This month instead of focusing on one behavior or skill set, we thought it would be fun to talk about some canine sports that can provide a great opportunity to mix up your training routine. Canine sports offer new options for working on basic obedience skills and skill sets specific to the individual sports. There are a wide variety of canine sports out there these days to suit any dog and any handler, ranging from nose work to dock diving or even dancing with your dog. At Doggy Business, we like to incorporate skills from Agility, Rally Obedience, Canine Freestyle (yep, dancing with your dog!), and Treibball into our play groups and group training classes. Why? Because they’re fun and the dogs love it!
Agility may be one of the most well-known canine sports and it involves a dog-handler team moving through an obstacle course in a timed trial. The courses typically have a variety of jumps, tunnels, a-frames, a teeter-totter, and weave poles. The dog is off-leash on the course and the handler must direct the dog by using their voice, movement, and hand signals.
Rally Obedience is a sport that developed as an alternative to Traditional Obedience competition and emphasizes positive reinforcement training and rewarding the dog during competition. In Rally O trials, handler-dog teams navigate a course with numbered signs indicating different behaviors to perform, such as sit-stay, come, or weave through cones.
In Canine Freestyle, a dog-handler team moves together in a choreographed routine to music. Freestyle emphasizes maneuverability, tricks, and learning more about your dog’s pace and style of movement. Freestyle is all about performance, so it’s a sport where group feedback about teamwork and style is important.
Treibball is a relatively new canine sport that requires dogs to use traditional obedience and herding skills to drive balls into a goal in a timed trial. The dogs use their nose or shoulder to push exercise balls into a goal in a specific order. As with agility, the handler directs the dog to each ball by using their voice, movement, and hand signals.
All of these canine sports emphasize working with your dog as a team. Incorporating games and training techniques from dog sports can help trainers (that’s you!) develop new strategies for getting and keeping a dog’s attention and improve their reliability around distractions. It can also give you an opportunity to experiment with different training techniques such as capturing and shaping. Both techniques are largely prompt-free, which means the trainer is not actively prompting a specific behavior to happen, such as luring a dog to sit or down with a piece of food. Instead, capturing and shaping involve waiting for your dog to do something you like and rewarding it, resulting in creativity, persistence, more confidence, and greater autonomy for your dog.
One classic Canine Freestyle skill that we’ll be focusing on in the Mix it Up class is the “tugger” (named for Tugger the Portugese Water Dog who first performed and standardized the move). When performing a tugger the handler uses a series of sit stays and around movements (right finishes, call fronts, and circles) to move around the dog and then have the dog move around them in a similar way. If your dog has a solid stay, you can teach a tugger by following these easy instructions.
- 1- Start with your dog in a sit at your left side and treat the sit.
- 2- Ask your dog to “stay” and give a hand signal if you have one.
- 3- Move in front of your dog in a half circle counterclockwise and end with your dog sitting on your right side (both facing forward). Treat the stay.
- 4- From this position, lure your dog in a half circle counterclockwise in front of you and then back into a sit on your left side (both facing forward).
- 5- Deliver your treat once your dog is in the sit.
- 6- Over time, you can phase out the lure to move your dog from your right side to your left and introduce a hand signal or verbal cue.
Check out our video at http://www.doggybusiness.net/dog-blog to see some tuggers in action and also some fun agility jump footage from the Doggy Business LLC play groups.