BARKS from the Guild May 2021

Page 14

c o v e r

A Positive Strategy

Tamsin Durston discusses delivering agility or sports dog training classes from a behavioral perspective, to ensure optimal mutual communication and Success on the agility course means starting right at the beginning, allowing dogs the time they need to acclimatize to the training environment

environment setup so both dog and handler can thrive


s I set up my dog on the start line of an agility course, I want her to feel excited and exhilarated. At the same time, I also want her to feel relaxed within the environment and completely engaged with me, focused on my communication and maintaining our connection throughout this adventure together. In human psychology we talk about ‘flow’ as being ‘in the zone,’ i.e. giving the task at hand our full attention, oblivious to what­ ever else is happening. Flow is also what we want to achieve with our sports dogs and what effective training sets out to nurture. As an agility instructor, I believe that an understanding of dog behav­ ior can help us do just that.

Preparation is Key First things first. Aiming for success means starting right at the beginning, allowing dogs the time they need to acclimatize to the training environment. Feeling safe is vital for dogs’ well­being, so

it’s unfair to expect them to perform if we haven’t first given them the chance to learn what they need about the environment to feel secure within it – whether it be a new training space or a show­ ground. These have much potential to overload the senses and over­ whelm any dog, not to mention intimidate their guardian. Asking a dog to put in the effort required to complete an exercise when they’re not quite comfortable within the space risks making them feel emotionally conflicted. They might have the desire to work for their reinforcement, founded in our relationship with them, but simultaneously need to learn more about the environment be­ fore being able to fully commit to the learning experience. For some dogs, it might be preferable to opt for one­to­one lessons to begin with so they can build their confidence within a positive association with the environment, instructor and sport before they’re asked to cope within a class setting. Because, ultimately, it is our decision to undertake sports dog © Can Stock Photo / 3quarks


BARKS from the Guild/May 2021

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