Can a Family Pet be a Great Agility Dog?

Posted on 10/01/09 17 Comments

Well anyone of you that has been reading my blog for any length of time knows the answer to that question. Without a doubt, my great agility dogs all start out and end up being great family pets first and foremost. I was asked to address this thought on my blog and why some competition training books suggest that your dog will never be great in the ring if you raise them simply to be a “pet.”  I guess the difference may lie in your definition of “pet.”  I want my dogs to be an awesome family pet, not just “a pet.”

I won’t comment on why there is such a dichotomy of opinion in the training books describing how a dog should be raised, only to say that dogs are a

Twister, family pet extraordinare; also won 3 National Championships in Canada, 3 in the USA and at the age of 12 was the Silver medalist at the IFCS World Championships.
Twister, family pet extraordinare; also won 3 National Championships in Canada, 3 in the USA and at the age of 12 was the all-around Silver medalist at the IFCS World Championships.

 divine gift, they learn to do what we want not always because of how we teach them but sometimes inspite of the methods we choose to teach them.  Last year Encore knocked 3 bars in her first run at the world Championships. This year she didn’t have any bars until her last run. I dug deep as a trainer and came up with new grids to help her after last year. And after my bar this year I have even more ideas. By way of contrast I was told by someone whose team won the gold at the FCI World Championships one year (he was on the team) that for three weeks prior to the World Championships their team practiced with bars with spiked nails facing out to hurt any dog that touched the bars. Their team was reinforced for this action with a gold medal. Dogs learn regardless, but there are consequences with all choices you make. 


Although I may be considered an “elite” dog trainer because of the awards I have won in International Dog Agility competitions, the truth is that my dogs are every bit as much a family pet as anyone else’s dog on this planet. That doesn’t change for me, not ever.


They sleep beside (or on) our bed, they hang out with us in the living room, and go for walks around our property.  I have never re-homed a dog if it wasn’t good enough, I have just searched for the dog training solution to help that dog to become as good as he could be. I believe every dog takes you on a journey, so I allow each dog to take me where I need to go. If my dog training knowledge has evolved to be considered “highly regarded” by my peers, then that is the reason. I have arrived here, by following the lessons from my dogs.


Having stated all of that let me say that all of my dog training books and DVDs that I have written to describe my training program are developed from this single belief that I know I have stated on this blog previously.


The attributes that contribute to a phenomenally trained family pet lay down the foundation for a world champion competitor.


My program is based on controlling the reinfrocement in your dog’s life. There is no force, no collar corrections, no intimidation or pushing, pulling or smacking a dog into position. It is mutual respect that is earned through play and controlling sources of reinforcement until ultimately, you become more valueable to the dog than any reinforcement. The program has been successfully adopted by family pet owners, police dog trainers, highly competitive obedience, flyball, agility, protection work or schutzhund trainers alike.


 I still read this false belief on various internet lists (did so as recently as 2 weeks ago) where it was stated “Susan Garrett does things in her training in order to win, but that isn’t the way “pet dog people” should do things.”  I want to make it very clear that If I didn’t step foot inside another competition ring for the rest of my life,  I wouldn’t change a single thing about the way my dogs are raised and trained (aside from the obvious of not training on the actual agility obstacles).  So many people believe I train the way I do in order to have success in the ring. However my success in the ring is only a by-product of the way I train my dogs and there is a big difference between those two statements. 


So yes, all of my books and DVDs will do the average pet owner a world of good as they are all packed with informaiton on how to create the family pet that everyone enjoys and wishes lived in their own home.  This theme will continue with the latest DVD I am working on.


My blog and website have lots of free dog training advise to get any pet dog owner started. Every book or DVD I have written, even the ones that are about specific agility equipment have dog training gems scattered throughout that will enhance your relationship with your dog.


There is no difference. Today I am grateful that my awesome agility dogs are first and foremost my well loved, slightly spoiled, family pets.




  1. Lynnda L in Minneapolis says:
    Sunday, October 11, 2009 at 1:13am

    When I went to my first Susan Garrett seminar — something like mid-90’s in Wisconsin — it was the first seminar I had been to that the presenter brought her/his dogs along. Boy was it a great idea.
    I felt that I got even more out of watching Susan interact with her dogs — Stoni & Twister — before and after the demonstrations than the tremendous benefit I got out of Susan’s explanation teaching fabulous obstacle performance. The picture she presented of getting the dog engaged before doing “the exercise” and rewarding the dog afterwards — and the all important, what-to-do-when-it-doesn’t-go-as-planned was very illuminating. It was hard to tell who was having more fun: Susan or the dogs.
    Plus, I had never seen anyone send a dog 80 feet to a crate.


  2. Danielle Dieterich says:
    Monday, October 5, 2009 at 10:02pm

    It took my breath when I read about the spikes. So hard to believe. Heart breaking really.

    I also wanted to say that 5 yrs ago I got a sheltie. ( I have a 14yr old Westie too) So, coming from a “steady” running dog to a bullet was terrifying. Her speed actually scared me and to tell the truth I did not know what to do with her. She was wild and crazy. The first year I was exhausted all the time. Then a friend gave me Ruff Love and it saved me, literally.

    Thank you


  3. Julie W. says:
    Monday, October 5, 2009 at 12:46pm

    Very well said. This entry reminds me of my first experience taking my family pet to obedience classes. After taking the basic family pet class I started enrolling in more advanced classes geared to competition. At that time I really had no plan to compete I just liked the fact the more I trained my dog and the more they learned the better and better family pet they were.


  4. Laura says:
    Friday, October 2, 2009 at 12:06pm

    Lisa, your comment about your 3.5 year old son doing crate games with your 18 month old dog made me smile. I have a photo of my 2.5 year old daughter sitting outside of the open door of my 6 month old pup’s crate, stuffing her kongs, as pup lies in her crate just watching, not stealing the kibble. We still have a long way to go, but I’m amazed at the control I saw in my pup with just some ‘it’s yer choice’ and crate games.


  5. Laura says:
    Friday, October 2, 2009 at 12:01pm

    Dianne, Steve White immediately comes to mind as a K9 handler who uses not necessarily Susan’s methods, but positive/clicker methods. His web site is You may have heard of him through his “scent in a bottle” tracking method (which has now evolved to Hydration-Intensified Tracking Training, which is working great for my Vizsla pup).


  6. Dianne says:
    Friday, October 2, 2009 at 11:42am

    Susan, I love this post (all your posts, really). I am really intrigued and motivated by your lessons of controlling sources of reinforcement and impulse control. I compete in agility and also Schutzhund. I believe that there are many SchH trainers out there who could learn a lot about how you motivate a dog. I also (unfortunately) believe that many (not myself) would disagree that your methods would work for some SchH dogs…. many handlers believe that their dogs are very “hard” dogs, and need correction and / or punishment because of their “hardness”…… I tend to want to believe that these dogs “fight” with their handlers because they feel they “have” to, not necessarily because they “like” to or “want” to…… (a common belief). I know you mention SchH and Police dog trainers in your post, is there anyone in particular that comes to mind who is having great success (active duty police dogs, titled SchH dogs) that have used your methods? This is for my own curiosity of course, as this style of training is what appeals to me, but more so that I can “educate” some of my fellow competitors / trainers in the sport ( I am already a believer :-))


  7. Claudia says:
    Thursday, October 1, 2009 at 11:47pm

    I’m thankful everyday (for myself and my dogs) that I chanced upon your DVD and subsequently your books, your dogs, your blog, oh well, the whole package. My only regret is, I didn’t chance upon it earlier.

    Your dog training philosophy is one of respect, not of coercion, is one of love, not force. It’s not easy, take lots of time and patience. Having come from the “traditional methods” camp from before, it is always so tempting and so easy to think of picking up that collar.

    That’s where the line divides.

    If I forget everything I ever learn from you, 2 things will always keep me going.

    1.Your dog’s performance is only a reflection of your ability as a trainer. If my dog isn’t performing right, the onus is on me to think and reflect and change. He is just doing what he thinks I’m asking him to do.

    2. Violence begins where knowledge ends. – Ghandi

    Thank God that our dogs always always give us 2nd chances.


  8. Mary M says:
    Thursday, October 1, 2009 at 9:34pm

    Great post Susan, and glad you have laid it out there…..I am now hugging my pups. By the way I have two on the couch next to me as I type and two playing with bones on the floor by my feet – after just getting done working on agility stuff. They are now leisurely enjoying their time……GOOD DOGS!


  9. Kevin Parry says:
    Thursday, October 1, 2009 at 4:49pm

    Susan I have picked out three points from your post that jump out at me;
    Dogs learn to do what we want not always because of how we teach them…to search for the dog training solution for your dogs problem and respect earned through play and controlling sources of reinforcement.
    I think these are wise words,you do not seem to be claiming to have all the answers, with the dogs and your own desire to solve problems along the way as important has the methods you adopt.Why do you think play is so important.I have seen some well trained dogs that dont seem to be having much fun or play.


  10. Kevin Parry says:
    Thursday, October 1, 2009 at 3:55pm

    Could i thank you for your prompt response to my request on my blog,even though you where unable to post to my blog directly.I will post highlights of your blog above and a link.
    You make some great points which I will highlight and look for responses.If any pet owners who follow your site wuld like to comment too,that would be great.If they copy and paste this link into there browser address bar it should take them to my blog;
    Many thanks Susan.


  11. Luiza says:
    Thursday, October 1, 2009 at 2:08pm

    About the spiked bars, it’s a shame what some people will do to satisfy their egos.
    Thank Goodness you’re sharing your lessons with us, showing that yes, it’s possible to win gold and be at the same time fair with our dogs.


  12. Michelle says:
    Thursday, October 1, 2009 at 12:10pm

    How sad that agility has gotten twisted for the mighty ribbon. I always thought that when I came over to agility that it was so much about fun with your dog. I guess competition can have an ugly side to it. Its like athletes taking steroids to win I guess, but the only person they are harming is themselves. Why would you do that to your dog, so sad.

    I am having so much fun with my Trudy and you know the ribbons do come our way because we are having fun. Last run she was barking at me at the startline. I know you guys with your high drive dogs think yikes, but for me, I say, yeah, give me more attitude. We have come a long way. Now we are going to do some obedience since we just earned our AGMCH in CKC and I will not loose the fun. Gotta have that happy dog or its not worth it. And my dogs both sleep in our beds.

    I also liked what you said Susan about giving your dogs a break from agility in the winter. I so agree with that and obedience will be perfect for this break. I think some people overtrain, trying to get those perfect weaves, contacts whatever and just never take a break. They may not realize that even though they dont use spikes, time to change the channel and come back at things fresh.

    Great post.


  13. LIsa says:
    Thursday, October 1, 2009 at 11:39am

    thank you once again for a well timed blog, as a person that has hit a brick wall lately and having to examine whats not working and what is, and how I need to find a better path you remind me the “why” and as I write this my 3 1/2 year old son is laughing like crazy because he is sending my 18 month old intact male bouvier into his crate for cookies and releasing him and that puppy is listening, understanding and loving every minute of it. thank you for reminding me to enjoy the journey


  14. Kim Collins says:
    Thursday, October 1, 2009 at 11:07am

    Susan your training program is so great that we actually teach much of the crate games stuff in our “Family Manners” pet classes. These people will never go on to any sport but they sure go home with a dog that at least has some knowledge of impulse control taught through positive and fun methods. So I think the pet people here are very happy we found you and have incorporated your training into our lessons.

    In fact our chiro vet just left and she said how amazing it was to be able to work on dog after dog and that the ones waiting to go next could just chill in their crates, they are all so relaxed, then there were a few who came to see her who were obviously NOT from our school! Big difference in the anxiety level of those dogs coming into our building!



  15. Christine says:
    Thursday, October 1, 2009 at 11:02am

    If true, I’m stunned that people can justify such methods, let alone use them. 🙁 Thank gosh for Susan Salo, her jumping DVD taught me more in two hours than 10 years of being ‘taught’ agility.


  16. Trudie says:
    Thursday, October 1, 2009 at 10:30am

    I’m amazed but not surprised, to read what you’ve just posted. How someone must have thought long and hard and come up with spiked bars as an aid worth using in training! Because I actually saw this in a small Agility Club last year, although it was a row of those hard plastic encircling “attachers” with the 4 inch ends left pointing up!

    I’ll share my experience as a learner : if you get Susan’s DVD’s, you should follow the instructions therein, namely, in “Success with One Jump” it is made clear at the beginning that one of the basic assumptions is “your dog knows how to jump”. Well, I wondered what that meant, anyway, I THOUGHT my dog knew how to jump. Much later I invested in Susan’s colleague Susan Salo’s Foundation Jumping, awesome in its simplicity and clarity.
    It has changed my understanding of what takes place in agility, what I see when I look at a dog running a course, what I see when I look at the course itself…
    So if I may, I add this recommendation. Looking forward to the next DVD.


  17. Sherry Moore says:
    Thursday, October 1, 2009 at 9:18am

    The reason I read your blog, buy your products and continue to incorporate your advice is because I believe you, first and foremost, love your dogs and would never hurt them for any reason, certainly not in training them . I’ve never met you but you continue to be an inspiration to me through all you do and say. Today, I am grateful for you :).
    Sherry Moore


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