By Toni Drugmand
The remote collar training method used at Sit Means Sit focuses on having the remote ability to communicate with our dogs. This helps get the dog’s attention in the face of high excitement and distraction and it also offers a constructive ability to make our training goals more clearly defined to our dogs.
In Arizona, where I live, we have all levels of agility enthusiasts from the novice pet owner all the way to national top competitors, including two world competitors that I can think of. There are many schools and clubs in the Valley that offer training techniques and different styles of handling to meet just about everyone’s tastes and needs.
By far the most prevalent unwanted dog behaviors that handlers in the agility community come to me for help with are:
1. The dog won’t come reliably when he’s called or he runs off and forgets his job. The handler can’t compete with his dog or has been asked to not come back to class until the problem has been fixed.
2. The dog gets over stimulated by the activity and commotion of the other dogs and acts inappropriately out of play or aggression AND he wont’ come when he’s called. The handler can’t compete with his dog or has been asked to not come back to class until the problem is fixed.
In reality these two behaviors stem down to one thing; The Art of Attention as I like to call it. It is essentially the most important element to training in general. The dog that can’t put his attention on what the handler asks is bound to get into trouble somewhere. The sport of agility requires the dog to have an extremely high level of attention and competency off leash. Remember agility IS off leash and the dog IS running free! After all, what can be better than that? If all that freedom is controllable of course!
With the over stimulated dog and the dog that doesn’t come back when called (sometimes referred to as “ ZOOMIES), both behaviors are our focal point for the agility handler seeking help from us by using the remote collar training method. Some of our “agility” clients are thrilled after only a few sessions of working on the Art of Attention and these clients are happy to focus their time into maintaining excellent attention and find that they have met most of their main goals with the foundational skills we teach them. Others in the program take advantage of the “Full Monty” and these clients are able to gain further versatility by learning to direct their dogs from a distance and keep obstacle focus and handler focus in balance.
A great example comes to mind with my dog Stuff when he was being run for the first time at a trial by World Competitor Elicia Calhoun of Waltzing Paws Agility. Although I had been a student of Elicia’s with Stuff and Stuff was familiar with the handling techniques and Elicia’s agility training methods, he had never run a course with Elicia. At most he had done one or two obstacles for her in demonstration at a lesson. I was unable to be at this show so Elicia, who is a more experienced and competent handler than I am (she ran on the World Team for 5 years!), agreed to handle Stuff for me. I happened to stop by the show grounds just at the time she was running into the ring with Stuff. Elicia had just finished running her own four dogs and in the excitement she forgot the course!
Because of her experience, however, she quickly recovered and remembered the course but not before Stuff was running where Elicia had sent him….in the wrong direction! So she hollered out to him, “Sit!” and he gave her a quick and snappy sit and she redirected him and they finished the course nearly perfectly!. I have this clip on video and I was very proud of my dog that in the midst of all the excitement that agility runs bring on and with a new handler, his remote training was strong enough to carry him through. And just to note, almost never do you stop a dog in agility when they are on the fly like that….you just don’t see it, so for the spectators who were watching Elicia run it was quite exciting to witness.
Below are the top ten ways that I use Sit Means Sit remote training to aid in agility training:
1. Working at a Distance
In agility it is important for the dog to learn to work toward the obstacle he is directed to and to work at a distance. Very quickly we can teach our dogs that our cues mean the same thing when we are close by and we can wean more quickly to the goal of the same behavior at distance.
2. Keep the Dog Focused on His Job
Since not all dogs are as motivated as we would often like, we can help keep focus more easily and at distances with the cue of our training aid.
3. Recall with Reliability
In agility teaching the dog to come towards you is used to change the dog’s direction from the obstacle in front of him. A reliable “come” or “here” will redirect the dog to look in the handler’s direction at which time the handler can show the dog the new direction he wants him to take.
4. Directing Through Excitement
Distractions in the training environment can be anything from noise, fast movement, an enticing smell, a judge wearing a hat, discriminating between an obvious obstacle to a less obvious one, food dropped on the training floor, a favorite toy or even stress. All of these distractions can cause the dog’s focus to vanish from the job at hand. With our communication we can calmly talk to the dog and help keep him on track through distractions so that he learns to be more capable of handling distractions with less and less aid until he can do his job reliably without the aids.
5. Sits and Down Stays Away from the Handler
The Pause Table can be tough for some dogs. Fast moving dogs probably think it’s rude to ask them to stop when they have four on the floor in high gear! Shy dogs can get de-motivated by being asked to slow down. Smooth and thin coated dogs such as Italian greyhounds may not find the surface very comfy. Fast dogs with high drive can benefit from learning to control themselves while shy and slower dogs can have their confidence and speed encouraged thereby enhancing their performance without the handler having to yell or hyperventilate while trying to motivate performance. It is amazing what gyrations a handler might try when on the competition field trying to get their dog to do the task at hand.
6. Start Lines Allowing the Handler to Lead Out on the Course
It is usually a disadvantage if the handler can’t take a lead out on the start line, if he so chooses, because the dog can’t hold a stay until he is told to go. Teaching our dogs a remote stay is one of the first things our clients learn. Even the dogs with high drive that shake at the start line with their muscles quivering in anticipation for the release to move, can get better at holding a stationary position on the start line.
7. Contacts as Boundaries are More Clearly Defined
There are many schools of thought on teaching contacts. Teaching running contacts can be broken down to teaching a contextual surface while on the move. Cueing the dog to learn to touch a smaller area breaks down to teaching a clear boundary. The remote collar again gives us remote directability once the behavior has been taught close in to the dog.
Teaching the contact as two-on/two-off, or a rock back down on the edge of the contact is a more simplified version of teaching the dog to touch and stay put in a certain position using a contextual surface. Although there are many other things to consider when teaching contacts, specifically head position, we can utilize a remote cue to help make our picture clearer to our dogs.
8. Obstacle Discrimination
The more clear and timely both physical and verbal cues are to the dog the more quickly he can get the information on direction away from the obvious obstacle to the less obvious obstacle. The remote collar gives us the ability to remotely add a physical cue to the timing of both and to give the dog a preparatory cue.
9. Aggressive Tendencies
Aggression and tendencies to be aggressive have many triggers with motion, fast movement and chaotic energy being a top contender for set offs. Using the remote collar cue to help gain and maintain focus in the height of distractions has proven helpful to keep the dog’s attention when in a stimulated state.
10. Aids in Weaning Away from Other Training Aids Such as Toys and Treats
The end goal to teaching an agility dog is of course, to do all the behaviors without any training aids. The remote collar as an aid will have to be phased out as well. Using the remote collar you can more quickly phase from some early aids such as food and toys until you have set your patterns well enough and long enough that they become habits and patterns. At this point the remote collar would begin to be phased out as well.
Although no one tool can create the perfect dog and we certainly don’t want robots, most agree that both the handler and the dog have more fun together when the dog is listening and as a pair the two can work together. We feel that training with the Sit Means Sit’s remote training program we can help clarify information and help get the dog to the stage of working off leash with a high level of success in a shorter amount of time. Shorter not because we are taking shortcuts on the dog, but because his information was clearer to him more quickly so why hold your dog back if he can learn more quickly?