Start Line Brilliance Begins in the Dryer?

Posted on 01/27/10 26 Comments

I just wrapped up a workshop with young dogs getting ready to trial. I would say less than 30% of the group had really reliable start lines stays.  That is not a good sign. If you don’t have a start line routine before the dog sinks his teeth into how exciting agility can be, trust me, you better be a great runner ’cause it won’t be long before you will have no start line performance at all.

I said to this group, that I could get any of their dogs staying at the start line with me in less than five minutes. They groaned and didn’t believe me. One woman started talking about “start line stress” how her Brittany stresses out at the start line and sniffs or looks away and gets to the point where he just won’t sit, let alone stay. I waited until he showed us that. Sure enough by her second turn up that is exactly what he did. I took the dog, played a game with him and within 3 minutes I was out past the third jump, talking doggie trash to him by throwing a cookie up and down telling him it was MINE!

Don’t get down on yourself if you start line is less than brilliant. Just browse the internet watching video clips of agility teams and take a look at what some of the  start line stays look like. Many of the “high profile” agility competitors; seminar presenters, world team members, even former high profile obedience competitors, can not get their dogs to stay at the start line in agility!

However, finding yourself in the company of this agility royalty should not give you an excuse not to have a brilliant start line. In my opinion, there is no excuse. I have trialled 7 dogs in agility starting in 1990. I have always trialled 2- 3 dogs during that time. So those multiple dogs trialling over the last 20 years represents at least 50 years of agility trialling with only a single dog. All of my dogs (with the exception of DeCaff) have been extremely high drive, some way over-the-top in drive. Yet I have only ever had one dog in those 50 years break a start line, and she did it less than five times. If you want a great start line, you shall have one, it is as simple as that.

Crate Games are now, Appliance Games

Guess where this brilliance starts . . .  you got it, Crate Games. Crate Games are the start of so much in my dog training program, the least of which is impulse control.  If you don’t have the DVD get it now. I mean it, don’t even finish the rest of this post click on this link, here I am giving it to you for the third time, click on it and buy the darn thing. I purposely kept the price down when I produced Crate Games so it was affordable to EVERYONE.  Get your own copy, do not borrow a friends, they will need to review it after this post.

Work through Crate Games until it is innate in your dogs, like this little Toller one of my readers had to tell me about. Crate Games where so ingrained, she started doing them in the dryer.

I will follow up later in the week with some hints to help everyone’s start line but I will wait until you purchase your copy or for some of you, you get the cellophane of the DVD and actually put it in the DVD player and watch it.

Watch it and take notes, watch it all and come back with any questions. Watch it today, let it be movie night for the family!

Today I am grateful for the great attitude of the last weekend’s group that unfortunately had to spent some time in the rain (but it is still toasty warm outside so, not so bad right?)


  1. Julie McCombe says:
    Friday, May 24, 2013 at 9:28pm

    Hi Susan,
    I have a 7 and a half year old Hungarian Vizsla who is an agilty nut. I have struggled FOREVER getting him to wait at the start line at comps. He is just great at training, breaking very rarely. In comps he crouches down low, trembling in anticipation, leg raised in typical gun dog fashion, and basically “explodes”. Being a strong, fast dog, I cannot keep up with him and often, unless the course is set in a particular way, he will DQ very fast. I even spent a 3-day comp “sacrificing” any quallie cards by bringing him back every time he broke. He’d come back and then wait for me to lead out – and we’d have glorious runs.
    Question – can you convince me how your crate games will help me, before I purchase it? Thanks in advance.


  2. Keli says:
    Thursday, February 4, 2010 at 2:50pm

    In the video you start by feeding high and in the back, but then after multiple reps with the German Shepherd you say, if you have a wire crate you can feed in the back through the wires. Can you start feeding in the back through the wires, or must you start by feeding through the door, but high and in the back?


    • Susan says:
      Thursday, February 4, 2010 at 3:26pm

      I wouldn’t feed through the wire during Crate Games at first. Feeding through the wire can create issues when there is no wire. Also the food coming through the front door also acts like a distraction as the training moves along.


  3. Laura says:
    Monday, February 1, 2010 at 1:19pm

    For those wondering about the game Susan played with the Brittany to help the startline, it wouldn’t surprise me if it’s the 1,2,3 game, which from memory is described in both Ruff Love and Shaping Success (and a back issue of DogSport mag).


  4. Laurie S. Coger, DVM,CVP says:
    Saturday, January 30, 2010 at 5:10pm

    Appliance Games indeed! Now to figure out how to incorporate the Slap Chop….


  5. Nath says:
    Saturday, January 30, 2010 at 2:00pm

    Hey Susan,

    Any chance you could make a short clip with one of your dog of the game you played with the Brittany?

    Since a picture is worth a 1000 words, a clip might be worth at least a million!



  6. Claire Duder says:
    Saturday, January 30, 2010 at 9:25am

    I sent Crate Games DVD’s with my last litter of puppies… all of whom were destined for pet homes. CG is not just for agility!


  7. Lisa says:
    Friday, January 29, 2010 at 3:47pm

    Hi Susan!

    I’m a Swedish dog owner who just purchased your dvd and started to train crate games. However I’ve got some questions. We have trained three times and are of course still on stage three; yer in yer out, and some issues has arisen. My dog wont come out when I give him release, this is – I assume – because I have built great value of being in the crate which I guess is good, but it is hard getting on with the training. The last time I did a big no no I think, I tossed a boring cookie in front of the cage as I said the release word, he came out ate it and rushed back into the crate, so it didn’t seem to ruin the training, but maybe it will further on? I use a release word that he knows from our agilitytraining (though, we are still beginners and have had a break during the winter..). We have another releaseword that we use in more daily excercises, such as your free to eat, sniff, pee etc. and I’d rather not use it in this training because I want this word to be connected to speed.

    Another thing is that when he’s in the crate, he sits up when I touch the door but when it is open and I don’t do anything, just sit or stand in front of it, he tends to lie down after a little while, does this mean that I’ve gone to fast in terms of the difficulty-level? When I run around and gamble he just sits and are focused on what the heck I’m doing, it’s only when I don’t do anything that he lies down, I guess I’ve been bad at training sit-stays, my criteria have been grey, he has sometimes gotten treats for a sit-stay though he’s been lying down when I come back to him. Do you think this will solve itself if I train better sit-stays outside of the crate?

    He also have a bad habit of making anxious noices (don’t know the right term in english…) when in the crate. He does these noices a lot and it’s part of the reason why I wanted to start training crate games, he needs to learn to relax and be quiet. I of course ignore him when he does this and only continue the training when he is quiet, do you think he will learn to be calm and quiet as we get further on with the training?

    I hope you have time to answer my questions!



  8. Ariel says:
    Thursday, January 28, 2010 at 7:36pm

    My dog found it very frightening to have the crate door closed on her. I must admit that this is my fault. In our first crate games session, my dog tried to dart out of the door very quickly and my reflexes were a little too slow, so I ended up half grabbing her/ body blocking her. She was terrified of me standing in front of the crate opening and closing the door after that- she just cowered in the back and wouldn’t move or eat anything. I gave up on crate games for awhile after that and just focused on getting her comfortable with her crate again (she has always liked it).

    My dog is 1/2 crate trained now. She waits for a release before coming out of the crate (or car), and will stay in with the door open even if exciting things are happening elsewhere. She will also run to her crate when you tell her to get in. She doesn’t sit up when I put my hand on the release and she could be more enthusiastic about driving to the crate.

    I have considered working on crate games again, but the first go around was so traumatic for her (and me), I feel I have an aversion to it now. She is a very high drive BC- her start line stay is nearly perfect, but she does have impulse control issues with her contacts. I would also love to take a class with you some day, and I have noticed that crate games are a pre-req for many of the classes.

    I am wondering if you think doing the crate games at this point is still necessary. If so, do you have any suggestions about making it less intimidating for my little girl.



  9. Laurie says:
    Thursday, January 28, 2010 at 2:46pm

    You know, that picture is great. Also to note, my dogs will do ANYTHING for a dryer sheet. Makes this picture even better for me 😉


  10. Kristine D says:
    Thursday, January 28, 2010 at 12:04pm

    I had an “A-HA!” moment last night while watching my Crate Games DVD. Typically, I only watch the sections that I’m actively working on to help me remember about setting clear criteria. Last night (thanks in large part to the American politicos highjacking network TV) I watched the entire video again. I watched through Advanced Crate Games and Troubleshooting, though my boy isn’t ready for them.

    And then I saw it. The sign on the wall over your shoulder. The one that says, “Learn from your dog. What is your dog’s sniffing teaching you?”

    Here it comes… “A-HA!”

    My boy has had increasingly frequent floor-surfing episodes. I ask for his attention; he’s busy sniffing around the floor. It’s not all of the time, but more often than it should be.

    What did I learn? I haven’t made being with me more rewarding than sniffing around on the floor. So, along with Crate Games, we’re back to shadow-handling with a leash tied around my waist and playing more high reward rate games with super-yummy treats.

    The lessons from you aren’t always what I’m expecting or what I want, but are what’s really needed. And today, I am grateful for this. 🙂


  11. Tracy says:
    Thursday, January 28, 2010 at 11:39am

    So, look at the dogs in the Crate Games video and in the picture where they are all hanging out in open crates next to each other (while a puppy camp was going on, I might add…)
    There is a variety of breeds in that picture. All of those dogs have achieved at the highest levels: World Teams, National Champions & National Finalists in Steeplechase and USDAA Grand Prix, multiple Wins & Placements at Nationals & Regionals in both the US and Canada, High level Masters titles…. and some of those dogs are still quite young and really at the beginning of their careers… what is the common denominator? Crate games! You know what else is also a common denominator? All of these dogs are great pets & companions above all else – they are a joy to be around.

    And I’m not saying just half-assed crate games… all of the those handlers embraced the joy of crate games and had fun teaching them to fluency and getting the dogs aroused to play the game – while still maintaining criteria. Too many folks stop at simply getting the dog to sit still for a heartbeat at class in the crate, rather than embrace them as a lifestyle change.



  12. Kari says:
    Wednesday, January 27, 2010 at 11:52pm

    I do love the CG video. I have been going back with my 2 yr old and training him with this. His stay has improved sgnificantly. We have a 21 month old that we recently adopted, that had been abused. Crate games are really helping her with confidence, she just loves playing them. I had house guests this weekend who could not believe that dogs would drive towards their crates like that. Unfortuantely, the suggestions in the DVD about what to do if your dog starts barking have not worked (sigh), but I guess that was an earlier topic.


  13. Tori Self says:
    Wednesday, January 27, 2010 at 6:10pm

    LOL. Appliance Games.


  14. Cat says:
    Wednesday, January 27, 2010 at 6:07pm

    Susan, I would love to hear a more in-depth description of what you did to help the dog who stressed on the start line. I have done Crate Games with my 11-year-old English Springer who has made loads of progress (she can actually do start lines at trials again without having a meltdown!) but I am always up for learning something new or different that might help her even more.


  15. Penny says:
    Wednesday, January 27, 2010 at 5:22pm

    Hey Susan

    Great post and great photo … who ever said dogs don’t generalise??!!

    Also great topic, and very relevant to me right now with a young pup (and Lynda coming down under next month!!) … not for the first time has one of your posts been right on the money with my current thoughts, challenges and triumphs .. as a friend and I say “Susan is bugging our phones again!!”

    And finally, you mentioned in today’s post that De Caff is not extremely high drive, and I remember previously you said that you had a single experience in her training career where she looked like she was shutting down, and you made sure it never happened again … I would love it if you could share a little more of this with us.

    Cheers and best wishes


  16. Karen M says:
    Wednesday, January 27, 2010 at 5:18pm

    I’ve decided to have a down-stay for my young kelpie at the start line. It’s his position of choice rather than a sit stay. Comes from his experience on working stock where he is really concentrating. The stock experience has developed a pretty solid stay. And crate games come into it every training session at club and car trips. Yes indeed, never take good behaviour for granted as I started to do. Luckily, I was quickly reminded of this by my agility friends.


  17. Andrea says:
    Wednesday, January 27, 2010 at 5:05pm

    Got a new rescue dog this week – starting her on crate games tonight! It’s definitely the best video on the shelf!! I’ve put it off for 3 days tho… I’ll do it tonight I promise…


  18. Cassie Levy says:
    Wednesday, January 27, 2010 at 1:36pm

    Oi… this is so true. Even for the “not so high drive” dogs. My rottweilers have taught me the art of motivation and yet, it is well known that Emma (my dog with CDX’s in two countries and her first Utility leg) can’t sit on an agility start line. Well…she CAN, and sometimes she sits so well that she won’t break even when I say okay. Emma has taught me the importance of BALANCE! For every session we do motivational releases, we must also do lots of impulse control.
    The absolutely very first thing I worked on with my BC, K8, was crate games and self control. And there are days it just doesn’t show…. lol It’s true this is something that you can’t ever take for granted and you need to work at playing these games forever and ever Amen! 🙂


  19. Kathy Smith says:
    Wednesday, January 27, 2010 at 1:28pm

    Cant’ wait for advice! My dog who did play crate games does not creep but moves a foot forward and goes into the “vulture stance”… even offering a nosetouch of all things. He is just 19 1/2 months old. Of course this never showed up until he was put in front of equipment. Must fix…
    And my other shifts his butt and moves forward just a tad. Again, this just showed up in trials. He is now doing it in practice so I have been working on it but would love more advice.


  20. Deb D says:
    Wednesday, January 27, 2010 at 1:26pm

    I did lend out my crate games DVD and I need to get it back to work on a few things. I do play crate games every day with my two young dogs. My dogs immediately drive to their crates as soon as they hear Susan’s voice (I guess I may have watched it a time or two)! Seeing how quickly both my youngest pup and my 11 year old girl caught on to the concept left me hooked on the Say Yes method. Crate Games are lots of FUN.


  21. Laura says:
    Wednesday, January 27, 2010 at 12:58pm

    I also found your 1,2,3 game really helpful in teaching a dog that it is possible to have self-control in what would otherwise be ‘freak-out’ situations. My pup first learned the game shortly after coming to me, and at 10 months, she is excellent at it. She has an incredibly high prey drive and loves to pounce on anything that moves, but I can’t get her to break her sit even wildly wiggling a tug toy around her on the floor. Like crate games, it’s a great tool to teach the dog that they are only released on a verbal cue, not on any sort of physical cue from you.


  22. Christine says:
    Wednesday, January 27, 2010 at 11:27am

    What perfect timing of this post! I am a FIRM believer in your CG’s DVD.

    I purchased it to use as a motivating tool to build drive and understanding in my current boy and just introduced it to my 8 week old pup. Seeing it through a fresh set of eyes is truly amazing! Within a short session he understood hand on the door means sit high to the back, and the second short session he was driving back in with the ‘Yer in Yer Out’ segment. If an 8 week old pup can understand value and self control then think how easily this is going to be to transfer over! Thank you SAY YES we love our Crate Games!


  23. lynne brubaker says:
    Wednesday, January 27, 2010 at 11:23am

    to continue….

    What was so interesting to me was realizing that foundation training is never “over”, it is never “ok she knows that, let’s move on, NEXT?”. Crates Games should be played every day…. One jump, 2×2 etc should be revisited on a regular basis. The reinforcement zone can NEVER be reinforced too much. Note to self…NEVER stop reinforcing a desired behavior because you assume it is “learned”, never, never, never, never. I thought my dog knew “sit”, how basic, right?



  24. Lynda Orton-Hill says:
    Wednesday, January 27, 2010 at 10:19am

    Belly Laughing – GREAT PICTURE!


  25. lynne brubaker says:
    Wednesday, January 27, 2010 at 10:18am



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