[00:00:00] Hey, everyone. Welcome to fostering excellence. Inability the podcast. I'm your host competitor, coach and mentor Megan Foster. I help agility enthusiasts focus on the small details of training and behavior while still having a clear understanding of their big picture goals. Join me as I take you through key elements of dog agility, training, competing, and teaching, and how you can take action today to start improving your skills within the sport.
Let's get started. Hey, everyone. This is a super fun episode for me today. We are talking all about agility, foundations and the skills that are inside of my agility training program. And I want to break them down and talk about how they directly impact my agility training later on. And there's kind.
Modules, and then lots of [00:01:00] different, smaller behaviors that go into those. And there's not any certain order to any of these things. Like I a really obvious theme in all of my training is that I want to start a lot of different behaviors and then I want to progress each of those behaviors based on what the dog in front of me needs so that I'm always focusing on.
building towards this really nice balance of pushiness yet self-regulated obstacle and handler focus so that I'm always putting my training energy into the type of training that the dog in front of me needs. So not in any particular order, let's dive into the first bit. Targeting. So I really like to teach, targeting to young puppies because it can be very puppy friendly, very body friendly, and it just teaches them about moving [00:02:00] their bodies and using their bodies in a variety of ways to earn reinforcement.
And that's going to. me later on when I'm teaching obstacle skills, they have this kind of wide repertoire of movements that I know how to set up either via how I set up my position in relation to the dog or how I set up my prop usage later on. So I teach nose targeting. And I can teach like nose to hand or noses to, um, vertical target or nose to target on the ground.
And I can use nose targeting to kind of self regulate, bring the dog into stillness, and I can do that via a duration nose target, or a sticky nose target, but I can also teach targeting with a little bit more. Animation and movement and higher arousal. So I can do like a [00:03:00] leaping high hand touch. And I can use that to kind of bring a dog's arousal level up a little bit, bring in some more animation and bring in some more movement.
I'm gonna maybe need both of those skills depending on the dog. But I might already know which one is the priority and which one that I would teach first, for instance, my 14 month old border quality sprint. She learned the sticky nose target first because I knew that I wanted to have a lot of skills for bringing stillness and self-regulation into.
Her training. And now recently I've now started adding in the more, you know, pop up and touch my hand for introducing a little bit more animation to some. stationary behaviors. Okay. The next thing, another targeting exercise that I do is front feet targeting. So this might look like perch work or just putting your, so [00:04:00] putting your front feet on a, a raised object.
This is gonna help me potentially teach lineups. It's going to, it can to kind of transform into some fitness exercises and while that's. current. Like that's not my expertise, so it's not in my program. It is important agility dogs to have some fitness skills so that they can work on those. um, as prevention and also if they ever need rehab, that's gonna be a foundation skill you need for any fitness training.
So putting your front feet on things, um, it's also going to kind of fast track, any sort of stationing work that you do, or any stopped contact work that you do. So then you have the ability to use front foot targets. If you need them, it's going to fast track your ability to teach running contacts, because they'll know that touching something with their front feet is reinforc.
So it it's puppy friendly and has a [00:05:00] wide variety of things that it could turn into later on. I also teach backfoot targeting, so this can look like backing up or. Which is what I use directly to teach. My Teeter behavior is a backing up behavior. Again, you've got some fitness foundations that comes from back foot targeting.
You've got the same types of things. Stopped. Contacts can be a rear foot behavior. So I can use back foot targeting to teach my, for my 2 1 2 off. And it's also going to be important in running contact training that they know that their rear. Touching something is reimbursable as I've kind of already hinted with all of these things.
When I'm teaching targeting, I want to introduce both stillness with targeting and movement with targeting. So there's going to be some situation, some props where the. [00:06:00] Prop is going to queue, target this and be still, and there's going to be props that I use that cue the dog to mean target this, but keep moving.
And that's all going to be set up with prop usage and reinforcement usage and just how I set the stage of that training session in particular. So all of those skills are going to be filed under targeting. They're all gonna be very puppy friendly and they're going to. Multiple applications for later on in that dog's career, the next kind of foundation, uh, set that I look at is what I refer to as stay put versus go.
And this is just teaching the dog, the. Ability to queue discriminate between when should I stay still? And when should I move again? This is going to directly impact your start line training, any stopped contact training, um, your table training. And I do [00:07:00] think that giving the dogs the skill and the concept of knowing when the handler is relevant and when the handler is not relevant.
And when to listen to the handler and when to follow the handler and when to stay put, does directly impact their ability to maintain commitment when they're in motion or maintain commitment to the weave poles. So I think if they learn early on that, there are clear. Cues around when to move when not to move, when to follow the handler, when not to follow the handler, even when they're just stationary.
I do think that that helps them later on when they're in movement. And those are kind of the things that I want to split that into as well, that I want to be able to put my dog into a stationary position and have them discriminate. release cues or stay put cues. And I want them to also be able [00:08:00] to stop their own motion and discriminate between stay, put cues versus move cues or go cues.
So basically this looks like I can put the dog on the station and I can show the dog the difference in their reinforcement cues. Right. So I have some reinforcement cues that mean stay there. I'm gonna bring the cookie to you versus. Reinforcement cues that mean you're allowed to move, go chase that reward.
I'm also going to introduce position changes into this work because those are, stay put cues, but move a little, right? They're change your position. I'm going to introduce all sorts of things. That I refer to as handler ill relevancy, meaning that if I put you in a sta if I queue a stay put position. So if I queue you to get on your station and maintain your sit behavior, and I start moving away, I want them to stay [00:09:00] there until I give them a specific verbal cue.
That means move. And so this is where we get really. really detailed about our clean releases. And like I said, the queue discrimination, which is so great for later on when we are teaching variability specific verbal cues, they already have that ability to listen and respond appropriately. And they also already have that ability to understand that in some situations, the verbal cue overrides.
Physical cue. Right? So the dog's natural response to you walking away from them would be to follow you. They're learning how to override that innate response and wait for the verbal cue that tells them to go. So if they're learning that from the very beginning, it's going to be so much easier to apply that later on when they are very, very excited to go and amped up to play [00:10:00] this game.
And I can really get creative with stay, put versus go. I can. It means that once my dog has the concept, I have basically I have a start line, stay an informal one immediately from the beginning. And that means that I'm better able to practice things on my own because I can ask the dog for varying amounts of duration and they already have that concept before they even know.
obstacles are, or any other things are. So I can really increase its value very quickly and increase the intensity and the difficulty very quickly. And that's just a skill that starts very early in my dog's lives and just continues to build so that when I am putting together my formal start line routines, the stay behavior itself is already built for me.
I don't have to put any more effort into it. I just have to connect the pieces of the rest of the. [00:11:00] The third piece of foundations for me is the following the handling and handling on the flat. This is where I just reinforce my puppy or young dogs, innate desire to follow my physical cues. This is just reinforcing that when I speed up, you speed up after me.
When I turn you turn with me. So. The handling on the flat that I tend to focus on is circles. So that I'm practicing my mechanics of maintaining connection with them. As I start to turn away, they're practicing, staying on the correct side of me. They're having to regulate their stride and speed to make sure that they stay on the line next to me.
And I'm also getting to observe. does my dog tend to, uh, move away from me when I turn in a circle, do they want to flank me? Do they wanna come in close to me? Is there default to want to come in [00:12:00] front and try and cut me off? Are they trying to slip behind? This gives me the ability to observe what they're naturally doing in reaction to my motion.
And then that way I can get ahead of it later on, because definitely especially the younger, the puppy that we're doing this with their genetics are gonna show up very quickly. In those situations and we can't change genetics, but we can change our training plans to support what those dog that dog's genetics need in order to have a more clear understanding of the dog and the dog has a ver more clear understanding of your own handling cues.
Obviously with handling on the flat and following the handling, I'm going to also include turns. And this is just like pulls and pushes making sure that the dog does react to any changes in direction or any amount of deceleration that I might do. I. I'm also going to show them some basic handling techniques on the flat.
[00:13:00] This is mostly they, like I said, they already know it. So if you are comfortable, I influent with these handling techniques. It should be pretty easy for the dog to respond. So I will show them a front cross on the flat I'll show them rear crossing on the flat, how to make those lead changes when I'm behind them.
Versus when I'm in front of them, I'll show them a blind cross on the flat so that I'm confirming for. When it is appropriate and when it is not appropriate to cut behind me, which is definitely a really easy way of showing the dog, the difference between stay on the shoulder that I'm looking over versus this is when we change to the other shoulder behind my back.
So if your dog is doing that or your puppy is doing that, my first step is to show them when it's appropriate and then work my way back from. And I also show them things on the flat like lap turns or tandem turns or flicks. And if those terms are not, uh, in your [00:14:00] vocabulary, they are essentially turns on the flat where the dog has to turn away from the handler, um, in 180 to 360 degrees.
So I'm just showing the puppy or the new two agility dog that, that they can move their bodies. in ways that are opposite of where I'm standing. So dogs are naturally wanting to turn towards their handler. So from a very, very young age, very young in their career, I'm also showing them how to turn away from me and making sure that their bodies are comfortable moving in both directions equally.
So showing them this kind of handling on the flat stuff gives me the ability to observe. Their natural tendencies. Do they prefer to turn to the left? Do they prefer to turn to the right? Um, usually their, they will work a little bit harder in their in their UN [00:15:00] UN preferred direction. So for example, sprint prefers to turn to the right.
So her turns are actually better to the left because she has to think more about them. And so I actually see more effort goes into her left turns, even though she would typically default to turning to the right. So there's some interesting things that you can observe about that and build your training sessions to help balance those things out.
The next foundation set of skills that I focus on from the very beginning is the dog's ability to commit and maintain commitment to a variety of things. So the very first thing that I'm doing is making sure that they can commit and remain committed to their reinforc. so this starts as soon as I'm teaching them about what reinforcers are.
And that's like the first thing that I work on with my [00:16:00] puppies anyways. So once they get pretty good fluency with their reinforcement cues, I'm going to use something like tossed food to start introducing. M keeping commitment. So if I queue get, and I toss a cookie, I'm gonna toss it to my right and I'm gonna start running to my left.
So the dog's learning how to maintain their path towards that cookie and eat that cookie before they run towards me to catch up. And I would break that down. Right. I would start at a walk. I would do shorter tosses and I would build up the dog's ability that when I cue something. I need you to do it regardless of what I'm doing.
And that is a, almost a purely verbal keeping commitment exercise that you can do. And then with pre placed rewards, I can also make sure that they're [00:17:00] following physical cues and maintaining commitment when I've physically cued something as. and those skills build up very quickly. I make sure that they understand how to commit to and keep commitment first to their reinforcers, but then maybe also I am teaching them how to go around a cone so I can upgrade these keeping commitment skills very quickly.
Maybe I've introduced them to a tunnel as they age and get more, um, comfortable moving their bodies and get more coordinated. I. Introduce keeping commitment on a tunnel. These keeping commitment exercises can progress very, very quickly, but it always starts with keeping commitment to your reinforcer.
Then, uh, I also introduce a lot of bravery games and this is very informal. This is just something about my puppy or [00:18:00] young dog's like day to day life. If I am. needing them to be busy doing something while I'm working or need some just time without the puppy. I'm going to keep them busy with the bravery game.
I'm going to set something up that they have to kind of navigate to earn their calories for that day. So it might be, um, kind of a. Cardboard puzzle that they have to solve. Maybe if I have a bunch of big boxes, maybe they have to, um, move through tunnels of boxes to get to their, uh, meal. Maybe they have to move some metal cookie cutters out of the way to get to their meal.
So I'm just introducing a lot of sounds and safe, unstable objects and different surfaces to their. Daily calorie intake. And I'm just kind of keeping an eye [00:19:00] on how they respond to that. Do they, I wanna make sure that I'm not seeing such a negative reaction that they give up. I want to, and I also don't wanna see that I'm not challenging them either.
I want them to feel adequately challenged and that they're interested in working toward. Earning those cookies or their meal that is scattered throughout this bravery game. But I also wanna see that, are they having any reactions, if they have a reaction, do they kind of just think about it for a second go.
That was no big deal and keep going. I just wanna see how they respond to these types of things so that I can be aware of that when I'm making more formal training sessions. One example, this was an unintended bravery game, but when SHR was a puppy and he still does this, he likes to flip a metal bowl [00:20:00] over and kind of skateboard it around the house, which is a very noisy and not human friendly game, just FYI.
However, it was very cute and he was a very lively puppy with it. So of course I let him do it. But what I was observing is that when he. Would run the bowl into our baseboard heater. So it was metal on metal. He would have a very huge reaction and it, it would stop the game for him. And it would take him a long time to come back to the game and trust that.
And so since this was completely Shrek guided, I had nothing to do with this. I decided to. Leave it alone. I wasn't gonna, I wasn't gonna give him a bowl and say, go ride your skateboard. I wanna see you work this out. Just if he happened to do it, I would pay attention. And over time I saw that he was.
Reacting less and less [00:21:00] to that metal on metal sound to that crash to that bang. And so I waited for that, that sound to be a nothing burger to him to mean absolutely nothing. He knew that that was a sound that was gonna happen and his nothing bad happened to him. His game didn't end the world didn't end the sky didn't fall.
I waited for that to be. No big deal to him before introducing the sounds of a Teeter banging. And so that's what bravery games are about for me is that I want to be able to observe my dog's reactions to sounds. Surfaces and things moving or falling, right? Because those are real things that are gonna happen.
Agility. Teeters are gonna, bang. Teeters are gonna move. Dog walks are gonna bounce. Bars are gonna fall. Wings are gonna fall. Things might happen. Maybe fences fall over. Things are going to happen in their lives and in dog sports. [00:22:00] And I just wanna see if I can help them kind of navigate those things.
Through informal training, just through exploration. And then finally, I also put this in foundations and I refer to it as simple sequencing because I want chaining behaviors together to be something that my puppy experiences from a young age. So all of those skills that I've talked about. already in this episode, when they get a tiny bit of fluency, I'm gonna start chaining those things together.
And it might be that I put them on a station and I release them to a nose touch. Right. That's a chain. So they might be on their station. I say, touch, they're allowed to move off the station. So they're responding to a go queue, a green light, they touch my hand and then I. With maybe I say, yep. And I feed them from my hand.[00:23:00]
So they're already learning how to chain multiple things together, a young age, so that reducing reinforcement later is not such a surprise to them. So simple sequencing can also look like station, follow the handling circle, send to a reinforcer. Right. So that that's sequencing, even though it's not obstacles or.
Um, se, uh, like your traditional sequencing and coursework type things, it's still teaching the dog the concept of how to string multiple behaviors together for a single payout later on. That's just gonna help you a hundred percent later on and it's gonna make it so much easier to chain things together.
For real, as you add more and more complexity to any of these foundations. So that when you work through all of these foundations, every single one of them branches out [00:24:00] into a specific skill that is directly related to agility like contacts or jumping or handling or ring prep, or start lines or something.
All of these skills branch out to be real agility. Eventually. So along the way, I'm able to continue building sequences and chains of behavior that match my dog's abilities, that match what my dog is capable of, so that I'm always practicing those kind of working session and ring prep skills. So that maybe as I, as my dog is getting older and I'm focusing on ring prep and things, even if I don't have.
Finished behaviors. I have lots of pieces of finished behaviors that I can chain together and practice my ring routines with. So there's just a lot in there that, so that [00:25:00] I am always able to stack and stagger and build the behaviors that I want over time. This gives me a lot more flexibility to focus on what the dog.
and still able to progress in the other areas. So if it's a dog that I don't wanna put a lot of, um, effort, I don't wanna do a lot of handling on the flat with, for some of the reason I have all these other things that I can progress first and start chaining together first. And then I can go back and add in the handling on the flat, when the dog is ready for that or whatever the thing is that the dog is not ready.
Okay. So as a trainer, this gives you a lot more flexibility in what you train and how you train it. So when you have kind of a broad list of foundation skills that you can kind of be teaching all at the same time, it's a lot easier to build dynamic training [00:26:00] sessions and keep things interesting versus a checklist of now, teach a nose touch.
Now, teach a spin. Now, teach a sit. Now, teach, offering the jump. No, we. To be able to train in a lot of different areas at a lot, this a lot at the same time, so that your dog's education of the game is diverse. And that way, if your dog really likes following the handling on the flat, because you're moving, but doesn't really like, you know, front feet targeting because they're having to move while you're staying still.
You can. Help the dog learn about training with you through the things that they enjoy, and that joy is going to carry over to the things that are harder for them. So it, it just makes training a lot more interesting and easier for you to progress things. As a competitor, this is gonna make it very easy for you to break things back [00:27:00] down.
If you come across a problem in competition, you can always go back and go, okay, what is the base skill of the thing that's causing me a problem? What are the. Variables that I, that my dog is struggling with. And then you can just go back and add those variables to the basic foundation skill that you know, that they are going to nail and then increase difficulty over time.
So it's gonna make things E it's gonna make problems easier to solve when you have very good base foundation skills to go back to, and as an instructor, All of these things matter, right? Because you are the one putting together the training plans for puppies and people new to agility. So when you have multiple things to do it, maybe if my plan in a group class is to maybe I'm going to introduce like six things that night I can choose a [00:28:00] targeting exercise, a stay put versus go exercise, a following the handling exercise, a commitment exercise.
a bravery game. That's just a station that they can do at any time throughout the class. You don't have to even monitor it. It's just set up and you can show them about sequencing things together based on what they've already mastered in previous weeks. So you can do a huge variety of things and keep the class moving in the correct direction.
And it gives you a lot more flexibility in how you individual. For the team in front of you. So each of those foundation skills can be split way down to very, very basics. The dog knows nothing, and it can also be made more and more difficult for the puppy who's owner practices four times a week outside of class, or has the owner that is on their seventh dog and they are totally excited.
And. [00:29:00] They it's very easy for them. So they're progressing very quickly. So having these foundations and having very clear paths in how to progress each of these foundation skills and how to link them together into simple sequences and things like that makes it much easier for you to have a mixed level foundation class.
I will say that it, that is the hardest part about teaching is having all those mixed levels. So when I went back and restructured this and broke the foundation skills into kind of these things, it made foundation classes so much easier because I could individualize this skill. Everyone could be doing the same.
Nose target lesson, but each dog could be at a different stage in that skill. And it made it really, really easy and a lot more fun and a lot more interesting and a lot less stressful.
okay. That's all for [00:30:00] today.
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