E332: Laurie Huston - Teaching Commitment in Agility

What can commitment do for your agility team? Laurie and I chat about what it means and the difference it can make when playing the game!  


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 the most current and progressive training methods. Today I have Laurie Huston here with me to talk about her story and dive a bit into the idea of commitment and agility. Hi Laurie, welcome to the podcast.

Laurie Huston: Hi Melissa. Thank you. I'm really excited to be here.

Melissa Breau: I'm excited to have you. So, to start us out, do you wanna just share a little bit about you and your current canine crew? I'm from Canada. I live in the Westernmost province, which is BC in a mountain region known as the Kootenays.

My husband and I share our home with two dogs and a cat. My one dog is a seven year old Border Collie named Tweak. And I have a four-year-old lab named ak. I'm a dog geek at heart and I love training. Agility is our main sport, but we also play around with dog diving, rally obedience, nosework shed, antler hunting, disc, kick sledding. We're just kind of game to try all the things.

Melissa Breau: Yeah, all the things is the way to go, man.

Laurie Huston: Yeah, absolutely.

Melissa Breau: So how did you get into dog training and then, you know, agility kind of specifically?

Laurie Huston: Well, we have to go a ways back for that. I started obedience classes with my very first dog, Fletcher. He was a lab cross. I worked through all of the pet obedience classes and I just loved training and I wanted to continue. So I inquired about taking competitive obedience classes. Now you need to remember, this was a long time ago and at that place there was no, there was no place for a mixed breed to compete. And so I was told that because there was no place for my dogs to compete, that I would not be a good fit for a competition class. So they suggested I try agility. They were very like, it's, it's for everybody. So I jumped in, I jumped in and I signed up for my first agility class and I got hooked. Fair enough. And it's really interesting to think back about like, I mean there's so many sports today where there's still some limits there, right. But it's really kind of opened up a lot just Yes, In the last couple years. There's just so much more you can do. How would you kind of describe your approach to training these days? I put a really big focus on relationship. I want my time with my dogs to be enjoyable for both ends of the leash. I concentrate my efforts on clarity, consistency, and connection. For me, those are the key pieces and training any of the tasks that we set to train. I put lots of time into planning my training. I just, I think about like, what does consistency look like in regards to this task? How can I maintain my connection? How can I be clear that planning lets me pro, I think it sets up way, way more productive sessions. I find that I'm better able to respond to things that happen in the moment this, this spring, one of a friend of mine showed a phrase with me that I had never heard and I thought was just, I love it. It, her phrase was, prior proper planning prevents poor performance. And it was just something that I just wholeheartedly agree with and I loved it.

Melissa Breau: Can you, can you do it one more time for us? It's a little bit of tongue twister.

Laurie Huston: It is. Prior proper planning prevents poor performance.

Melissa Breau: I like that. I know, it's great. Digging into that a little bit more, have you always kind of been a positive trainer? I mean, you mentioned you kinda started out in obedience a long time ago, so do you wanna kinda share that story a little bit?

Laurie Huston: Yeah, I think I came into dog training as things were starting to shift to more positive things in my, in my area. Anyhow, I don't know if the shift had already happened in other places, but in, in our area that was still, it was still very mixed. So I started out for with a, a mix when, when I started with my first two dogs, the big shift came for me. When I got my third dog, Chico, he was nothing like the first two dogs. He was extremely soft, extremely sensitive, and things that worked for my other dogs did not work for him.

I think my pivot point was the day that I took him out to train and he ran away and he didn't come back. And I'm not gonna lie, I went inside and I had a great big ugly cry. And when I was done crying, I thought, it started me questioning like, how, how am I doing things and how can I do things better? And he really pushed me into finding new ways to tackle my training tasks and he led me into a much more positive state of training.

Melissa Breau: Aw, that's such like a big moment, right? Like you're, you're out there training and they…

Laurie Huston: Yeah. Opt out hard.

Melissa Breau: Interesting.

Laurie Huston: Yeah. Yeah, it was, it was brutal. But I mean it led to really good things.

Melissa Breau: So I know you're also a certified one mind dogs trainer. Do you wanna talk a little bit about kind of handling your handling approach, how it aligns with those, you coach some of that?

Laurie Huston: Sure. I've always really been a why person. I need to understand why I am doing something and I found that why in agility through understanding the cues from the dog's perspective.

I had been doing that before I got involved with One Mind and I thought One Mind did a good job of producing information. But my experience with each of my dogs and each of the students that I've worked with has shown me that each of us is so different and each dog is so different and what might be right for one person or one dog might not be right for somebody else or another dog.

And so my goal as an instructor is to meet each person and each dog where they're at and just try to help them work together to be connected, clear and consistent with both their training and their handling no matter what system that they are using.

Melissa Breau: So you've got a workshop coming up for FDSA specifically on commitment games. It's coming out the Sunday after this should go up.

So if you're listening to this the week that it came up guys just a couple of days, can you talk about what commitment looks like to you and kind of why it's important in the sport?

Laurie Huston: Absolutely. I love commitment. Commitment to me is just such a big piece of the agility puzzle. We use it on every single obstacle out there and I think increasing commitment can help so many teams.

Everyone talks about being able to see that commitment point, but I think it's more than seeing it as humans. I think we have this huge delay between what we see and the actual response time. So I think the games that I play in these workshops really help us kind of feel that commitment even more than see it and know what it looks like and feels like for our specific team.

Back to that whole every team being different. So what it looks like and feels like for me might be a bit different than what it looks like and feels like for you. But we can use these games to find out where our dogs are committing and increase that level of commitment so that we can know where it happens and trust where it happens. For our team.

I find that this is something that people often don't focus on until they're further along in their training. Many times they're already sequencing, but I think if you add it right at the beginning, it can really, it really helps your team and it can really help you to be more clear and more consistent and and maintain that connection. What kind of problems might a team see, you know, if they haven't worked enough on commitment and, and what does that kinda look like? Is there anything that people maybe blame instead when the issue is actually you've got a commitment problem, Commit, lack of commitment can look really different depending on different teams. So some of the times that I see it show up, people are saying that, oh, my dog is way too fast for me. And they perceive that they can't get where they need to be to run that particular dog. And with those types of teams, increased commitment can really help because the dogs can go out on that line and they can find their obstacle where their handler is moving in a different direction to get where they need to be.

They don't have to run obstacle to obstacle. For other teams, it can look like a lack of confidence in the dog. The dog isn't confident in their job to go all the way up to an obstacle. So that requires the handler running from obstacle to obstacle to get them around the course. And these dogs can really benefit from learning and increasing their commitment level is it helps them know what their job is and it really increases their confidence in being able to do that job when, when the people can see it and trust it and trust that their dog can do it. I think one of the areas on course that I see that commitment helps with that often people don't directly associate with commitment is how quickly the dog can come in on the new line. When we have a high degree of obstacle commitment that allows us to be so much more proactive with our cues and we can give our dogs the information about the new lines so much sooner and then they're able to make their adjustments so much sooner and then they're able to come in on that new line so much sooner.

Melissa Breau: I think that's something that I don't think people realize correlates so much to commitment. I think it's easy to kind of think of commitment and responsiveness as almost the opposite ends of a spectrum, right? So like you either have a dog that's got commitment or they're very responsive to the handler and they're paying too much attention almost first. Is that true? Is that kind of how you see it? And then second, is it possible to kind of have a high degree of both?

Laurie Huston: I think they're really connected, to be honest. I think that having commitment allows us to give that information so much sooner and our dogs having that information sooner allows them to react sooner and then therefore they can appear to be even more responsive. So you, when you think about somebody giving, you say directions from the passenger seat of a vehicle, do you want your co-pilot to tell you about the turn in the middle of the intersection or well before the intersection? And how does that look to the other people on the road? If your co-pilot's telling you to turn in the intersection, you're probably going faster than you want. Maybe your tires squeal when you turn.

You definitely haven't had a chance to turn on your signal and that turn looks like wide and really unpredictable to anybody else driving on the road. If your same co-pilot gave you that information proactively, you'd be able to do all the things you need to do. You could turn on your turn signal, you could tap your brakes, you, you might put both hands on the steering wheel, but you have this opportunity to make that same turn in a much safer and then therefore it's gonna be much tighter because you have that information. So what I think commitment does is it gives us the chance to be that co-pilot that gives that information proactively for our dogs so they can respond sooner and inevitably come into the new line sooner.

Melissa Breau: I really like that, that analogy in that vein, is it, is there such a thing as over-training commitment?

Laurie Huston: Absolutely. I think it's so easy for us to get excited about things and overtrain them. For me, one thing that we need to think about is balance in our training. That goes right back to that whole idea of planning. I like planning to layer multiple skills in and then alternate them so that I'm not just drilling one thing.

I'm also a really big advocate for the whole less is more. Those really short training sessions are almost always the best. They're always the most productive. Anytime you let that training session go on for too long, it seems like everything starts to degrade.

Melissa Breau: So going back to the workshop in particular, can you just tell us a little more about kind of what you'll cover and maybe who should consider signing up and is it kind of, are the exercises kind of specific to agility in the workshop?

Laurie Huston: I'm gonna go through games that go all the way from foundation skills right up to testing more advanced skills that masters teams would be working on. The foundation games are some of the first things that I teach in my foundation classes. So you don't need to have a whole bunch of skills to start with this stuff.

The advanced skills are games that I find myself and my students returning to time and time again to keep those skills strong, to keep testing that commitment and knowing where it is. And I love these games because they don't require equipment and the skills translate really, really well. I happen to live in a climate that gets snow, so my equipment is all tucked away in a shed right now for the winter months.

So I try to find lots of games that don't specifically require equipment to work on those skills that will directly relate to agility. I do think that there's something for every level of team to play with in the workshop and I'd love to see teams from all different skill levels. I think that's nice because then the people who have less experience get to see what it looks like when you have more experience.

And sometimes the more experienced teams see holes in their training when they see the less experienced teams working. So I think there's benefit from everybody seeing all different levels. As for if it's specific to agility, I would say no. I actually have teams that are utilizing these concepts for other purposes. I think if you have a need for your dog to go out and do a job while you're either at a distance from 'em or moving away from them, that these games can be helpful for you.

Melissa Breau: Awesome. And it sounded like any skill level's fine. Is there, are there any age specific things that folks need to worry about or can they take it with a baby puppy?

Laurie Huston: They can take it with a baby puppy, especially if they're keep in align with that whole less is more, they're not big huge drilling sessions. This is something that we're just playing a game, just a short little game session. And yeah, I think it's very appropriate for all ages. Even I do this a lot with senior dogs, just, it makes them feel like they have a job, but there's not really any impact on their body as long as you're doing these sessions really short.

Melissa Breau: I like that. Any final thoughts or key points you maybe wanna leave listeners with?

Laurie Huston: Just remember to have fun. Doesn't matter what you're training, just figure out a way to make it fun for you and your dog. Those training sessions should be something that both of you're looking forward to.

Melissa Breau: I like that. Such an important thing to remember kind of as you embark on things, you know, leading towards competition. Thank you so much, Laurie, for coming on the podcast.

Laurie Huston: Thank you so much for having me. Absolutely. And thanks to all of our listeners for tuning in. We'll be back next week with Julie Symons to talk about Lost Item Recovery. If you haven't already subscribed to our podcast in iTunes or the podcast app of your choice of our next episode, automatically download 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 for you 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! 

E333: Julie Symons - Lost Item Recovery
Wait Your Turn: A FOMO Foundation Game

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