Improve Your Game by Training Away Your Weaknesses

18 Nov 2014Steve Schwarz

When it comes to dog agility training there are two areas where many of us need to focus: “Removing the Buts” and “Removing Issues”.

If you ever find yourself looking at a course and saying: “I would like to… but”, “Sparky doesn’t”, or “Sparky won’t let me…” then you may have holes in your training that are holding you back. Sometimes we say “I can’t do…” when we physically can’t do something (like beating our dogs down a long line of jumps) but much more often than not we have a hole in our or our dog’s training. When you find yourself saying that make a note of those issues. For trial courses you can write it on the back of your course map(s).

Then there are those problems we find in training and competition that keep us from that fast, clean run. Sometimes it is Sparky breaking his start line stay, jumping an A Frame contact, or popping the last weave pole. But it can also be more specific: running full extension down a line of jumps and not collecting/turning when cued (appropriately), say when there is an off course tunnel. Each of these might happen occasionally and present themselves at different times over a series of trials. Just like the “buts” recording these problems can help you tackle them.


Keep a trialing and/or a training diary? Dedicated and organized trainers in most sports use them. If you can be just a tiny bit organized they are great for identifying problems and for helping you see how far you’ve progressed.

I don’t keep a training diary but I do try very hard to track the good and bad of our trial runs. I’ve written about using Agility Record Book (ARB) to record my runs so I can track our progression toward titles and to see if we’ve qualified for National events. Just as important is recording the good and bad of each run. I found just taking a few notes on each run right after it happen lets me look back and see the bigger picture of where our trialing issues lie.

I should do the same for each training run/session too…

Here is an ARB export of the date, my comments, and if we Q’d from the last few trial runs for Flyer and me:

2014-11-8Dropped first bar - he was down and not in a sit... Didn't fully stop on DW contacts and I didn't really mark it. Good A Frames.NA
2014-11-8Held stay. Followed me perfectly in opening. Fast split weaves 2xs with angled approaches. Dropped bar at closing 5 combo with shallow approach and shoulder pull after coming out of tunnel.NA
2014-11-8Didn't stop 2o2o on DW/teeter.NQ
2014-11-8No 2o2os. Held stay - beautiful run - felt like I was holding back so I'd be sure he'd keep bars up.Q
2014-11-8Fast line in to straight tunnel my forward motion and lack of turning cues sent him off course course.NQ
2014-11-9Stayed in Sit! Dropped bar on jump in shoulder pull. Missed A Frame down contact on straight line and after rear cross. Rear Cross triple to broad jump! 5th fastest timeE
2014-11-9Just a perfect run!Q
2014-11-9A Frame with blind on landing. Beautiful lap turn pulling past jump. I didn't get in position for tunnel to jump wrap - he went wrong way and fixing it sent him in to tunnel of DW/tunnel discrimination.E
2014-11-9Broke start line stay! Dropped double when I tried to catch him and fix his line.NA
2014-11-9Nice wrap with off course tunnel. Front cross on approach to broad jump cause him to crash it. Dropped bar on cross over bar where I was slow. Rear cross on entrance to pin wheel - then pushed forward and he read it as rear cross and turned wrong way. Then back jumped when I didn't support his line to me.E
2014-11-9Held stay in sit and dropped first bar. Run was gorgeous including perfect A Frame. Hesitated before self release on DW.E
2014-10-18Held start line sit! Slow teeter at 2 didn't stop in 2o2o. Popped weave entry - OK on second try. Send to tunnel - he hit A Frame contact and then went in tunnel. Didn't get contact on lower A Frame. DW contact was good. Ran mulligan and got all contacts/teeter.E
2014-10-18DW didn't want to go all the way to 2o2o. DW put him back on instead of wrapping to tunnel - stepped in! Perfect A Frame, Teeter, weaves. Rattled one bar on tunnel, jump, jump.E
2014-10-18In closing got jump 6A but didn't support 6B A Frame and he came with me...NQ
2014-10-18Refusal on tunnel with short rear cross.NQ
2014-10-19Beautiful run, contacts, 180 jump wrap to A Frame pushed him to tunnel. If I waited he would have taken it.E
2014-10-19Perfect run! Popped weave poles and then went in pole three when I turned him around to try again.E
2014-10-19Missed weave entry when I was behind running A Frame. Then missed entry twice but stayed in. Nice contacts. Didn't read ketschker after long line - was I late? Did read rear cross to forward send. Kept all bars up at speed.E
2014-10-19Dropped bar. Then I pushed him hard down line and he dropped more. Ran mulligan and he kept long line's bars up.NQ
2014-10-10Broke start line! Off course: he went wide of jump after broad jump. Got in position for serp/threadle. Got pull to Ketschker.E
2014-10-10Dropped first red then took jump - 0 points.NQ
2014-10-101-2-2-1-0-3-1-2-5-5-2-2 = 24 5-1-2-1 = 18 total 42 pts. Dropped one bar - got hung in the weaves one timeQ
2014-10-10Tunnel-jump-A Frame he went past jump to me. Dropped 2nd bar on spread on take off side rear cross.NQ
2014-10-10Popped weaves and dropped bar on backing into front cross wrap.NA
2014-10-10Got wrap/blind on double. Out of tunnel didn't get his head and he went to wrong side of jump. Rest of course was perfect.E
2014-10-10Dropped bar after A Frame on the way to tunnel. Otherwise great.NQ
2014-7-19Went off course on RC on flat/landing. Then I pushed ahead in weaves and he popped - then dropped final jump bar.NQ
2014-7-19Our half was clean.NQ
2014-7-19I pulled him past jump - fixed it. He held all contacts - when I stopped and released. I was undecided on jump wrap he took it as 270 -> E. Otherwise nice run.E
2014-7-20Dropped bar changing lead on a bounce jump? Called him over triple - dropped bar. He like all three blind crosses.NQ
2014-7-20Get moving sooner on jump wrap. Pushed him past tunnel entrance.Q
2014-7-20Missed weave entry and popped weaves. Didn't hold DW contact. Jumped long on forward send.NQ
2014-7-20Pumped out of his mind by dog ahead of him. Broke start line. Popped last pole on weaves into wall. In wrong position for threadle from behind. Missed pull through because I was out of position.E
2014-7-11Late FC he went behind me. Popped weave poles. Dropped bar on late FC. Then flat on final line of jumps.NQ
2014-7-11Didn't hold DW contact. Dropped bar after A Frame.NQ
2014-7-12I got behind him and couldn't push him back over the jump when he curled slightly in to me.NQ
2014-7-12Broke start line. Didn't stay 2o2o on DW or Teeter. Otherwise beautiful run.Q
2014-6-21High A Frames but still good.Q
2014-6-21Took long lead out, he stayed and he came with me after releasing and moved past off course obstacles. As I turned he grabbed a jump. Then moving to the next red he grabbed another.E
2014-6-21Got tough fast weave entry. Fast out of tunnel! Good A Frame with FC on the landing.Q
2014-6-21Wide on 270 to back side cause I didn't keep him with me. Fast extended line 90 degree weave approach - he hit entry but couldn't bend back for second pole. Beautiful A Frame with BC on landing side. Got to Ketschker wrap before DW - nice wrap but I didn't reconnect!! He took off course tunnel...E
2014-6-22Got him past off course by leading out - then rotated and he took A Frame instead of tunnel with discrimination. After weave-jump he grabbed tunnel because I didn't give him turning cues.E
2014-6-22Called him over bar before weaves and he dropped bar. He also dropped last bar after a wide turn and jump collected toward ring gate when I was stopped.NQ
2014-6-22My forward motion over broad jump cued off course tunnel. Need to work 180s over jump to weave entrance and FC at end of weaves.E

You can see I record the good, bad, my handling failings, course scenarios, and training holes. Sometimes it isn’t pretty but most of the time it is just one thing only on non-qualifying runs. What I need to start doing is adding in my training “buts” on each course where I didn’t run a plan I would have liked to.

You don’t have to use ARB as your record keeping application. Many folks use basic spreadsheets or you could use a plain paper notebook in your training bag. This is so simple but so important!

So now you have your successes, your buts, and your issues in one place.

What First? What Next?

To me, the comments are just raw data. You need to take a quick look over them after a trial weekend and see if anything new is happening, any old problems resolved (hopefully due to your training), or if any pattern is emerging.

Many years ago I worked as a Manufacturing Engineer (ME). An ME’s job revolves around finding ways to speed up manufacturing processes, reduce defects and improve flexibility. One of the most important analysis tools I learned was Pareto Analysis. Huh? Imagine you took note of every miscue, fault, and undesired behavior that happens during each trial run (or during practice). In manufacturing those undesired events would be called defects. Pareto analysis says count each category of defect and order them by how often they occurred. Most manufacturing areas create a bar chart of defects ranked by their frequency. In it’s simplest form an ME’s job each day/week/month is to look at that chart and tackle the most frequent problem first until it isn’t the most frequent (hopefully eliminating it) and then take the next most frequent. Lather-rinse-repeat. This simple process of iterating over the defect categories to reduce them is what all the top manufacturing organizations use to continuously improve their products/manufacturing.

You can do it in dog training too!

My comments for each trial run are the basis for my informal pareto analysis. Looking back over my notes these are the three biggest issues (apart from my handling mistakes) in this order:

  • Not holding 2o2o position on the dog walk/teeter (and my failure to mark it in trial situations).
  • Not holding start line stays.
  • Dropped first bars.

So now that I have identified my biggest training holes it is up to me to work on those issues when we train (you can see some of the newer entries are showing the benefit of our work on start line stays and dropped first bars by switching from a down to a sit at the start).

Making the Most of Training Sessions

I have to admit to not always having a concrete plan for each training session. If I’m working at home we might train in the morning, lunch, and before dinner. Many short sessions are much more valuable than a 1/2 hour or hour long session. “Real” dog trainers also have a plan before starting even the shortest session. I’ve found once I take the time to identify the top 3 issues it is much easier to target one of them in a training session. If you work on it you’ll see results!

Here’s another tip you can use. Actually write down your list of training issues. It can be as simple as putting them on a scrap of paper on your refrigerator or back door. I use a to do list program on my phone and I created a project called “Flyer” in which I put all my buts and my current training issues. I use a program called TeuxDeux which shares my to do lists across my computers and, for a small annual fee, on my phone. Many of us have smart phones and this is an easy way to always have our training tasks with us.

This approach of recording your successes and issues after each run isn’t anything new and doing it isn’t rocket science. But it does pay off. When Meeker and I went 0 for 7 in Starters Snooker I saw the trend in my ARB comments and realized I was over thinking my plans and after than I learned to love Snooker.

So take the time to record your comments about each run. Look through them every week and tackle your most frequent issues first. You’ll feel so much better knowing you are working on the important stuff and you’ll feel great when you start experiencing the benefits of resolving those issues!

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