Choosing a Dog Sport to Train

Dog Training with ToysThis week Riley and I finally got to do our training evaluation with our dog trainer. We went into it unsure of what to expect—Riley’s super smart and tends to pick things up quickly, but I’ve been nervous about choosing a sport to train for without some additional indication what sport might be the best fit.

The 4 Dog Sports we considered were:

— Agility
— Treibball
— Rally
— Nosework

Trying Dog Agility

   The Tunnel
We started out with agility. When we arrived Suzie (our trainer) had her agility equipment set up and we let Riley wander around for a bit and check it out. She immediately gravitated to the tunnel, sniffing and it sticking her head inside without actually entering it.

We gave her a bit of encouragement, initially in the way of leaning down to call her through and, when that didn’t work (she went around), we threw a couple of treats inside. That did it. She finally understood what I wanted and ran through the tunnel, not stopping at all to actually eat the treats.

I praised and treated her upon exit and she looked incredibly proud of herself for having figured it out—and proceeded to run through several additional times.

   The Ladder & Teeter
We tried her in a “ladder” made of PVC pipe (used to teach rear end awareness). She still doesn’t seem to realize she has four feet, so she did less well with that, although she was definitely trying. She got it a few times but quickly got bored with it so we moved on to the teeter. She did quite well with that, though she was definitely more comfortable with it if there was someone at the other end for her to “go to.” When no one was at the opposite end she tended to jump off halfway through.

   The Weave Poles
Next up were the weave poles. Using a wand with a bit of peanut butter inside I led her through the weave poles and she bent very gracefully in and out. We did it a few times in each direction and then moved onto jumps (something I knew she’d enjoy).

   The Jumps
Suzie had three jumps set up—the tire and two regular pole jumps. Riley did all of them without any hesitation—none of the ducking under the tire that is common with dogs new to agility either. Overall, she tried everything I asked of her and showed a remarkable amount of confidence… something I’ve worked hard to instill in her.

Trying Treibball

After Agility we tried some of the basics of Treibball (for more on what Treibball is, click here). Herding exercise balls may seem simple, but a lot of the behaviors that need to be taught have to start on the absolute basic level.

   Sending Out
We tried Riley at going “out” to a target and then rewarded her with a toy thrown behind her (on the opposite side of her that I was, to teach her to  go out).

Then we tried her at going to a target around a cone. She initially had some trouble with that one, trying to eat the cone instead of going to the target, but we quickly figured out why: we were using a target she wasn’t super used to, so she couldn’t figure out where I wanted her to go. She’d done work targeting the cone in the past and was trying to offer that behavior instead.

Once I put down her target from home she got it immediately.

   Pushing / Driving A Object
We also tried teaching her a “drive” command (we can’t use “push,” the most common ball herding command, since she already associates that with a different behavior). First we used a toy truck, placing a treat underneath it so she had to role the truck to get the treat. She picked that up quickly.

Then we switched to a foam roller (since she could easily pop a ball, you start with things a dog can’t pop with his/her teeth). She wanted to play with the roller, but we still got her to push it with a closed mouth a few times.

Trying Dog Rally

Rally, for those unfamiliar, involves taking a dog through a course and following various signs set up around the field. Suzie set us up a basic course with a handful of signs and we gave it a go. I enjoyed Rally a lot less than the other 2 sports—it was a lot slower paced.

For example the first sign involved walking on a loose leash for 1 step, stopping and making Riley sit, then taking 2 steps, making her sit, taking 3 steps and sitting again…. and then we moved onto the next sign. Other exercises involved bringing her to “front” position,  backing up and having her follow me back and then putting her in a down stay and walking a circle around her.

She knew most of the commands, although we hadn’t done them in a sequence like that previously and some of them had new twists to them, so she did pretty well. But since one of the reasons we’re moving out of manners classes is to challenge Riley with something faster paced, I pretty quickly decided that Rally likely wasn’t the best fit.

Trying Nosework

Trying Nosework was the last thing on our agenda. Suzie keeps several clear plastic drawer sets (the kind you find cheap at Walmart or Target) in the building and trying Riley on nose work involved putting both her ball and a scent (in this case a baby food container with holes poked in the top with birch scent in it) into a drawer. When she went for the ball she would also get the scent.

Building on that, then I distracted her while Suzie put the ball and scent into a drawer and she had to “find it.”

Finally, we put just the scent in the drawer and then when she got to the right drawer gave her the toy. Of course each step was repeated multiple times, until she was doing it consistently and Suzie thought we could move onto the next piece of the process.

I’ll share what we ultimately decided in a separate post since this one has gotten pretty long—but in the meantime, what have you and your dog tried? Do you do any dog sports? Share your experiences in the comments!


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