Without quality, training can get us confused and frustrated because it doesn’t lead where we want it to lead. And in the end, it eats up motivation. Has this ever happened to you?
We interviewed Petra Malin, a Finnish agility competitor, and coach, who has very different dogs herself. She has a miniature pinscher Manu and an Australian kelpie Teuvo. The experience with her own dogs and coaching others has given her a clear view of what is important in agility training - if you want to progress - and that is quality.
Train what you need to train to progress
This might sound obvious, but be honest: have you ever been guilty of just driving to your agility club and training whatever is set up ready? Many of us have. However, this is not the most efficient way to improve your or your dog’s skills and go towards your next goal. And yes, in the worst-case scenario, it’s a waste of time.
For this reason, Petra thinks that planning your training sessions based on your dog’s individual needs plays a central role in the quality of agility training: “You need to know what your dog’s challenges are, what you need to do to overcome them and then, based on that information, plan ahead. And you need to plan your training sessions well. You need to keep your goal in every particular session clear to yourself: decide what you want to reinforce and how you are going to do that.”
Petra chooses 2 to 3 training topics per each training session and focuses on them. “You can’t focus on everything at once.”
Beware of what you are reinforcing
“It is very common in agility training to perform the course until there is a mistake. And THEN you throw your dog a ball or reward him with treats. By doing so, we end up reinforcing a behavior that we are most probably not hoping for. In the worst-case scenario, we might reinforce slowing down, or coming close to the handler. In the long run, this will affect the performance negatively. You get what you reward - also in agility.”
Quite often people plan their training sessions to the extent of drawing a course map. However, this is not enough in high-quality training; “You need to plan what, when and where you are going to reward your dog. For example, if you need to reinforce tight turns, reward them and not something else, e.g. the last obstacle in the sequence. And then, stick to your plan.”
Pay attention to rewarding
Rewarding is something that, in general, isn’t given enough time and focus. However, it is highly important: “It’s quite common to ignore rewarding altogether, or it's done carelessly by simply tossing the dog a toy and talking to our coach.”
“We need to make sure that the reward is actually rewarding for the dog and we should give rewarding enough attention and time in every single training session. Also when you are training with a coach and time is limited. This increases your dog’s motivation and we get the maximal capacity out of them. I also use toys of different value: jackpot and other toys”.
Keep the number of repetitions low
You might have seen someone repeat a sequence over and over again. And yes, it is tempting to do that. Especially if you don’t have a clear theme for that training session and you want to concentrate on every detail at the same time.
However, repeating things too many times has two pitfalls: “Firstly, the dog can get overtired, which should never happen in training. A dog’s drive is not the best when he is tired and can’t perform at his best. Then you end up reinforcing the not so optimal performance. Secondly, the dog learns the sequence, and not necessarily the things you are trying to train.”
Offer challenge - but protect your dog’s self-confidence
Have you ever heard of a comfort zone? Even if you haven’t, you probably have remained in your comfort zone once in a while. We all have, and staying in it is oh, so safe and tempting! But for development, the comfort zone is poison. We need to offer ourselves and our dogs challenges!
“If we don’t want to get stuck at the level we are at, we need to challenge ourselves and our dogs. On the other hand, if training is too hard, you need to make it easier. After all, you don’t want to mess with your dog’s self-confidence. Setting the right level for training plays an important role in good planning.”
Videotape training sessions
Videotaping your training gives you a better way to analyze your performance, and analysis leads to a better understanding. You might find the reason for some mystical failures or a habit you have that causes the dog difficulties in reading your handling. And, you’ll also see your progress!
Keep a training diary
Do you have everything memorized? Yes, you might have quite a good picture of your training, but a training diary helps you analyze your performance and find the points you need to focus on. What isn't working in competitions? What should I focus on next? What was my homework from last week? How are our performance and speed developing? And the list goes on. So, do you really have it all figured out and stored in your head?
Be it a bullet journal, a notebook, AgiNotes app, whatever suits you, keep a training diary to support your journey: “A training diary, for me AgiNotes app, helps you concentrate on the things that require your attention and shows you what is or is not working in competitions. It helps you in planning the next training sessions and keep track of the problems.”
Put effort on your homework
Do you go to the expensive coaches, get wonderful advice from them and then ignore the homework? This is a quite common behavior. However, this wastes both time and money. In the end, everyone is responsible for their own development in agility. No coach can make miracles happen if the homework they give gets ignored.
Petra trains with different coaches to get diverse views on things. “Training with a coach is very important. Especially the homework I get from my coaches. To develop, one needs to actually do the homework, just going to a coach time after time is not enough.”
Why doesn’t everyone prioritize quality?
Based on Petra’s answers, it’s clear that everyone would benefit from high-quality training. It leads to development, reaching one’s goals and increased motivation. So why doesn’t everyone do it?
“I guess lack of skills or knowledge and tools explains most of it. But there are also people who should know better, and still, they don’t pay that much attention to quality. Perhaps they don’t see the importance after all. They might feel too busy, but I think that if you really understand the importance, you take time to plan. Otherwise, you are wasting training time: it really doesn’t support the progress as it would, when well-planned. Besides, when training is planned well, you need to train less.”
As we all know, the required skill set in agility is growing both for the dog and the handler: “If you try to acquire the skills without a good plan, you need more training sessions, which can lead to a training schedule that's too hard and overstraining the dog’s physics. By planning well, you need to train less, and you are also able to give your dog the much needed periods of rest.”
Make your training plans with AgiNotes
AgiNotes is more than a training diary for agility. It makes it easier to do training plans and also gives you information about your progress and activities. Available in 11 languages.