Foundations…NOT for the Impatient!

7 Nov

I’ve been playing this crazy game of agility since 2002.  I started by just doing classes until my first trial July 2004 and that’s when I went down that slippery slope of being all in!  I now am training dogs 5, 6, 7 – Sghetti, Gnocci and Vino.

What have I learned over the past 18 years?  Well…our sport has evolved exponentially.  Times are getting faster, course design is constantly evolving and training foundations is more important than ever.

My first agility classes involved doing the “sexy” stuff right away.  I remember taking Noodle over an a-frame on leash, coaxing her with food and having no idea that the yellow meant anything.  My recollection from my early classes was that there were 2 sides during class….the sexy side and the boring side.  They sexy side was the fun stuff, the contacts and weaves.  The boring side was just jumps and sometimes a tunnel. BORING!

Noodle became a very precise dog.  So precise that I could predict the weekend usually down to the day that she would get her MACH.  She was that consistent, but her nickname was “sniff and waddle”.  She could sniff between jumps and never knock a bar.

Popper was the next one I entered the journey with.  He was my first dog and I started him when he was about 6.  I could get him around those “boring” jumpers course but couldn’t get a standard Q to save my life because he would always launch over the yellow! I had no idea that you actually had to teach very specific criteria to make that yellow happen!

Then came Bria and Amati. I knew more, I had a lot of ring experience by then and knew that I had to teach criteria.  I started breaking things apart more and things started working pretty well.  Bria and I became one in the ring, it was magic running her!  Amati challenged me in my training, she was my fourth dog, but I still didn’t have a grasp of the real nitty gritty foundations.

 

Fast forward to 2014 when I started training at Agile Canines.  I had trained primary on my own for the few years prior to this.  I had gotten Amati sound after an injury and needed an experience eye to help us become a team.  I found that in Annelise, she could see the nuances and the many holes in our foundation training.

A few months later, she asked me to help teach a foundation class.  Now, I’d taught a lot of agility classes, handling seminars and foundation handling seminars in the past.  But when I started teaching HER foundation classes, I was so conflicted.  There was no sexy stuff…we just played these little games with our dogs.  We taught eye contact, backing up, we played with cones and we did this for weeks. Each time we would revisit an exercise, something new would be added.  This went on for weeks.  I was amazed that people would come week after week for an agilty foundations class and not do any agility.  Depending on the age of your dog, you could be in foundations for a year or more.  A year or more without doing real agility or playing on the sexy stuff?   I was mystified and intrigued all at the same time.

Sghetti entered my life in December 2015 and started out right away in the Sports Foundation Program at Agile Canines.  Part of me wanted to do things the way I always had, but the other part of me said let’s give all this foundation stuff a try and really do it!  Well we did that and I was amazed of how much learning went on with these games.

In the past, I would have taught my dogs all the equipment by the time they were a year or so old and now my dogs were a year old and have never really seen a piece of sexy agility equipment.  What did they know at a year old?  They knew how to learn, how to recover if they made a mistake and most importantly, they had learned all the pieces they would need to run a course in the future. They just didn’t know it yet!

When it was time to start putting all the piece together, they came together quickly.  What is best part of an amazing foundation?  The fact that when something goes wrong in the ring or something gets broken…(How many times have we contact issues, weave issues, jumping issues and we just band aid them to continue getting through?)  I have all my foundations tools to go back to, without equipment, to fix things.

The best part of foundations, you need no equipment other than a few things you can make or pick up at a hardware store.  I’ve done most of my work in my basement with a bucket, a cone, a board and eventually one hoop/jump.  One of the best benefits…a mentally tired dog!  One of the other things I love most is that there is no stress.  Since you’re just playing silly games with props, who cares if there is a mistake.  How does your dog learn?  Through mistakes…When they do it right they get rewarded, when something is wrong, the reward is withheld.   There is no time frame, there is no reason to get stressed that my dog can’t do that yet.

Fast forward to Vino.. he’s now two years old and we’re just now dabbling in the ring once in a while and mainly to see where we are.  What we have done this past year is train every day. Starting sometime last January I challenged our foundation class to train for 100 days in a row.  I documented the 1st100 days on Facebook (#100DayTrainingChallenge) and really realized how much fun training foundations was!  I am now on day 294 and even though he is doing the more sexy stuff now, the majority of my training goes back to playing our foundation games, adding a little more of a challenge and just having fun with my dog.  We have a set of flash cards so that when it’s late in the evening and I haven’t trained yet, I can go grab those and practice a couple foundation exercises.

The time I have have spent training foundations skills will be invaluable for our future in the the ring, but the most important part thing is the bond and trust that I have with my dogs!

Rewarding in the Ring at AKC Nationals – Warm Up Run

 

Love your Foundation Training and always go back to it!

Reward the tiniest pieces, don’t wait too long to reward, reward a lot and you will be rewarded!