E352: Laurie Huston - "Commitment in Agility"

 What is commitment? How do we teach our dogs to understand when to go and when to pay more attention to our cues? Laurie and I talk about that and more in this week's episode of the podcast.


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 commitment in agility. Hi Laurie, welcome back to the podcast!

Laurie Huston: Hi Melissa. Thank you for having me.

Melissa Breau: Super excited to chat. To start us out, do you wanna just remind listeners a little bit about you and a little bit about your current furry crew? Well, my name is Laurie Huston. I live in the Westernmost province in British Columbia, Canada in an area called the Kootenays. I live with my husband and we have two dogs, a nine-year-old Border Collie named Tweak and a five-year-old Labrador named Buck. We also had a little kitten wander in last year who we debated about as not our cat and he was dubbed Nacho cat. So he's a little orange guy that lives with us now 'cause he made it very clear he was staying. That is our furry little crew and that's where we live.

Melissa Breau: Fantastic. So since we're here to talk about commitment, can you break down what we mean when we say commitment?

Laurie Huston: Sure. There are kind of two major things: When we're discussing commitment, we look at the point of commitment and then maintaining commitment. So the commitment point is when your dog decides that they're going to continue down the line and take the obstacle in front of them.

Maintaining commitment means that even in the face of conflicting information, like our, maybe our position or emotion isn't supporting their path, that they're gonna continue to maintain that path and that's gonna allow you to move to your cue phase to give them information about the next intended line.

Melissa Breau: So what types of problems or behaviors you know, might handlers be seeing if there's a lack of commitment skills kind of on their dog's part?

Laurie Huston: You can see a lot of different behaviors from different dogs. Some of us like more thoughtful dogs, they tend to slow down. That lack of commitment causes us to be a little bit late with our cue phases. That causes a little bit of confusion. It kind of plays into their confidence and they start to slow down just so that they're ready just in case that information comes late, that they can still do the things that we're asking them.

We often think those dogs just need more motivation and we need to try and build drive with them. Sometimes they just need, they just need better information. And then we have some dogs that get like incredibly frustrated for the same reason that they're not getting that information fast enough. They want that information but you just can't get it out 'cause you can't get them to stay committed.

Those dogs, you kind of end up often seeing like wide turns, sometimes knocked bars and that those dogs can feel like they're too fast for you. And that's when I have like lots of experience with my little Border colleague tweak. She felt too fast me for a really long time until we got some commitment under our belt and I could send her to do some things while I was moving in the other other direction.

Melissa Breau: So are commitment and confidence the same thing? Are they different? Can you talk to that a little bit?

Laurie Huston: For me, they're not the same thing, but I feel like we really need confidence in order to get commitment. So confidence is defined in the dictionary as like the feeling or belief that one can rely on somebody or something like a firm trust or feeling a self-assurance arising from one's appreciation of their own abilities or qualities.

We need our dogs to feel confident in order for them to commit, they need to trust in us, they need to trust us to give them clear, consistent and timely information. And having that happen allows them to feel more self-assured in their abilities. They kind of need to feel like they're winning, that they can trust in the process and that they're winning.

Melissa Breau: So at what point in your training with your dog do you start working on commitment? What does that look like?

Laurie Huston: I start right away. It is literally the, one of the very first skills I teach. I teach it right in my foundation classes. If it's puppies that we're working with, then I just simply scale everything down. It's just really short duration, really short distances. But you're working on the starting pieces. I just wouldn't move to the next steps necessarily until they're a little bit older and more mature. But all of my foundation classes start with commitment. We start day one with like some food bowl and toy games and then we just work out from there.

Melissa Breau: Can you talk me through what those look like?

Laurie Huston: I play a whole bunch of different toy and food games. First off, we're working on building drive for that toy building that they wanna get it and then that they want to remain getting it even though we're giving them different information. So our positions are changing, our motion is changing the direction that we're coming at. It changes and I often, what I do is I use the food bowl game first and then I'll add in the context of equipment still utilizing that food bowl or that toy so that the dogs have something to drive to and they get rewarded right away when they're driving to that.

Melissa Breau: What else are we kind of looking at or talking about? How much is commitment, you know, skill building, how much is it handling? How does handling impact commitment? Can you, can you dive into those pieces a little bit?

Laurie Huston: Yeah, they both play really big roles actually. It's absolutely a skill we can teach. It's absolutely a skill that we can, we can reinforce and make stronger, but we can also use our handling to help support that commitment.

So a piece of our handling that I think really impacts commitment is our ability to, to consistently execute our handling in the same way to create a predictable picture for our dogs. When we can make that picture really clear and we can execute that really consistently, then our dogs, we go back to that whole, our dogs can trust what they're seeing. That helps them to build confidence and then in turn that helps them to go, yes, like I know what my handler wants, and they can go ahead and they can commit. And that's kind of, that's what I like to see. Like that's, that's the really exciting and joyful piece of commitment work for me is when the dogs are like, oh I know, like the light bulb goes on for them and they're like, yeah, I know exactly what's expected of me.

Melissa Breau: Thinking about all of those, what other factors are we talking about that can influence commitment?

Laurie Huston: There are three big ones for me. The three big ones for me are clarity, consistency, and connection. And these are not just in relation to commitment, but kind of within our entire working relationships with our dogs.

That lack of clarity, it can erode our dog's confidence in us. For me, consistency directly relates to clarity. If we're not clear, we can't be consistent. If we're not clear on what we wanna accomplish, there's no way for us to consistently execute that and connection. Most of our dogs, they need us to connect with them before they, they,

before they can commit to doing the thing. Oftentimes what we see is the dogs come into us seeking connection if we don't provide it for them. So I think that's a really important step that we need to look at is that connection piece. So I wanna drill in on two of those to smidge if it's okay. So you, you mentioned kind of this idea that we need to be consistent and I think a lot of people maybe fall into the idea that they, they think they are being consistent and so they expect the commitment to happen, right? They're just gonna keep doing the thing and the dog just needs more experience and they think they're being consistent.

Melissa Breau: Are there ways to tell if maybe that's kind of the root cause here?

Laurie Huston: Video yourself? Oftentimes we think we're doing something and then watch the video in slow motion. And we are not, and I am, I am just as guilty as everybody else. Like I can't believe the number of times I video something and the second I go back to kind of troubleshoot, I'm like, oh wow. I was not doing at all what I thought I was doing. So the, the video doesn't lie. So that really is my tip. Like video all your sessions. 'cause it really does help with troubleshooting our memory. We remember things really inconsistently.

Melissa Breau: And then for commitment, you, me or not, I'm sorry, not commitment, connection. You mentioned the idea that the dog will come into you if you're not kind of providing that. What does providing that maybe look like? Can you just describe that a little bit?

Laurie Huston: Providing that your dog really needs to see the side profile of your face. They really lock onto the direction of your gaze where you're looking. If they can kind of see that side profile of your face and you're gazing down on their line, it really helps them to know exactly where their line is going and to stay connected to that line, to stay committed to that line.

Melissa Breau: Okay, awesome. So let's say you've got a more experienced team and they just seem to be having a lot of commitment problems on course. Can you talk through maybe how you'd approach that? How do you kind of identify what holes there maybe are in their foundations or you know, which piece they kind of need to pull out and work on a little bit more? What's causing that lack of commitment?

Laurie Huston: Oftentimes I just, I kind of run right back through those foundation steps. If the dogs have all of the pieces, then moving through those foundation steps, it goes pretty quickly and right away you're gonna find there's gonna be a piece that floats to the top that doesn't go as quickly and, and that's usually where that hole is, right?

We usually find that hole as that's that one piece and it, it might be on the dog end of the leash or the human end of the leash, but you work through those exercises. They're really simple and sometimes it's a really small tweak that can make a really big difference in commitment.

Melissa Breau: Awesome. So the new class creating confident commitment is on the schedule this session. So we're recording this actually on day one of class. Talk to me a little bit about the class. Who should consider it? What are you gonna cover? What's going on in there?

Laurei Huston: Well, I love this material. I work through it with my dogs often. I live in a winter climate, so this is something that I revisit during the winter months because it doesn't take a lot of equipment, doesn't take a lot of space, although you can use a lot of space if you have it. I think it's beneficial to anyone who wants to increase their commitment, use more distance with their handling or even just helping to build relationship and confidence levels at both ends of the leash. We're gonna work through some skills from the ground up.

We have handler skills, team skills, and they're starting with really simple games that everybody can do and they can feel like they're winning at. We're gonna progress from there at a rate that your team needs. For me it's not about keeping up, it's about moving forward. Moving forward at a pace that you can keep your success rate really high. Because I'm really excited. The class started today and we already have a bunch of people posting stuff, so it's really exciting.

Melissa Breau: Yeah, so any pre-reqs or skills people need kind of before joining any required props, materials, that kind of thing. Anything else students should know?

Laurie Huston: There are no pre-reqs. If you have like a 20 by 20 area and you can scrounge up three objects, they can be jumps. They do not need to be jumps. You could use barrels, garbage cans, cones. The last two weeks of class we are gonna introduce the concepts to other obstacles, but I'm gonna make sure to have options for those that you don't actually require contacts and weaves. We can use contact boards, we can use stick in the ground electric fence posts for weed poles.

There's lots of, there's lots of different options that we can make. Work Bronze level students. There is a lovely bronze student named Kelly Hotter who has set up a Facebook lurker group. And although I don't have a TA for this group, I'm gonna jump into that facebook group at least twice to do a Q and A to address any questions that pop up.

So bronze students, you will still get some support. Gold spots are sold out, but there is still space at Silver Silver's a good opportunity. I feel like nobody takes advantage of it enough, but It is a really great opportunity 'cause you still have that opportunity to post some videos and get some feedback and it's a, it's a, I think it's a really great deal, but you're right. I don't think enough people take advantage of it.

Melissa Breau: You know, it's my personal pedestal here, but I think more students could take advantage of it. 'cause a lot of times at Gold it's almost about accountability. A lot of times the gold students even are working through things just fine. But if you wanted gold and you couldn't get gold, as long as you don't get hung up on anything you can work through and then when you do get hung up, you can share for feedback. So anyway, another, another conversation for another time. But any final thoughts or key points you maybe wanna leave listeners with?

Laurie Huston: Just whatever you decide to focus on your training with this semester, have fun with it. That's the most important thing that you and your dog are out enjoying your time together.

Melissa Breau: Fantastic. Well thank you so much for coming on the podcast, Laurie.

Laurie Huston: Thank you so much for having me, Melissa.

Melissa Breau: Absolutely. And thanks to all of our listeners for tuning in. We'll be back next week with Loretta Mueller to talk about two other key aspects of agility. We're gonna talk about jumping foundations and handling basics. If you haven't already, subscribe to our podcast in iTunes or the podcast app of your choice to 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. 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!

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