New tricks to an old dog - retraining the dog walk with a 7-year-old


My sheltie Hippu isn’t ideal when it comes to his structure. His back is quite short and he runs a bit like a rocking horse, so his speed isn’t the best. However, he’s fast enough to keep competing motivating and win once in a while. And it’s his crazy happiness when he’s working that got me so obsessed with agility! However, because of his lack of natural speed, I’ve done some small improvements to help make him faster. Our latest grand project is RCDW (running dog walk), which we worked on last winter when he turned 7.

The one thing that slowed Hippu the most were his bad 2o2o contacts on the dog walk. Either he slowed down a lot, or then flew over the contact zone. They got worse and worse and during season 2018 they didn’t work at all anymore. It was the dog walk that caused the majority of our mistakes on courses. During 4/2018-8/2018 we ran 39 agility courses, of which 13 (33%) were clear and out of the rest 9 (23%) failed because of dog walk performance.

Dog walk caused most of our faults.

Dog walk caused most of our faults.

I was quite disappointed with myself not having kept with the criteria and ruining his dog walk performance but decided to turn it all upside down. Maybe it was the frustration that pushed me into starting the running contact project with a 7-year-old dog (insane, I know). A project that I had thought about for several years, but just couldn't find enough courage or energy to start. Well, if I wanted better results: higher clean run rate and better speed, we really didn’t have a choice.

Project retraining the running dog walk - what it required

We started the project in August 2018 and we stopped competing for the next 5 months. With Hippu, stopping competing for a while was necessary. I didn’t want to make him unsure of what is expected on the dogwalk; it needed to be very clear for retraining to have any chance of success. With my border collie, we had the same project, but she’s extremely great at listening, so competing at the same time whilst maintaining stops worked just fine.

I made plans and a rough schedule. Our main goal with Hippu was to make it on WAO Team Finland again, so the project needed to be more or less ready by the end of January, the day of tryouts.

From August till the end of January, we worked with great determination. I bought a target mat and a dog walk for our garden. We trained often, but only a few repetitions per session and doing most of the work away from the dog walk. We started with the mat, then the plank, and, through a lowered dogwalk, finally to full height. At first every step was done with the target mat on the plank and the dog walk. In total, during that time we trained 66 times of which we trained rcdw 54 times. Sounds like an immense amount, but keeping the repetitions to a minimum per session, and minimizing all other training, made it fine.

The outcome of the grand RCDW project

Hippu totally surprised me! Retraining the dog walk is not easy, at least if you haven’t trained a running dog walk before. But studying, watching videos, planning your training carefully, and keeping with a disciplined schedule and not hurrying from one stage to the next, took us forward in a way I would not have believed possible with a 7-year-old dog. If we had setbacks we simply took one step back for a while.

Finally WAO tryout day arrived and I was very nervous. We had put so much effort into retraining the dog walk and I had also injured my ankle at the end of October, so we hadn’t been able to test the rcdw in competitions at all, and I still could not run properly. And then, Hippu did a beautiful running contact on the dog walk. And again in the next competitions! From January 2019 to May 2019 he has run 16 agility courses and faulted in 3 (18,8%) of them because of the dog walk. The average speed between 4/2018-8/2018 of clean runs (agility courses) was 4,3 and between 1/2019-5/2019 it was 4,5. And if that was not enough, Hippu seems even happier now, getting to run like crazy and not having to stop when he’s all high with adrenaline on the courses. I think I can say the hard work paid off and we reached our goals!

Our speed has improved after RCDW project

Our speed has improved after RCDW project

During the project, I learned a lot about my dog, about running contact training and even about myself. I know we are not ready yet, we still need to do proofing and amplify the hits, but we made quite a journey with my special little squirrel. This is already something to celebrate and it really shows that with determination, you can do quite big changes in just a few months! And yes, we made it to WAO Team Finland and I can run again - and we have new challenges (seesaw) to overcome ;)

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