Top Tips for Good Control
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The full code of ethics can be found on the Kennel Club website.
Here are some tips that may help if you have a difficult or excitable dog. It isn't an exhaustive list of training methods but I'm sure you'll find some of these tips from competitors very useful.
These handlers all have their dogs on short leads. They're all chatting but they've given themselves so much room in the queue that all the dogs look happy and comfortable and they're well under control.
Keeping control in the queue
Some dogs find agility so exciting that as soon as they get anywhere near the queue at the ring they start barking and screeching and pulling towards the ring. Shows are very exciting places and the atmosphere of the environment plus your nerves before you run can make a dog much more difficult to handle than usual.
It is perfectly acceptable to ask someone to queue for you. Whilst you're waiting for your turn you can move further away from the ring until you feel you have regained control. Praise, praise, praise your dog for good behaviour. As you go to more shows gradually work towards standing in the queue. You might not be able to do it at first but eventually you will.
Practice a bit of obedience before you join the queue and try to get your dog's attention. Some people have a tug toy attached to the lead and they're able to distract their dog with a game. Unfortunately it can really wind up some of the other dogs in the queue so it's generally better if you can manage without it. Also, taking a toy into the ring is banned at some of the independent shows such as UKA and you will be eliminated, even if it's attached to your lead or if it's a toy that's woven into the lead.
can try using a
figure of eight all in one headcollar and lead. Gencon and Trixie make
these and they are excellent for calming a dog and helping to keep control.
The one on the right is the Trixie lead.
Ask people to give you some room if they're crowding in on you and your dog is getting anxious. This applies especially if your dog is hyped up and may snap at other dogs. Always respond to other people's requests for you to do this as well.
Don't let your dog 'eyeball' others. Stand in the way of the other dog so that your dog can't make eye contact. Don't let other dogs 'eyeball' yours, again stand in the way. Train twists and turns for distraction and focus. Don't be afraid to ask for space for your dog but don't put other dogs off. If you're really having trouble, ask someone to queue for you.
Some people use clicker training for "Quiet," but not near the ring as some dogs don't like the sound of a clicker. Again, you need lots of praise for a dog that responds or if using the clicker, click and treat as soon as you get the right behaviour. If you can't get your dog's attention then you might consider asking someone to keep your place while you walk away from the queue for a minute or two to get your dog's attention back. Don't forget, you can't take a clicker in the ring with you.
In the ring
I did teach Sasha is to wait at the start which meant that we started off under control and with her attention fully focused on me. However, I started getting anxious about the whole concept and in the end I found it easier on my nerves to run from the start. Don't give up on it though. The wait was easy to teach and a lot of handlers find this extremely useful.
If you can teach a dog to "steady" it helps some dogs with control in the ring but you don't want to slow them down too much!
At the end of your run
Some dogs get so excited by their run that they'll have a bit of a "mad" turn. There are also some dogs like Sasha that are disappointed when it's finished and run back onto the course. If I let her, Sasha would go and sit under a jump so that no-one else can have a go. I carry a light lead in my pocket so that I can catch her straight away without having to hunt for my lead. It's fine to do this at Kennel Club shows but if you are entering an independent show then you need to check first whether it's OK. At a UKA show they won't allow this. What I have to do in this case is to catch Sasha at the end of the run and actually pick up her up and carry her to wherever the lead might be. It's a good incentive not to let your dog get fat!
Some dogs may get snappy when they're hyped up and it's important to catch them quickly and lead them away from the ring as quickly as possible to give them a chance to wind down and to cool down away from other people and dogs. Remember, you can ask the ring party for help. Some people ask if the ring party can make sure that the next dog on the line doesn't come into the ring until you have your dog under control and have left. This is the best thing to do if your dog doesn't like other dogs and is likely to be upset or snap.
In the exercise area
Some showgrounds have plenty of room for all the dogs to run around. Here we are at a UKA show near Newquay. There's plenty of room but as you can see Jamie and Sasha are eyeballing something. In spite of posing for the camera I'm completely aware of this so I catch hold of their collars ready to get their attention back before they run off to investigate and annoy someone. Awareness of your dog is important at all times.
One complaint that occurs again and again is that dogs and their handlers are not behaving themselves in the exercise area. Sometimes people throw toys in a tiny area and it winds the other dogs up. This is when they get snappy. Also there are always small dogs at shows and they can be seriously injured if a big dog is careering round and knocks them over. The Kennel Club advises that toys shouldn't be thrown in the exercise area and this is good advice. However, some showgrounds are huge and if you're in an empty field you can use your common sense about whether it's safe to throw toys.
If we're very short of space at a show I walk Jamie and Sasha together on their leads and then take them separately for a bit of training on the lead. It helps if you do this just before you run a dog. Not only does it get their attention but it also warms them up ready for the ring.
None of us is perfect but if you do what you can to keep your dogs under control at a show people will appreciate your efforts. If you're a competitor and you have any top tips for keeping better control at shows please email me and I'll publish them on this page. Alternatively we'd love to hear from you on the forum where people are contributing their ideas. Do have fun at shows and matches and with any luck you'll have a tired but well behaved dog at the end of the day.
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