expected to go out away from you - so you are still pointing the dog's line of travel, even though he may be working yards away from you.


In working on foundation handling, it's worth taking a look at some videos - one of the ones I'm familiar with is Greg Derrett's - UK trainer - I think it's called Agility Foundations, or something like that. He (in common with a lot of trainers) does a lot of circle work with young/inexperienced dogs - so the dog learns run with you, and change sides on the run, and cna also learn to work close and futher out, follwing your hand/arm movement - you may have a toy in the hand for this.


Personally, I think there's a lot of value in teaching the dog the 'heel' position on both sides of the body - you can use different cue words - I use 'close' for the left hand obedience heel, and 'side' for right hand heel position. You can use your hand targeting to target the dog to the appropriate side, and it's handy if the dog can recall to the correct side - with you facing in teh same direction as the dog.


These are all fun, basic things you can do, a little bit at a time - inside or out - well. OK, the circle work would need to be outside.


Have fun.

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I gather that non-tuggers may very likely have soft mouths....well, i have two dogs in very different places wrt many different attributes / characteristics. I think I'm going to learn quite a bit for sure.


Some non-tuggers are just too polite and/or a bit too shy - hence the long leash tuggy working to encourage them to chase the tuggy and not feel that they are taking it from you - some dogs feel quite inhibited about that, until they learn that it's OK to play that game. Incidentatlly, IMHO, tuggies should be kept as very special toys - used in a game played with you. You can throw them to get the dog excited, but they should come back to you for a game and then another throw. At the end of the game, you always end up with the tuggy - though it's fine if the dog gets a great treat in exchange.


You sure are going to learn a lot - and you know, the nice thing - you won't stop learning - true of all dog activities, I think - and even when you think you've got a pretty good handle on an individual dog, they'll surprise you.

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Some non-tuggers are just too polite and/or a bit too shy - hence the long leash tuggy working to encourage them to chase the tuggy and not feel that they are taking it from you - some dogs feel quite inhibited about that, until they learn that it's OK to play that game.


I see....I've also wondered if Foster Boy's has a sore tooth. Anyway, once you get into this, the dogs do indeed take on their individuality....in spades!

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I gather that non-tuggers may very likely have soft mouths....well, i have two dogs in very different places wrt many different attributes / characteristics. I think I'm going to learn quite a bit for sure.


It depends a lot on the dog.


I suspect that Maddie was punished severely by her former owners for chewing on things when she was a puppy. Often if you look at her when she has something in her mouth (even an appropriate dog toy), she will drop it like a hot potato and look away from you with a very major "conflict avoidance" demeanor. Yet she plays with toys with other dogs normally.


Even after many years of trust building and training, she still won't tug, or play with a toy with a person. She will tug with the other dogs, so I know it's not that she doesn't know how, like it, or feel uncomfortable. But with a human, she will not tug!


The only toy I can get her to play with me somewhat interactively is a squeaky ball, and even that is all hands-off on my part.


Speedy, on the other hand, has a "soft mouth" in a sense. He's very gentle and takes food from people very politely. He's not at all mouthy with the other dogs. But he can play tug with the best of them!


These guys can be so complex and there are so many different reasons for these kinds of things.


Yes, you are going to learn a TON!! Enjoy! It's a great ride in the long run!

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:D You too, HDS. Great that you've got the tugging going. And another piece of good news - you can burn up quite a bit of energy from the dog, and yourself, once you get that game of tuggy really going. One thing my very tuggy oriented dog likes is to be lifted off the ground and swung from side to side on the tuggy - that sure helps to work off Christmas dinner. :rolleyes: Luckily she only weighs about 32 lbs!
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  • 2 weeks later...

oh my...well, i can fly my 40 something pound spice girl in circles....but Foster Boy is ~50+ lbs I'm guessing (we've yet to weigh him), That said, he is a flight boy....:rolleyes: and if I could just get this darned pinched nerve to stay in it's place....ow.

The thought of it....but losing the gazillion pounds I put on over this week would certainly be a good idea.

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