Start Line “Fun”

Posted on 02/01/10 14 Comments

I entitled this post Start Line “Fun” because for many of you, that is what is lacking. It has become more like Start Line “Hell” than Start Line Fun.  If you are trying to trick, intimidated or “force” your dog to wait for a release at the start line, I promise, it is unlikely to work long term . . .  if it works at all!

Think about your own life. Are you more likely to become great at things you “MUST” do but absolutely hate doing, or those that tasks that you enjoy. Rather than thinking of “training” your dog to wait at the start line, I suggest that you come up with ways to inspire your dog to wait for your release.

I think start line stays (as much or more than anywhere else) are a place that your really get to see a dog’s great ability to shape their handler’s behaviour.  It really is a crack up.

Take an agility handler with a dog with a rock solid start line. They leave their dog possibly giving a single “wait” or  “stay” cue, walks to position,

Confidently leading out in the finals class at the USDAA Nationals.

watching their dog or at least occasionally glancing back as they lead out. Once in position, they may take one final glance at the course that lies ahead, praises the dog, takes a nice deep breath to fill their lungs before the run and then calmly releases the dog from the start line.

Now lets examine the handler with a dog with a suspect start line performance. The dog has shaped the following responses in this less confident handler

  1. The handler will have his back to the first jump as he lines his dog up, preventing the dog from getting a clear view of the course (like the dog doesn’t know what is upcoming) as he asks the dog to sit.
  2. He will back away from the dog rather than turn and walk away.
  3. He holds up and outstretched arm and an open palm while repeating things like “s-t-a-a-a-y . . . s-t-a-a-a-y . . . s-t-a-a-ay” or “you better wait, mister, and I mean it, WAIT!!, YOU WAIT, AH AH, W-A-A-I-T!”
  4. He starts to sprint out to where he would like to lead out.
  5. His breathing is shallow and he never quite reaches his exact lead out position nor does he actually come to a complete stop.
  6. As soon as he thinks he has pushed his dog’s patience enough, he quickly spins back at his now already breaking dog and frantically screams “OKAY” to a dog that is already sailing over the first jump.

Sound familiar? Dogs are awesome. I laugh not at you, but rather in awe of the magnificence of dogs. Who says they are dumb?

Just a reminder, you have the larger brain, it is you that is supposed to be doing the shaping.

Sorry if I am sounding like a broken record. If you have not dusted off that Crate Games DVD yet. Trust me it is the key to regaining your start line. Play the games giving attention to your dog’s paws, are they moving?  I mean ever. They just should not be if you want to have a brilliant start line.  Know your criteria and never waiver from it. Crate Games are not just for when it is convenient, it is forever. Anytime you release the dog from a crate or any control position.  Start to become of a student of your dog’s compliance in and out of the crate.

It is rare that a start line problem doesn’t have its origin somewhere else in your everyday life.

More later.  Today I am grateful for an awesome time here in Florida. Pedicure, fascial, KickBoxing, yoga, and some killer morning workouts. What fun.


  1. Ashlynn says:
    Monday, September 17, 2012 at 5:56pm

    I am new to agility and i see alot of people have their dogs come around and lay in between their legs for the first obstacle. I think its to have your dog lined up right for the obstacle?? Anyways how would I train my dog to do that? any suggestions are appreciated!!


  2. Jeff says:
    Monday, September 5, 2011 at 11:40am

    My start line hell is the opposite, my dog just sits there and looks at me. She is great once I can get her going but that never seems to be the same thing each time. If I could start with a contact or tunnel we would be OK.


    • Susan says:
      Monday, September 5, 2011 at 4:41pm

      Jeff this is something I address in the “Building the Team Fundraiser ebook” you can buy from my on-line store on my website (btw all of the money from these ebooks goes to the Canadian World Agility teams).


  3. Holly says:
    Tuesday, November 30, 2010 at 6:55pm

    My Doberman is very athletic, has great handler and obstacle focus, BUT he only holds his start line stay 25% of the time. We do not run the course in a trial or practice if he breaks it.

    I decided, no more excuses, we will make this start line the top priority.

    I started crate games today and I am devoted to making this work. The FIRST exercise on the dvd we had a problem, and I really need help. I couldn’t get my dog to sit when I opened the crate.

    When I opened the crate door he changed laying on his side hip to a sphinx position. I waited for him to offer another behavior, like sit, but never got one out of him.

    Any ideas on how to get him to sit in the crate? I do want a sit since a sit is his position for his start line????????

    Help please : )


    • George says:
      Wednesday, April 13, 2011 at 7:51am

      I just started crate games too, so I’m a noob, but I think when you reward high and at the back, your dog should have to come to a sit to accept the reward. That way, he will be in a sit when you open the door. I am thinking that with a larger dog, you may not be able to reach back far enough inside to achieve this, and may have to offer the reward through the wire high and at the back.

      JAFF (Just Another Failed Foster)


    • kay acres says:
      Sunday, November 1, 2015 at 11:23pm

      I had to lure my Irish Terrier into a sit to begin. Then I rewarded the sit A LOT.
      Eventually she responded with a slow sit and I released her, and brought her ball out – her favorite thing. It needs to be fun and that’s our job. My Poodle puppy learned right away and has a fast and happy sit and release. So thankful.


  4. Laurie says:
    Thursday, July 22, 2010 at 7:12pm

    Just ordered Crate Games. I have one of the fastest, most driven shelties out there. He lives and breathes agility. I train in Seattle. Truitt is brilliant at contacts and many other things….except his start line. He is so jacked up in the ring he just goes. I am so looking forward to getting this nipped in the bud as he is only 2 years old and could easily be World Team. Thanks and any other suggestions for start line will be appreciated.


    • Lynne Bockelman says:
      Sunday, February 14, 2016 at 7:55am

      I have a sheltie who’s the same way – really smart & high drive. He was never trained to do a real “stay” at all until he was 5 years old (for many reasons), although he understood “wait,” meaning don’t run out the front door. I did two things to fix his start-line very easily with no corrections at all.

      #1 I placed his closed target tupperware containing treats about three feet in front and two feet to the side of him (so he wouldn’t run over it when he went to jump). Just having the treats there seem to focus his mind on staying, although he was mostly watching me. He was so eager to jump that he NEVER went to the treats when I released him; we just ran the course.

      #2 For the first few months, I went back and rewarded him with a medium value treat 75% of the time for staying. Also, I don’t get him all revved up before a run – he’s already fast enough off the line. And I never released him to run if he was antsy.

      #3 Sometimes I started the run from a down on the table, which helped him realize there was a clear boundary to the startline.

      I don’t have a lot of time to train, so this wasn’t done more than twice a week for a few months. That’s all there was to it. Hope it helps. Good luck!


  5. Linda G. says:
    Sunday, February 7, 2010 at 11:06pm

    I started Crate Games in trying to create more drive on a course. So far my 7.5 y.o dog is rock solid for staying in the crate, and in the Yer Out Yer In part she quickly turns around to get back into the crate, but only at a trot.

    Should I be moving onto the collar grab game, or waiting for her to “fly” back towards the crate (which I will have to see to believe) before moving on to that part? 🙂


  6. Joni S. says:
    Friday, February 5, 2010 at 10:22pm

    My dog has an Awesome start line!!! (knock-on-wood, I’m very superstitious) And I can thank Susan Garrett crate games for that!!! Love it! No start line hell here…only love. Now, if I could get rid of the vulchur position sometimes. LOL.


  7. Lynne says:
    Tuesday, February 2, 2010 at 10:48am

    Bingo 🙂


  8. Kristine D says:
    Tuesday, February 2, 2010 at 10:26am

    I have been working Crate Games consistently over the past week. We play several very short sessions every day. My boy was very lackadaisical about his crate at the beginning of the week. Each and every day his drive for the crate improves. I haven’t named the behavior yet, but if we’re just goofing off I can point at the crate and he pops right in!

    Last night, I had my weekly group class. I was able to set him up at the start-line and walk the entire course. And he didn’t flinch. The instructor commented that my boy was watching every move I made waiting for his release. The only muscles he moved were those needed to rotate his little head. I went back to the start line and rewarded him for being a good boy. I then lead out, took a nice deep breath, relaxed, and released him. Yayyy!

    I can also see where Crate Games is starting to help him maintain other control positions throughout the course. He’s had some issues lately with contacts. While they weren’t perfect last night, there was a signficant improvement from previous weeks. And I felt he was driving even faster to his contact positions. He nearly slid right off of the table he was trying to get up and into his down position so fast!

    I hope I see results this quickly with my Cellerciser….. 🙂


  9. Scott. says:
    Tuesday, February 2, 2010 at 3:03am

    Crate games are fun & it works!
    Even when my pup was only 11 months old I could lead out 30 yards past multiple obstacles, or put her in a standing stay – and not one foot will move.
    Yeah at that age, it was mostly tunnels, hoops & simple jumps, but the start line stay was still just that.


  10. mldawson52 says:
    Monday, February 1, 2010 at 1:16pm

    I am new to the blog and I have a question.
    My 3 1/2 yr old Female Corgi has ring issues. Naturally only at trials. She is completely fearless at our lessons. We train about 3 times a week.
    When we get to a trial she is very aware of the ring workers and judge.
    She quits working, refuses to jump “into” a bar setter, turn a corner where there is someone on her course.
    I have been driving her more keep giving her, the job that she is to perform. This past weekend that seemed to work much better. BUT there were some times that she just refused to work and went off sniffing, This dog loves agility, But she is still alot slower then she is in class.
    When she stops working I just walk away from her and excuse myself from the ring. She appears to be disappointed. I don’t say anything to her, just walk back calmly to the crate and put her in. No cookies no praise just ignore her.

    After doing some analysis, it seems that the first first day she was focused and I really thought I had this whipped, but the second day was horrible,
    I know this is crazy but I’m desperate..
    I have even bought mannequins to put in the ring at my lessons to get her use to seeing strange people.

    Any thoughts or suggestions? Other then to keep trialing her and hopefully this will go away..

    Mary Lynn


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