Problems with US agility 


After my experience training at different agility clubs in Germany, traveling with an agility judge, competing in Germany and in England at the KC International Agility Fest this past summer I noted several things.  I believe the points in this post show some major problems the system of agility in place in the US (talking beyond the obvious of course design).  This has been a topic that I have notably spoken out about in the past but thought further touching on these points would be an invaluable report.

The cost of competing even locally in the US is absolutely horrendous and to qualify for large events takes a small fortune (and not to forget the cost it takes to travel and go to the large events on top of it all…)  Should success measured by the amount of time and expendable money you have ?  Or should agility be an accessible, fun sport to do with friends on the weekends?  And just like any hobby or sport the goal generally is to continue improving your skills and performances.  Ridiculous entry fee costs is not an advantageous way to promote new competitors OR young competitors.

Competitors in Europe will straight up not enter competitions if the entry costs are too high- even if it’s to compensate for cash prizes in a cup.  The fact that for one run in the US costs as much as several runs if not a whole weekend of competing everywhere else in the world absolutely needs to change.  Food for thought, a local AKC trial generally costs about $40-50 for two runs and my entry for the Kennel Club’s International Agility Festival with over 12 runs was under $50… I find this to be a huge issue especially when the agility in the states is a watered down version (gold star for showing up) of agility in the rest of the world.  What is the objective of a competition?  Ultimately, a competitions purpose is to test the handler and their dogs skills.  To have challenges that teams prepare for and to master.

Furthermore, a major major flaw in the US where entry money is being eaten up and not staying within the sport or to promote the sport.  A cost being lost (beyond profit) could potentially be paying the parent club for tracking scores.  Competitors in Europe keep score books and record their own scores with printed stickers with scores from shows.  This score book is brought to shows and can be referenced to easily.  Great, we already have a system of scores printed on stickers for ribbons in place.  Peel ’em off and put ’em in your book.  A lot of competitors already have a habit of tracking their dogs scores in a personal book already too.  Any profit should be going to agility clubs which facilitate the sport and create a fun, friendly atmosphere.  Money that can go into better equipment, surfaces, better technology, prizes for competitors, etc etc.  More clubs makes agility more accessible to both new and existing handlers too.

Another aspect that allows competitions to be less costly in Europe is that judges are not paid.  Clubs pay for the judges for travel expenses, a gift and maybe dinner.  This works in Europe because being invited to judge a show is an honor.  If competitors do not like a judge or their course designs then that judge will not be invited back to shows.  Simple.  The biggest honor is being invited to judge competitions in other countries, larger agility cup events or even international/world events.  Judges in Europe purposely put out safe and challenging courses.  Whereas, in the US I have seen it plenty that judges who put any challenge out are not as popular but judges who put out fast, flowly courses and ‘wheel loose’ get invited back time and time again.  Why is this different?  Because of the titling system.  People want to Q and get lots of points.

This brings up the (major, major, major !!) issue of the our titling system versus a win up system.  In the US, the titling system consists of needing to earn three clean rounds in both jumpers and standard to move up into the next higher level.  It does not matter placement or quality of the performance only that you manage to squeak through the course- even with half a second left on the clock and our course times are quite generous… In comparison, in Europe (and the rest of the world as far as I am aware) you must win (dog with placement) three rounds in order to move up a level.  This then allows for teams who do not have high level skills to not reach higher levels.  This system promotes wanting to push, take risks and continuously grow to get better.  As as you ascend in classes, winning the class becomes more competitive of a challenge.  If you are not looking to have this challenge or better your skills but still feel inclined to compete there is the option to then stay in the lower classes with easier level courses and dogs at your similar level (easy peasy problem solved there).  If we judge dogs separately by their jump height why is it any different to judge dogs and handlers with teams of similar skill levels?  If you want to brag about titles or have something to show for your dog then why not work towards being in the highest grade and winning classes.  Getting a gold star just for paying your dues and showing up is a bit ridiculous and outdated in any sport- especially dog agility.

In order for a change it is up to us, the competitors, to make it happen.  Potentially, by creating individual agility clubs with members who train together and put on shows that operate independently but follow a higher club of rules may be a good step in the right direction.  Along with handlers tracking their own scores.  Though, I am not certain myself exactly how to make this much needed positive change and of course it will not happen overnight.  But I hope that this post gave you some food for thought.  Let’s get the conversation going and make change for our sport. 👊🏽

A Startline Sermon

This started as an Instagram post but I decided to dive a bit deeper into it because I think it is important to touch on as it something that can often be witnessed at agility trials.


If you are not confident in your dog how can the dog be confident in you?  Dogs pick up on energy and can also smell stress via hormones.  With this, some handlers very clearly send nervous cues as they hesitantly leave the dog at the first jump.  Walking backwards a few steps with tense a “wait, wait, wait” is not an ideal performance and will set both you and the dog up for failure.  Ideally, a handler should mindfully set their dog up at the start, aware of the line they are going to be giving him as they release him.  If you are not confident in your dogs startline that is a problem that needs to addressed as it will affect the dog across the board during your runs.  Immediately, as the dog breaks and you have not set up a clean or even the right line to start the course.  This is inefficient and a lot of time can be lost by these messy and frantic lines on course and might even result in a disqualification before you even get going.  Ultimately, a messy start usually does not mean a connected or smooth run.  Rather than cascading into the same nervous routine at the startline each run- which over time is TEACHING the dog that this is the routine that we follow- stop setting the dog up for failure.  Dogs are always learning!  A problem like this will not automatically get better, especially if this is the routine and behavior you have unintentionally trained into the dog his whole career.

In turn, by training both a startline routine and solid foundation skills, like impulse control, and by actively practicing and rewarding these skills (across the board and not just in agility!) you will have a confident dog at the startline who knows exactly what is expected of him:  a solid and reliable startline with an attuned dog who is ready to go when you say the word.  The importance of a solid startline is significant.  Not having to worry about your dog breaking or getting to where you need to be to start creates a more clear mind for you too.  This allows you to be more confident during your run and as mentioned earlier, dogs can sense this and will be more confident in you too.  Being able to leave your dog, verify the dogs line from starting position and calmly release and getting going to the next spot can make a world a difference during your runs.  On course, having these skills will directly transfer to having a solid and reliable table performance too.  Worrying about your dog staying on the table mid run is no fun and having the opportunity to get ahead and set a nice line for the dog also has its advantages.

Laying down the necessary foundation skills needed for a solid stay and impulse control in and out of the ring is the core step to then training and practicing a startline routine.  A solid stay at the start does not mean drilling the dog at the startline or trying to perfect his stay (especially when he is failing !!) as he is behaving in the a way he always has but to take a step back to practice and proof the skill itself.  It is possible the dog simply does not understand what is expected of him.  If the dog is having issues specifically in a certain environment or arousal level then work to recreate the stressors of the environment in order to proof the behavior.  Train and reward a strong stay throughout the dogs life and day.  Building drive into the stay itself is a powerful tool in drive and motivation too.

Connor Mckeever, a certified mondioring decoy, agrees on the importance of skills like this in his own branch of the dog world and says that “having a great working relationship starts outside of the field for sure.  If my dog and I are having problems outside of our routine I promise it will show in the work.”  Having these skills in place is important even beyond agility or being out on the field with your dog with whichever sport you may do.  Especially important when it comes to your dogs safety if you dog cannot control himself or respect barriers and bolts any time his impulses find it rewarding.

I recommend handlers needing help or who want to improve these skills take my Skill & Relationship Building online course with quick, fun exercises to work with feedback.  Or, I also offer Personalized Coaching/Modules I am more than happy to set something up specifically for your dog and your goals. 🙂

Side note: There is a time and a place for everything.  Running starts are good too!  What this post is specifically about is handlers who let their dog control the situation at the startline.  Having clear cut skills and setting the dog and yourself for success is a win in itself! 🙂

Advanced Balance Disc Exercises & Training Tips

Outlined in this video is a training session with different conditioning exercises for balance, strength and coordination.  Featured in the video is a dog who already knows these exercises and tricks but is revisiting behaviors and knows how to think through what might be expected and what he can get rewarded for.  These conditioning exercises are not only building the dog physically but also mentally by the dog working through problems.  Highlighted throughout the video are explanations of the training and process that I am using while working with Zae.  These tips generalize across dog training and different ways to incorporate into exercises.

The balance disc exercises I was asking of Zae in this video were more advanced because these are skills that have been practiced since he was young.  When training or working with your dog only ask things of the dog in which he is confident at that level to perform or work through.  Know your dog physically and mentally and what they can handle.  If the dog starts to get too frustrated-know your dog and when they need encouragement, help or just a simple reset to try again.  As trainers and handlers we want dogs that are confident and have the skills to work through problems.  This comes through positive training and encouragement to the dog and the brain is a muscle that can be worked and become stronger.

These exercises are fun because they are so positive.  The dog can offer pretty much anything and be gaining physically.  Dog interacts with balance discs and pods, gets rewarded which becomes very fun and satisfying for the dog.  The balance discs and pods create an awareness of where the dog is putting his feet, how his weight is being distributed and building on the dogs overall core strength.  All of these skills and benefits are ideal for agility and any sport dogs.  Fun little exercises to work with your pets too.

I teach exercises and skills like this in my online course Skill & Relationship Building.  Registration is ongoing- sign up today !

Also, I am excited to now be offering Individual Video Analysis These will be detailed analysis and feedback on your competition or training videos.  A great option for those not wanting to commit to a full class or lesson plan right now but are looking for some help.  I love the details and analysis of handler and dog lines on course. Along with having a natural eye for these details I also have experience which has helped develop me into the talented handler I am today.  Looking forward to helping you be the best team you can be. 👣🐾

Playing with Engagement

Playing with engagement is a great multidisciplinary foundation skill for any dog sport or dog trainer. From agility to flyball and even sports like IPO and obedience.  Playing games like these with your dog in turn builds on their drive too.  I also like to incorporate flatwork games with this engagement with my dogs and find it to be a great exercise to warm the dog up and get their focus on me.

Zae came to me as a dog who had no drive or interest in toys and through training and strengthening these skills he engages in play with me.  And on the other hand of the spectrum, Mayhem finds toys very rewarding on his own and it has taken training with him to have him engage me for play with the toy instead of keeping it to himself.  The last clip is of Stormy who is a very high-drive dog playing another variation of engagement.

If you’re looking to have a dog who is more engaging and WANTS to play with you  and strengthen your own skills as a dog trainer I teach skills like these and more in my online course Skill & Relationship Building  🙂

And a bonus heeling video with Zae 🙂