E323: Nancy Gagliardi Little - "Startlines Under Stress"

What do you do when your agility startline breaks down? Whether your dog is the type to anticipate their release, stress sniff, freeze, or leave the line to visit the volunteers, this episode with Nancy is the one for you! 


Melissa Breau: This is Melissa Breau, and you're listening to the Fenzi Dog Sports Podcast, brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, an online school dedicated to providing high quality instruction for competitive dog sports, using only of the most current and progressive training methods. Today I have Nancy here with me to talk about start line stays. Hi Nancy, welcome back to the podcast! Hi, how are you doing?

Nancy Little: I'm doing fantastic. How are you doing?

Melissa Breau: I'm doing great, thanks. Awesome. Well, I am excited to talk start lines with you. To start us out, do you wanna just share a little about you and your canine crew for anybody who maybe hasn't met you?

Nancy Little: Sure. I live in Minnesota and it's prime time here, summertime after a bad winter. So we're all getting out and enjoying this weather, although it's been super dry. And I have three dogs, two Border Collies. Lever is my oldest. He is 10 years old. I can't believe it. It's hard to say. Wow. And I know he, I train him in obedience. I don't really show in obedience that much anymore.

I have dabbled in it a little bit, but I love the training. I may enter him in one of the lower classes. He has some really cute heeling and he seems to love it. So, but in general, he's mostly done agility with me over the years. He is qualified for AKC National, this will be his last year if I decide to go with him.

And he has some herding titles on it, on him as well. And Pose is his daughter, she's six years old. She is one of the pandemic dogs that had, you know, kind of a late start. So I always had to kind of remind myself that yes, she, you know, when I was just about ready to bring her out, things closed down. So we had kind of a late start, but she is a blast to run. We, she does mostly agility. I've, she's trialed in herding in the lower classes. But yeah, mostly agility. And she's just an incredibly fun dog to run. Very athletic, very talented. I just love her to death and just the best dog. I mean, she's laying right here next to me. Quiet, just super quiet. She's really good about that. And then I have Differ who is an unexpected addition to the family when Covid started. And she's a little mixed breed, little foster failure. I had a chihuahua poodle mix, and she's three years old. She's doing incredibly well in agility, and I've learned so much about training because of her, her sensitivities. She does not run, like when people see her running in agility, she's sassy, looks really independent, pushy, all these labels. She is not that kind of dog. If I, if she gets confused at all, she's gonna stop and sniff, leave the ring. So she's taught me a lot about reinforcement procedures and clarity, communication and yeah, she's been an incredible partner and she's so young right now. She's doing so well. Yeah, so I'm, so, yeah, those are my three projects.

Melissa Breau: How old is she now? She's a baby, baby still, right?

Nancy Little: Yeah, she's three. So yeah.

Melissa Breau: I still remember when you first brought her home. Little thing.

Nancy Little: Yeah. Yeah. She was tiny. Tiny, yeah. And yeah, I bought, a friend of mine posted her picture on Facebook as a, needing a foster home. And I went to bed and I could not get her face that I just could not, for whatever reason, I was just drawn to her. And now I know why.

Melissa Breau: Because she was meant to stay with you forever and ever.

Nancy Little: She's, she's pretty amazing.

Melissa Breau: Yeah. All right. So I wanted to have you on to talk about start line stays. Just to kind of get the conversation started. Can you just talk a little bit about why a good start line stay is so beneficial when competing in agility? What advantages does kind of having a solid start line offer?

Yeah, so I wanted to talk about the way people talk about start lines is kind of all over the place. And I think that most people refer to it as the stay portion of it, the duration part of it. And I really want people to think about it as more than that, as kind of a package of skills instead of just the stay part of it. 'Cause there's so much more to the, how all of those things affect the stay portion of it. So the package of skills all need to be planned and trained and handled according to the dog and how they respond. And every dog is gonna be slightly different, but some of these skills would be how to move to the gate from the first, from the gate to the first obstacle.

And the advantage that you have for training that is that the dog's gonna be, if you pick the right way to move to the first obstacle, whether it's, there's so many different ways, like with Differ, I could walk her in on leash and let her walk. I could pick her up, and that's what I do. It just keeps us more connected, keeps her out of finding things to think about other things. It gets me there quicker. It's just all round better for her and for me, it keeps her much more connected. And then, you know, for a big dog that you're not gonna carry in or there's no option to do that. You have to think about how you're gonna enter.

Are you gonna move in fast? Are you gonna move in slow? A lot of people wanna heel their dogs in, I'm not sure that's always the best solution, but, but we'll talk more about why that might not be later. It's mainly kind of finding, experimenting with what works best for your dog. How are you gonna answer? Do we think about that?

I, I'm urging people to think about that a little bit more because then we can try, A lot of this is experimenting. We wanna just see what the dog says. So that's the first skill to think about. Then how are we gonna set the dog up? Are we, you know, which position are we gonna use? How are we gonna handle it?

How are we gonna train it? You know? And the advantages that we have for that is, and going back to how you're gonna set them up, the position can be anything it might be. And what I urge people to do is just because everybody does a sit, and it might be the best one for some dogs, but it might not be the best position for other dogs.

You would think that the sit or a stand would be the best thing for Differ. She's nine pounds, but as it turns out, she was very happy in a down, that was the position she chose. And then she morphed that into a, and I'm willing to compromise as well. She morphed that into elbows down kind of a bow, which is a great position.

Now, I had never thought of that. And that's perfect for her because she's ready to go. She's frozen in that spot, elbows on the ground, but in the air, cute as can be. But so why, you know, why make this dog go into a sit when this, you know, works for us? So we have to think about that and experiment and, and then decide what's best for both you and the dog. And then the advantages to that is you, when you understand and you can position your dog, whether it's lining up at your side, left side, some people are just more comfortable putting their dogs on their left side. And you can line a dog up very precisely on your left side, but you have to think of a way to lead out with your dog on your right.

So what do you do then? Or you can teach them to line up on both sides, or you could teach them to go between your legs. And then you have to figure out how do you get to the left side or right side? Do you back up? Do you go forward? Those things, you know, the other, one other option too is to face the dog where they need to go, put your back towards the course, and then you have to figure out how to turn yourself. But all those things are, are they, they allow you and your dog to kind of understand what's happening and what's next. The dog can predict what's going on. So that again, is knowledge. It helps you that the advantage knowledge of for the dog, it helps you with being able to position your dog precisely where you need them to be, to get, to get a lead out or to get the dog facing the, the correct obstacle. And then it's also very independent way of setting up the dog. The dog's doing most of the work, and dogs are much happier that way. One other skill, I mean, there is how and when to remove the leash. Are you gonna remove the leash before you set your dog down? If you have them picked up, are you gonna move, remove it after? Are you going to, if your dog is already on the ground, are you gonna set them up first, then take the leash off or take the leash off and set them up first.

Those are all things we need to think about then. Are your, is your dog gonna wear a collar? Are you gonna take the collar off with you? Are you, sometimes you have to, depending on the organization or are you going to leave the collar on? And what kind of collar does your dog like and what, you know, what might work best for you there?

You know, with some of my bigger dogs, I like to leave a collar on just at the end so I can quickly put the leash or, you know, I can, I can take their collar if I need to quickly at the end of the run and prevent things or, you know, lots of times dogs don't like their head, their collar's pulled over their head and you can use a buckle collar and then a quick release.

And then before you, you know, drop the leash or give it to the leash runner, you can clip that together so it just can go right over the dog's head. So all of those things are things to think about. The other thing people forget about, and we deal with this in almost any sport where you have when you're being judged is will your dog move away from the rewards and will they do, or can they process information and follow your cues away from rewards? That is something that's, and agility is not trained at all. And we hope and pray that our dogs go in the ring and understand that, you know, you're still gonna get reinforced, but it's gonna be outside the ring and it can be traumatic for some dogs. So we have to make sure that our dogs understand that that's gonna help the dog with focus, engagement, trust, you know, all of the things that you really want to have, a good run in agility. Then you wanna have the dog understanding different lead outs if you, you know, we have to train those two and that's gonna get you efficient starts and it's gonna help you stay ahead if you have a fast dog. Then the final thing, and this is what most people think about the most I put at last, is training and handling a release cue. And the release cue is the most important thing when it comes to a stay that is the dog's understanding of that. It's not just the dog's understanding of it, it's also that the handler is aware of what is actually queuing the dog to release.

So we have to make sure that that stay or freeze behavior, whatever position they're in, is clearly understood. And that's gonna help the dog with focus, it's gonna help mindset for both the dog and the handler. The handler's gonna feel connected, the dog's gonna feel connected. There's trust. That whole process takes a while to train. But it is, it's really important. So anyway, it's a big list of skills and I consider all those skills and there's probably others depending on the dog, but those are critical skills for the health of any start line stay.

Melissa Breau: So do you approach it differently than you do, like your stays for everyday life? How does that kind of factor in?

Nancy Little: So yes and no. The start of, yeah, the, so in terms of teaching the dog the release cue, which is basically the stay, if they understand a release cue, then they're gonna stay put in. That staying put can be precise or it could be just like a boundary area too, like a station, you know, for pet people or dog sports people.

So yeah, that piece, I train exactly the same, whether it would be basically Differ was trained to be, 'cause I didn't think I was gonna keep her. I thought all of the skills I taught her were gonna be, you know, just wonderful life skills. And so I taught her the stay, the exactly the way I teach all my dogs.

And, you know, just so that she understand what the release cue was. It just helped her understand that stay. The only, the major difference is that we just get a little bit, you know, when I talked about all the, the package of skills that I talked about in the last question, those are the things that we don't really need for, you know, for, for training everyday life skills is it's not, we're not dealing with all the precise placements and positions and things like that. So that would be the only difference is just kind of taking it another step or five or six, You know, somewhere in there.

Melissa Breau: So I know we've chatted kind of off mic about the fact that a lot of the times when we're talking about start line stays and a dog kind of breaks their start line, people automatically think it's anticipation and maybe it is, maybe it's not. Can you talk a bit about some of the different pictures or some of the things that we can kind of see when a dog breaks their stay and maybe share some thoughts on why it can happen?

Nancy Little: Yeah, yeah. Okay. So for the dog that seems like they're gonna break or we just call it anticipation in general. We can just label it as that class of dogs that are just kind of itching or raring to go. Those, you know, the pictures that we generally see are movement forward, maybe a change in position without the dogs taking the first obstacle. My dogs, when their start line starts deteriorating and believe, I mean, everybody has this issue. I mean, we, this sport and many other sports in a very high energy environment and we train these dogs to really love what they're doing. So it's important for me to be very clear in my communication with them and always obsessing about what's going on. So the handlers around here have seen my dogs moving a little bit. Sometimes they will never, I mean, there's occasionally where the dogs have broken their start line and just left, but usually that's a fluke. I'm ready for it the next time. But it generally doesn't happen again. And but the movement, without taking the first obstacle, that is usually caused by various things. It could be handling that's just starting to become unpredictable. It can be lack of preparation or it could be a little bit of lack of confidence from the dog, and that could be caused from many different things. So we don't really know what's going on in the dog's head, but, but generally when they're starting to move, they're thinking about other things and not, they are probably not aware that their body is moving. I really truly believe that. So, and we can talk about some of the other, the ways to solve that later on.

But the, the, another common thing would be, and I've seen this happen with a few people locally that have come to lessons is they unclip the leash and the dog just takes off. So though that happens, and that's just a dog that's probably a bit confused, doesn't have like a clear setup routine. Maybe they haven't trained the leash unclip and, and then what's next? And it doesn't have to be that you set up and do agility. You can unclip the leash and do a hand touch clip the leash, you know, those kind of things, just adding some behavior. But those dogs, there's plenty of dogs that never do that, and they're still a little bit confused once the leashes come off.

But sometimes dogs just respond by movement and those are the dogs that are just gonna take off, you know, and run mindlessly or just, you know, they might, yeah, they might go visit. So that, that's usually solved by making the setups and the clear and following the unclip of the leash by, you know, first reinforcement, you know, just so that they aren't thinking about leaving. And then, and then you just maybe add some behaviors. The other thing that happens is the dog takes the first obstacle before the handler's ready. And that's more common. And lots of times some of these things can happen before this actually happens. The causes for that, again, all of these causes, they can, there can be so many of them, but all the ones I mentioned above, like handler, not unpredictability, lack of preparation, confidence, lack of confidence, that's all playing a part in this. The other thing that can happen is the handler's not aware that there's a different cue that's being seen by the dog that they're doing that's causing them to become more efficient about predicting when the release cue is coming.

And that happens very often. I'm a student of start lines. I love to watch what handlers and dogs are doing, not to, you know, I just, I'm just fascinated by it. I just love it. But there are things that happen and dogs just, they wanna be efficient, they wanna be able to predict things. And either they're predicting the release cue is coming right after the handler does something, whether it's two steps out, they turn back and then they release the dog. Or sometimes handlers use their hands to release the dog, they point and the dog might see a hand movement and they think that that's a release. And other things are just predictable patterns. Sometimes handlers just release too quickly, they feel rushed, they release quickly, and then the dogs can't really predict.

And so that becomes a pattern, it's a time pattern, it's just a moment, a few steps and release. And those can usually get cleared up by, you know, creating, you know, better communication between the dog and handler and, and really emphasizing the release cue and how it's, it become, it's best for the dog to have it isolated so that there's nothing else going on that the dog would get confused at.

So most of the anticipation issues that I talked about here, I'm sure there's others that I forgot, or just a dog that is special, they're caused by usually handlers that are just kind of feeling rushed and the environment can make that them feel rushed. The dogs like really fast dogs, twitchy dogs. Dogs are ready to go. They can make the handler feel rushed.

And the time element for handlers is very different than reality. So what they feel is a long time is usually a extremely short time. Like I said, the environment and the competition can also make handlers feel a bit stressed and rushed and, you know, it becomes kind of a focus issue or a mindset issue for the handler. And that becomes kind of a, a snowball effect. So, but anyway, that, that's my group for anticipation. I really wanna add to your question too, there, you know, I wanna make sure that people understand that there's gonna be lesser known start line issues besides anticipation. And they all, they're all part of this, the, they're all part of the start line issue bucket. And those examples are the lesser examples.

Melissa Breau: Alright, so go ahead and talk to me about the pictures that are not anticipation related.

Nancy Little: Yeah, so there are other lesser known start line issues besides anticipation. Anticipation is just kind of the more known version of the start line issue package. And so I wanna make sure people understand that these are still issues we need to acknowledge they're still start, they're part of this, this whole puzzle. And I, and I think a lot of times we, since we don't think of it as a start line issue, we think of it as a focus issue. These dogs are not helped as much. So some of these issues would be, the behaviors would be like freezing, sniffing, visiting ring crew, visiting the judge, running amuck, you know, just kind of the, the leash. You know, they might just kind of take off running or they look like, you know, to others that they're having a great time when they're actually pretty stressed or some might just, you know, just up and leave the ring if they can. And as I said, they're pretty misunderstood. And generally what happens is they're overhand and they're over controlled, which causes the dog more stress because the handler is completely different in the trial than they are in training. And in training, I think a lot of the training is kind of the obedience, sort of training the, you know, watch me pay attention to me, there's lots of pointing at my face, even though we want the dogs to go take obstacles. The handlers trying to prevent the dog from focusing on the other things. And all that does is cause more stress and confusion and you just don't, you may have moments where the dog kind of works with you, but in general they're not, it's not gonna work. So there's lots of strong emotions and questions that the dog has when they enter the ring.

And in general, all of these issues. So all of the issues I talked about, the anticipation and the other lesser known ones, those are almost all cause because handlers have trained a dog that it could be that, that most of the dogs they've trained have been able to deal with, handle their handling or the situation or just they just got a dog that works well with the type of handling and training they have, and now they have a dog that is different and requires different needs, different communication, different way of thinking. And that can be frustrating to the handler. You know, we've, I, I have had dogs like this where, you know, they're just totally different. You try your hardest to get a little bit better dog or better training, but the dog's gonna say, excuse me, I don't know what you're doing. And we have to, we just have to be creative enough to help the dog. So yeah, that's, it's kind of the pictures, huh? Long answer.

Melissa Breau: Yes, but a good answer. You kinda mentioned this earlier, but, and so I wanna kind of go back to this thought and you're talking about behaviors kind of deteriorating over time. So can you talk a little bit about why it's so common for start states to deteriorate over time and maybe what it takes to like not have that happen?

Nancy Little: Sure. You know, we can't know specifically why it happens, but just looking at this over time and having lots of students with this issue, and I think it's, it's basically, you know, a lot of it can be solved by just really understanding that there's a lot more going on than just the stays that we have a dog that lacks understanding of any of the routines that we're gonna use. And again, this is not a recipe, you know, do this, do that. We really have to be creative and experiment to see what types of routines our dogs' needs.

We also, so these are my thoughts about, you know, how this can deteriorate and there's probably more, but handlers that are rushed, they, that's a thing in agility. If I'm in the warmup area, I see a lot more highly aroused handlers than I do dogs. And, and, and yes, it's, you know, we get really high,

but we have to also be able to control that or at least be aware of that. And at the start line, we, you really to have a really good release or a really good stay at the start line, you really need a handler that's in control of themselves and they don't feel rushed. They're, they're focused on their handling, they're focused on other things instead of trying to trick the dog or control the dog.

The other thing that can happen is we can, because we don't trust our dogs, we can act differently in the ring or in different situations and the dogs pick up on that. So the handler's gonna feel really different to the dog. Poor communication, that's a really big thing with me on all my classes. I start by making sure that people understand what it means to have good communication.

If we don't understand that, then it's really gonna be hard to develop as a team. So the other thing that I think humans people have a problem with is we tend to think, we don't think like the dog, we don't, we think like humans and we see things like, well my dog has been here before, I don't understand why. You know, and that's common. But the dogs don't see things quite like we do. They're processing things much differently. They have, they sense, they pick up on energy, they watch things, they respond to their environment. The environment's a really big thing for them. And if the environment looks different, they're gonna respond differently. If the energy's different, they're gonna respond differently. So we really have to kind of trust our dogs and make sure that we, that, that we're looking at things through their lens. And then your question about what, how do we maintain a solid start line? Well, here's some things that will help you maintain that good solid start line is really make sure that when you're at trials, that you have anyone that's videotaping you or if you're just, if you have a your phone up on a tripod, make sure that you have your whole routine from the time you enter the ring all the way through the exit. Videotaped, if somebody else is taping you wanna make sure you tell them, can you just, you know, start recording as soon as I come in because that is, I don't care how good you are. It's really a good way to always check to make sure, do I need to add anything? Do I need to do something differently? You, you're not gonna remember or you're gonna remember differently what actually happened. So that's actually a huge thing with me. If your dog is struggling and you're starting to see some struggles, trust that they are struggling. And especially when mistakes start happening, things might have been starting a little bit earlier, but really trust your dog that they are having issues. It's not gonna get better. If you're helping them and you support them and they know that you're there for them, they might overcome whatever's going on, but if you're starting to see that they're thinking about moving away or starting trust that that's gonna be an issue.

And address that with training. Always return to foundations and make sure your foundation is good. The one thing that I really feel is important is that people have a place to go back to, to get their start line or get their stay again. And a lot of times people don't know what to go back to because their training has been kind of fuzzy all the way up there.

I wanna help people understand how to go, you know, to go back to a way of helping the dog understand that it's, it's the release cue that gives you, that gives you the opportunity for reinforcement. We don't wanna just go into drilling and proofing to make sure that we're showing the dog what we don't want. We wanna show them what we do want or you know, what we do want them to do. And then you wanna go and make sure that you're training all the skills that's gonna help you and your dog get to that first obstacle and get you deep into that start line. Procedure and routines. You want all those things trained. They don't have to be, you don't have to chain them together all the time.

You know, just make sure that they're all trained. You can separate them and do them occasionally away, you know, or you know, or you can just, you know, not work on it one week and just go right in and, and train your dog just from the start line on. So you don't have to put all those things together all the time, but they need to be trained and your dog needs to understand them. The other thing that might be different for me, I'm willing to compromise on a few things that maybe other people are not. I know a lot of people stick to their criteria, but I'm willing to look at, you know, is this a problem? 'cause I would rather not have a fight with my dog or try to train something that might be too hard for them. I'd rather compromise. So I do a lot of looking at the behavior and what's going on to see if that's gonna be an issue. We're dealing with a lot of arousal at the, and energy, high energy environment. So the arousal levels are a bit high in that environment. And if they can process that information without me adding to their stress, it's a win-win. So when I talk about compromising, it might be like just changing the position. Maybe the dog is more comfortable, you know, in a stand or more comfortable, you know, just not comfortable in the one that, you know, the position you wanted to use. The other thing that can happen is there might be some movement forward, but then the dog goes, oh wait a minute. And they freeze up. You know, there's a lot of people that that ha you know, that get concerned about that in my mind is if that occasionally happens, there's a dog that realized and actually kind of shook something off and and realized that, oh, I should be doing this and they froze up, so why wouldn't you praise that dog and and allow it to go on. So that's a compromise for me is like I'm willing to adjust and not stick to my, I have criteria for training that I'm willing to change a bit, but you also have to kind of look at things and see is this gonna be a problem? So different routine, you might wanna, you know, a compromising thing might be, you might wanna change up your routine. Maybe you don't wanna walk your dog in, maybe you wanna carry your dog in. And even some of the medium sized dogs, they might wanna be carried in or you know, I had a dog that was a Border Collie that loved to jump into my arms at that exit and that was cool with me, you know, rather than walking out it, you know, she just loved to do that. And so that's okay too. You know, just experiment. Those, those are things to experiment with and just kind of see what your dog says. And then the other thing I really urge my students to do is really focus on your handling. 'cause a lot of times we're focusing on the dog's performance too much and we're not really thinking about what we're doing, which gets us rushed and gets us unclear with our communication. So in my class, I'm really taking the time to get handlers really focused about what they're doing. I'm making 'em stick to, you know, pausing for three seconds because the hardest thing for people to do is pause for three seconds before they release their dogs. And people will think it's three seconds but it'll be one second and those kind of things.

So I give things for handlers to think about so that when they lead out and there's, there's, you know, there's different ways of leading out with the dogs, depending on the dogs, but if you're thinking more about your job, your part, 'cause this is a partnership between you and your dog. If you're thinking more about that, you are gonna look more like you than anyone else.

So the very last thing about focusing on handling is the, the, you know, I talked about, I really, I really want my students to isolate that release queue with a three second pause. And they have heard that in many of my classes, my glue skills class, my start line class, my stop contact class, it really makes the handler in control of their release cue and any other possible signals or patterns that the dogs might happen to have.

And it, it's quite amazing once the handler starts realizing that they, that the dog is actually understanding the release cue better when they do that pause. But that is one of the hardest things for handlers is to do. The other thing about that is that people have a place to go back to if things start going wrong and usually it's set, the release cue starts to get rushed and that just might be the only thing that's causing the dog to start rushing and looking at a pattern. So we have a place to go back to, which is really important for people, you know, is to have that piece. So again, long answer, but I hope it's helpful.

Melissa Breau: Yeah, Yeah. Okay. So those are all kind of about maintaining. What do you do kind of in the moment? So let's say you set your dog up, you're getting ready to start a run and your dog does not hold their start line stay. What do you do next? That's a great question. So that is gonna depend, and you know, it's a, it's a difficult thing because, but it's gonna depend on the dog's training, it's gonna depend on the dog's personality and it's gonna depend on their experience.

So let's just take like an inexperienced dog, a dog that's in training and you know, for this particular dog you're gonna, you know, just break things down more 'cause we don't really want a lot of mistakes. We wanna kind of build this skill by lots of success. And so this type of dog, when mistakes start happening, it's a flag that we are moving a little bit too fast.

You just wanna be aware that even in training, I think a lot of times we take things for granted. So really with the inexperienced dogs, really make sure that they're mostly successful. And then I, the other thing is to have, I do a lot of station training with my dogs and that helps me at some point start the, the start line or the stay can be really hard if I wanna do a lot of sequences then, and my dog is done, you know, a few, and the start line is hard. I'm gonna substitute a prop for that and just take that away so that the dog only needs to stay on a boundary instead of, so that is another really good thing to do. The other thing, you know, most of the people at FDSA know this, but you really need to be, especially for the dogs in training, reviewing video, evaluating, thinking about the plan for next time. So, you know, really thinking about training this, 'cause this is an important thing for agility people. If you have a fast dog or a confident dog, you definitely want this skill. So that's the lower level.

But if you have an inexperienced dog that's just starting to trial, then you're gonna wanna really make sure that your handling is clean. You wanna make sure, and this is the dog that starts making mistakes. You wanna, again, look at your video, make sure you look at, you look at the dog, are you handling the exactly the way you would be in training?

And since you're videotaping your training, you have a point of reference because we think, well, you know, I review a lot of videos, I watch my own videos. It's common for us to think that we're acting a certain way. But when we look at the video, and this has happened to me where I thought I wasn't late on that front cross and I have my friends outside saying, you were really late. And I look at the video. So we remember things differently. We really see things, you know, and feels, so it's really important to have that comparison. The goal is to make your training as close to trialing or trialing as close to training as possible. You wanna look the same to these inexperienced dogs. You want your routines to be the same, you know, you want them to have, and there's gonna be things that you say, oops, I forgot, or we need more work on this. And just be aware, this is the early stages and it's normal for these dogs to make mistakes. So what is not a good thing and a cool thing at this point is to be starting because your dog is making mistakes to start trying to control it.

Because now you're going down a rabbit hole and it's not a good rabbit hole. There's gonna be, there's gonna be something in that rabbit hole that you're not gonna like. So go back to training and, and really fix those. This is common. Everybody has them, so don't worry about it. And I think, yeah, so just making, making sure that you're not ignoring those mistakes, that you see them and you think about them and you plan 'em.

And then now we're into the third one, which is experienced dog. And if you're experienced dog at trialing is starting to make mistakes, you know, you wanna look at that completely differently. Is it, if your dog has really had a good start line for a long time and now it's starting to make mistakes depending on the age of the dog, you know, there could be medical issue, there could be hearing, there could be eyesight, anything like that. Keep that in mind for the older dogs, for the dogs that are experienced, but they're just starting to get what it feels like. Pushy a bit, go back again, look at your videos. Are you releasing quickly? Are you setting a pattern?

The way I teach start lines is I really, I want the dogs to see the release as me pause, stationary, stationary release with a pause for three seconds followed by the release cue. And then I move. And I know that is not a common way to start because people, a lot of trainers, a lot of instructors, clinicians tell students to run into it, which is fine and that's a great transition to eventually be able to do. There's nothing wrong with it, but at some point we need a place to go back to. And if the dog is rushing and forgetting what the release cue is, we can go back to that stationary release there, because that's where things happen. And so having a place to go back to is super important.

When you review the video, look and see if things are happening that are a little bit differently, you're acting differently, you're maybe controlling the dog a little bit more. Watch for those things. Try to look at it from the dog's lens and see what they're seeing. And then if everything seems the same, then we ask the question, should we leave the ring?

Should we ignore it? And go on. And that is gonna depend. I've seen handlers leave the ring, you know, when the dog broke the start line, but they're doing a lot of leaving the ring and that's tells me that the dog doesn't know. 'cause dogs will, if they really, really love agility, if you leave the ring, you're taking away something that they really want.

So if they truly understood it, I think that, well, I'm sure they would, that you would not be having the same problem. So if you're still having the same problem, then leaving the ring is not, we probably need to look at some other things. Basically what I do with my, my dogs are kind of sensitive, so I'm gonna probably ignore that and do as much training as possible, see what's going on on the side, see if I can reproduce it. And usually that's the key is just kind of getting me, you know, I start getting rushed and I release a little bit early and I have to go back to make sure that I'm not releasing right away. And that usually solves a problem. But a lot of the advice that's given is to release the dog before they make a mistake.

And what happens then is the dog's into this pattern now of releasing after a certain amount of time and they're not predicting when the release cue is. And so your release cue becomes less relevant to the dog. So we wanna make it really relevant. And so I'll go back to just holding that three seconds, which doesn't seem like a long time, but it's a long time and it's long enough for the dog to understand that, oh, something's coming. And I will start seeing these dogs that really understand that, you know, when you look back at them and you pause for a second, you'll start to see these dogs that really understand it. They'll hold their breath, their mouth closes, they hold their breath and they're looking at the handler.

So that tells me they're listening. That's my reinforcement. So you really have to do a lot of trial and error with the experienced dogs and you really gotta see things from the dog's point of view. And if it's not working, if you're doing something over and over again and it's not, the behavior of the dog isn't changing, then your behavior probably needs to change or a different plan.

Melissa Breau: Right, right. The dreaded question here, right? So if you look at the behavior and decide you need to go back and do some rehab work here, the dog has begun breaking at the start line. How important is it to stop trialing while working on the issue? Is there any option that allows people to keep trialing while they work on their start line?

Nancy Little: So if there's a bad habit where the dog's consistently breaking the start line, we're talking trialing now, of course, and we're gonna include freezing, you know, where the dog's not going, we're gonna include all of these issues, you know, so, 'cause it's all the same, like visiting, sniffing, anticipation, running, leaving the ring, all of those things are issues with, we'll call the stay part of it. And pretty much, yes, you need to stop trialing because habits are hard to break, especially the ones that are, they're consistently caused by confusion. I mean, well yeah, any habit that you don't want, it's hard to break and you, because they're gonna give you that same response every time they're in that environment.

That's what's gonna happen with this. So it's really important to stop trialing because that known environment is causing that response from your dog that is undesirable. And the only time I would say you could continue, you know, it's okay to continue, is if you just decide that, you know what, I'm just gonna run with my dog.

I don't even wanna deal with this. It's just much better. You know, we're just gonna run together from the start. And those are the dogs that, you know, just, they, they seem to thrive on that. And you just know you're not gonna all, you know, if you have a faster dog, you maybe will be behind and maybe with a challenging start, it might not work out so much, but you're willing to do that. So that would be the only time I think I would say. And there's gonna be times where it's just gonna happen a few times, but if, if this is a constant habit, yeah, we wanna, we wanna break that.

Melissa Breau: Yeah. So talk to me a little more about the class. So you've got your class coming up in August, registration opens tomorrow when we're talking, but it'll have been already opened when, when this airs talked about the class, who should consider it? What do you cover? Are there any skills dogs need kind of before they can sign up?

Nancy Little: Sure. So this class has, I just wanna, you know, tell people that might have taken it because it's been running since, believe it or not, since 2014. But it was one of the first classes. But it was, when I developed it, it was, it was start lines stopped contacts and the table all rolled into one and I kind of, I pulled that apart in 2017. So it's been running a while, but I just want people to understand that it's, you know, just like any trainer things have changed a lot and I think it's better now than it ever was. And I keep adding things to it, lots of really good videos in it. But in the class we're gonna focus on handler communication because to me that's really important for them to, for people to understand what that means and that dogs are responding to our communication either positively or you know, or they'll be confused. And then we have foundation skills for start lines, how to handle them, reinforcement skills and handling for those as well. The key thing about this is start lines are very creative. Just there's a lot of, there's lots of training involved that really require a lot of creativity. It's not really a recipe. And so you'll see me respond quite differently for different dogs and handlers, but generally what we get in this class is we get a lot of gold students with varied types of dogs and personalities and issues. So there's always gonna be somebody that you can follow that is gonna be really similar to your dog Plus. I wanna give a shout out to Heather Sayer, who's my TA who is a local student of mine and I don't know what I would do without her.

She's amazing. So the study group is well taken care of, taken care of, yeah. Yes. And then one other piece in the class that we focus on is just kind of putting everything together, all the start line, the start line skill package that, that we address in terms of skills needed on dogs or handlers for that matter. There's really none that we need because we're gonna start from the ground up and dogs at any level of training can consider this class.

We solve start line problems, we develop the skills and young dogs without dogs that haven't had any training at all. And then, like I said previously, most importantly, we create a place to return in case there's an issue when a problem occurs down the road. Puppies, I get this question asked, a lot of these skills can be used for puppies, but you know, quite obviously they're not mentally ready to do a lot of the more advanced work, but we've had some young dogs in here like six months to nine months. They're, that's kind of young, but they've done quite well with handlers that just understand that, you know, these are adolescent dogs and they're, they're just learning these things, so yeah.

Melissa Breau: Awesome. Any final thoughts maybe that you wanna leave listeners with? Yeah, so three thoughts. So well thought out. Implant start line routines usually help solve most dog and handler emotional issues during that procedure. So if we really think about those procedures and really think about the best way to incorporate them for our dog, for the individual dog, it's gonna get you a jump ahead with all of the future issues handling and lack of preparation will almost always cause a stay issue. So we wanna make sure that, you know, that we have our dogs fully prepared as much as possible. We sometimes don't and that's okay. But, and then I also wanna make sure that the people that have dogs that are not anticipator, they're lesser known start issues you are, you know, you belong in this class too, so I just wanna make sure that it's still the same issues, it's still within the dog and they're, they're responding differently than the dogs that just want to go.

Melissa Breau: Yeah. Awesome. Well thank you so much, Nancy, this is awesome.

Nancy Little: Thanks. It's great being here.

Melissa Breau: And thank you to all our listeners for tuning in. We'll be back next week. Don't miss it. If you haven't already, subscribe to our podcast in iTunes or the podcast app of your choice. Our next episode automatically downloaded to your phone as soon as it becomes available. Today's show is brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy. Special thanks to Denise Fenzi for supporting this podcast, music provided royalty free by bensound.com. The track featured here is called Buddy. Audio Editing provided by Chris Lang. Thanks again for tuning in and happy training.


Today's show is brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy. Special thanks to Denise Fenzi for supporting this podcast. Music provided royalty-free by BenSound.com; the track featured here is called "Buddy." Audio editing provided by Chris Lang.

Thanks again for tuning in -- and happy training! 

E324: Other Dog Sports with Melissa Breau, Hélène ...
Teaching Dogs Generalization: Expanding Behaviors ...

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