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Solving Common Problems in Agility

by  Karen Gloor

          There are as many training methods for the sport of dog agility as there are handlers.  Ask any one person what to do in a given circumstance, and you will get as many answers as people you ask!  I guess what I’m trying to say is there is no RIGHT way to train…you simply need to figure out what works best for your dog, and apply your own training method.  Even though my column focuses on Beagles in agility, each Beagle is different and will require different methods.  However, there are a few things we all have in common and I will attempt to address these things in this column.

Sniffing

          Raise your right hand and say the following 3 times…”I own a Beagle…he/she WILL sniff!”  Once you’ve got that in your head, now you need some tools in order to work with it.  Again, I received many suggestions for sniffers…here is a sampling:

  • Put Vicks/Carmex/Lavender/Vaseline up their nose.  They won’t sniff if they can’t catch a scent.
  • Use a leash and a training collar (aka. A choke chain) and every time they go to sniff, yank their head up and yell at them.
  • Use an electronic collar.  Any time she sniffs, zap her.

          Since I am violently opposed to methods involving jerks on a collar or “zapping” my dog, I employed a method of my own.  First, I would load myself down with treats and a clicker.  Then, I would go and practice with her either at the practice site or in my backyard.  Anytime she sniffed DURING PRACTICE ONLY, I would come from behind her, place my hand on her neck and firmly say “No Sniff.”  When she lifted her head, I would click the clicker, give her treats and praise abundantly.  This method took very few repetitions before she figured out the game.  Soon I could eliminate the touch, and then eventually the clicker.  Now, anytime I say “No Sniff,” her head comes up and she’s ready to go.  I can’t say it’s foolproof, but it drastically improved our performance on the agility course.

Contacts

          Don’t know about you all, but NEA loves to go bounding right over the contact zone on the dog walk.  She has been faulted more for this error than anything else.  As an agility judge, this is a fault I have called on many Beagles all across the country.  Again, there are many, many methods to train contacts and I must say that with NEA, it’s hit or miss, but the only thing I have found to work for NEA is having her stop in the yellow on the down side of the dogwalk.  Once she stops, I click with my trusty clicker and give treats.  I also use the command “Hit It”, though you can use whatever command you like.  During trials when she is barreling over the dogwalk at 80 miles an hour, the only chance I have that she will actually get the contact is if I meet her at the end of the walk while yelling “HIT IT” along the way!  This means that I must be in shape, which is why I now work out several times a week!

Stubbornness

          Again, you own a Beagle, they have an independent streak…recognize that fact and all will be well!  When NEA has her own agenda, it can be very difficult to keep her on task.  Especially when we were first starting out in agility.  I could do nothing to keep her in the ring.  She either ran out after a scent or ran out just because.  The only thing I did to correct this behavior was I kept agility fun and didn’t place a whole lot of pressure on me or her.  Easier said than done, but once you put agility and showing in the proper perspective, it’s an easy task to master.  Many dogs will simply shut the handler off when they become stressed and will do what makes them happy, which may be running out of the ring, sniffing, stopping at jumps…any one of these are stressful behaviors that indicate that you need to work on relaxing and running your dog for the sheer fun of it.

          My basic message throughout is have fun with your Beagle!!!  The more fun you make the sport for your Beagle, the better he/she will run for you.  We all like to earn titles, but if we as the handler stress out about each and every run, your Beagle will NOT have a good time.  So go out there, enjoy the time you get to spend with your dog, and run fast and clean!

Should you have a concern regarding the health of your Beagle(s), you should contact your veterinarian. All information on this site is presented solely for educational and informational purposes and should not, at any time, be considered a substitute for seeking or receiving veterinary care for your Beagle(s).