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Defining Agility Brilliance

Posted on 02/05/10 20 Comments

I was eating my breakfast this morning thinking about what I want to accomplish at the three day workshop I have starting today. The workshop is primarily young, adolescent agility dogs, those either just embarking on an agility career or those that have yet to start. In my preparation I realize what my objective is really is to help people define their goals. Before you can really define your goals you have to be able to visualize exactly what the brilliance you are after looks like.

So think about the agility dog and handler team of your dreams. If you need some fuel for your dreams sit down and watch the runs from a recent World Championship. You can pick up a copy of last year’s FCI Championships from the Clean Run website. You should have this DVD in your library. Everyone should have at least one copy of the elite in the sport. Just watch some of the runs and start to define agility brilliance for yourself. Β What does that look like? Β Aside from the physical abilities of the handler, what trained skills would this brilliant dog possess?

Here is my list of what I came up with this morning. Trained skills of the most brilliant agility dog your mind can visualize

1.) A rock solid, confident but excited start line.

2) Runs in “squirrel speed” around the course

3) Ability to drive lines. She locks her head on a line and doesn’t look up until the run is over (ie doesn’t have an unbalanced value for the handler over the obstacles)

4) Comes off any obstacle when prompted by her handler’s body cues (ie doesn’t have an unbalanced value for the obstacles over the handler)

5) Amazing tight turns.

6) Lightning responses to her handler’s cues: front cross, rear cross, threadle arms, post turns, accelerations and deceleration cues.

7) Full independent obstacle understanding (does not relay on the handler’s speed or body position for her ability to complete any obstacle at full speed).

Ok, that is what I came up with this morning. You guys have anything to add?

Today I am grateful for the amazing group of enthusiastic students I am about to work with this weekend (putting the power of visualization to work for me πŸ˜‰ )


  1. Ute Holtzhausen says:
    Tuesday, June 14, 2011 at 6:29am

    Your list really got me thinking.I can’t add to it. It clarified many things in my mind. I am a slow runner. That perfect balance between focusing on handler and obstacles on the course is something that has eluded me. My first dogs went for the line beautifully, then ignored my instructions and were eliminated too often. My next dogs were watching me too closely and as a result became overly cautious continually checking in to ask:”Are you sure?” and were reluctant to get too far ahead of me. I feel your dvd’s were made specifically for me.I now think I know where the mistakes were made and how to retrain my currant dogs and start a new generation. Reading your dog, to know when to stop or when a little more proofing is needed is vital. Thanks for teaching me a completely new outlook and skills base on my dogs and their training.


  2. dogagilitytrainingequipment says:
    Friday, February 12, 2010 at 11:28pm

    I hadn’t thought about all of you cues to a brilliant agility dog until I read what you wrote and of course that makes perfect sense. I have begun some agility training with my girl and I was wondering, what would be a clue as to agility brilliance as far as you’re concerned, a dog who essentially runs the course on his/her own, a dog who waits on every single command you make as the handler or a combination of both. Thanks.

    Jo Chris


  3. Bobbie Bhambree says:
    Sunday, February 7, 2010 at 11:22am

    Starting a puppy in this program, and having a much better understanding of all the components the second time around, allows me to “see” the brilliant agility dog that you describe above. It’s exhilarating!


  4. Scott. says:
    Saturday, February 6, 2010 at 9:50pm

    I’m having difficulty with this one. Clearly there are many great dogs out there, and I’m in awe at what they can do & what training has gone into making it what it is… but… I’m afraid I can’t think of one handler running a course that impresses me in the same way.
    Thus it is difficult for me to think of emulating anyone else on the course. Don’t get me wrong I’m not taking anything away from the job done in training by the human half… for that there are many trainers I look up to. But in the competition ring, no… in fact when I watch some of the “elite” handlers in action I am astounded at how well the dog performs despite them.
    I have to imagine being better than anyone & everyone just to come close to being the human half of a dream team.


  5. Joni S. says:
    Saturday, February 6, 2010 at 11:22am

    If I were to add to the list………I dug out , “My Criteria list for Sport to Maintain” from 7-7-08. Have it up on the fridge. Alot on the list are the same. Solid contacts (no curling) speed on the contacts.
    Need to be able to move away from her in the weave poles, needs to know her job.
    Solid start line. Maintain drive as I walk out with a happy face. :o)) Or “Ready”? (but sometimes I am finding that “ready” is TOO much.
    Tighter turns, tight-tight-tight.

    One of mine I would add to this list is a solid table. No slow sits or downs. A good lead out from the table. I was just at a trial where it was Table-tire-wrong end of curved tunnel. I was going to lead just a little, excel/decel, head check, and then tunnel. But I saw Terry Smorch run it, and he did a lead out pivot(FC) after……….the tire…..to direct them in to the correct end of tunnel. I’m like COOL! I can do that. I have that in my tools. So I did it, and it was pretty slick. Welll ……mine wasn’t as slick as Terry’s but, I’m going to train that more. So yes, I would say I would add to the list a solid table, and lead out from the table. The peeps that had to babysit the table, I would say 40% of them got the wrong end.

    I also like what some of the others were talking about. Efficient jumping. My ‘winter project’ I picked out was to do the Susan Salo foundation jumping video’s. (And I’m in Minnesota, so it is REALL a winter project) I’m loving it, and know already it is going to pay off big. Maybe I will have to get that One Jump video too.

    Hmm…..maybe we could add….A good sized ‘Tool belt’ knowing you have trained something well enough to feel confident about using it in a trial. But I guess thats pretty general, and kind of includes everything here. Ha,ha….but I love….that saying.


  6. Karen M says:
    Saturday, February 6, 2010 at 7:56am

    It’s weird. Years ago, we just did it! Now I’m finding I’m holding myself and dog back more and more (re: trialling) ensuring my high drive pup learns right the first time about how to execute the basics safely and efficiently. We’re way behind everyone else as far as these skills are concerned as I’ve been concentrating so much on the relationship factor at class rather than the obstacles. I know I don’t want to practise bad rehearsals too many times, especially at a competition. I envisage my smooth striding pup gliding effortlessly around a course with confidence and independant obstacle performance. In short, all of what you have descibed, Susan.


  7. Soraya says:
    Friday, February 5, 2010 at 6:38pm

    I was having this same conversation today. I had to really stop and think what do I want from this dog, what do I want her to achieve, how do I train to her strengths and reduce any weaknesses? If I’m not clear in my own mind how can I expect the dog to be clear in theirs what is wanted from them. Needless to say I’ve got a much better idea now than I did this morning πŸ™‚


  8. Rebecca says:
    Friday, February 5, 2010 at 2:32pm

    The dog needs good bounce back should a mistimed cue or poor position by a handler result in a quick “save”, the dog should get back to work and not remain rattled and become hectic.


  9. Sydney says:
    Friday, February 5, 2010 at 2:02pm

    Sounds like the skills learned from 1 jump work and shadow handling! The great thing about the 1 jump video is that the handler learns the cues along with the dog.

    Any idea of when you will release the video you were working on last summer?


  10. Michelle says:
    Friday, February 5, 2010 at 1:05pm

    Teaching drive and focus and responsibility for it. I know that since I have started shaping my dog she has shown much more interest and demands to work. However I find it hard to transfer shaping games into working in agility. How to get that speed. I hate to say and blame that she is not a BC and that is my excuse, but she is neither a working nor herding dog and not the exception to the rule for her breed. So for me to visualize that wannabe team I find it hard. I can more visualize myself playing a great round of golf when I dont have to add anyone else to the equation. But I havent given up. Can I bring her to you for a week and you can work your majic and show me what I have been not doing πŸ™‚ One can visualize that now πŸ™‚


  11. mary m says:
    Friday, February 5, 2010 at 11:20am

    A dog who has complete body awareness….and translates this as well within their jumping skills…fast and tight are great but they need not look choppy!

    So to add:
    – Confidence and body understanding of jumping in extension and collection
    – Smoothness in the run, a rhythm if you will….meaning well throughout strides and movements on the dogs part.

    And of course everything on your list is ideal as well!!!!


  12. Kelly says:
    Friday, February 5, 2010 at 11:18am

    I’d add lovely, confident jumping style with nice soft landings.


  13. julie weir says:
    Friday, February 5, 2010 at 10:29am

    I would add one skill to the list and that is a dog who has a full understanding of their take off point for all the jumps and executes the jump safely and efficiently.

    When I started agility no one ever talked about jump training your dog just did – my first dog rarely dropped a bar but he lost lots of time over jumping and was very hard on his body. With my subsequent dogs I taught them to jump – what a huge difference it has made both in terms of efficiency/speed on the course and wear on their bodies.


  14. Jodi says:
    Friday, February 5, 2010 at 9:58am

    I like watching the grace of a dog who economizes on his strides between jumps and doesn’t frantically add itty-bitty ones to get to his next obstacle.


  15. Anne Stocum says:
    Friday, February 5, 2010 at 9:49am

    Good post Susan. Your advice will help students know what they might aspire to in the sport. Then the journey begins… finding joy in successes of each small step along the way!

    Then there is the matter of becoming a great handler, as Sam says πŸ™‚ and becoming mentally prepared for competition and embarking on or continuing our fitness programs…Agility…a lifetime pursuit!


  16. Trish says:
    Friday, February 5, 2010 at 9:05am

    Only thing I’d add are the trained skills of the most brilliant agility handler my mind can visualize πŸ™‚ (since we are 50% of da team)


    • Susan says:
      Friday, February 5, 2010 at 9:42am

      I am not discounting the importance of the handlers skills guys as a matter of fact a great handler can over come the limitations of a weakly trained dog where the reverse is rarely true it is just that THIS post today is focusing only on the skills of the dog. We can look at the handler skills later.


  17. Deb D says:
    Friday, February 5, 2010 at 8:33am

    Having yet to enter a trial with my young dog I’m more worried about the handler than the dog because he is so much better than me! The getting lost and giving wrong cues is concern. I’m sure once we do enter a trial there will be things to improve upon but for now I’m the weakest link in the team.


  18. Sam says:
    Friday, February 5, 2010 at 8:20am

    A handler that always says the right cue, never gets lost and has perfect timing πŸ˜‰


  19. Sally says:
    Friday, February 5, 2010 at 8:16am

    Fascinating blog post in light of a discussion I was having with somebody in the last few days about how do you know when your ready to enter a trial with a baby dog. First dogs you tend to rush into the ring because you don’t know any better and spend forever chasing your tail trying to fix things that weren’t trained properly to start with.

    Subsequent dogs however tend to come with more expectations attached and you are never quite as certain – especially if you aren’t fortunate enough to have brilliant people training around you on a regular basis.

    I have got as far as writing out a first entry for my youngster who is now 22 months but based on that list (and what was the outcome of my discussion the other day) I think she needs to stay in the cupboard for a bit longer.


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