Stacy Winkler's Keen Dog Blog

Finding the fun in creating great dog agility behaviors

Getting By Is Not Enough! You CAN Learn To Watch And Evaluate Your Dog’s Skills As You Sequence


cd_22755_414340_groovewinkler_a3173098_dlOne of the concepts that I feel many students struggle or don’t even think about, is being able to evaluate the success of their dog’s skills AS they work or run their dog.

Now I’m not talking about their ability to look at a skill in general and say:”Hey, awesome we made it through the drill! I am talking about REALLY looking at a skill, as the dog is performing it, and assessing its degree of success.

For instance if  I decel in front of a jump, front cross and run to the next jump, what should I be thinking at this point?
1) “———-” Nothing at all, or “Dear lord I think the next jump is to the left!!”
2) “Phew” “I think that was the right obstacle.”
3) “We are awesome, wheeeee let’s go!”
4) “We suck”
5)”Hmmmm that turn was a bit wide.”

If you guessed #5 you are the on the money.

Whenever I am running or working my dog I am assessing every bit of our performance. Yup, EVERY BIT!

In my last blog I talked about the necessity of having a “perfect picture” of what I want my behaviors and training session to look like before I begin training any skill. This concept is a complement to that. I need to know what the behavior I want looks like and then I want to make sure I am always observing each skill my dog does so I can make adjustments when need be to maximize the effectiveness of my training.

If you run your dog solely to get through the instructor’s sequence then you are ignoring what could make the difference between being just a decent agility competitor or being a truly great competitive team.

3 main roadblocks to accomplishing this are:
1) Belief that you will be able to do more than simply worry about where the heck you are supposed to go next.
2) Understanding what you are supposed to look for in the first place.
3) Knowing what the heck are you supposed to do about it if you don’t like it?

Ok so you have been doing agility for 3,5,7+ years and hopefully at this point you can say that you do have at least a pretty good grasp of how to handle your dog. Well, if this is so it is time to grab the reigns and take control rather than being dragged on the ground by the stirrup.


pupsblogI realize this can feel overwhelming and you will probably need the support of your instructor to help you out, but you can absolutely accomplish this. I believe in you even if you don’t. You can do it! It all starts with a single small step.

One of the things I always tell folks is that: “it is just as important not to over face you, the trainer, as it is to not over face your dog.” Over face basically means trying to do to much at one time, overloading yourself or giving yourself too much to deal with at once.

If we make things too complicated for ourselves we are more likely to quit. By breaking things into bite size pieces in the beginning it is much easier to create success. When we are able to create success then we are more likely to keep trying. The great news is that observing our dog’s behaviors and skills will eventually become second nature.
How do we do this you ask? Begin with a single behavior. One single jump with one turn.

Put your dog in a sit stay 12+’ behind a jump and lead out to about 1 1/2’ distance behind the jump, release your dog, front cross when your dog’s front feet leave the ground and turn the dog back in the direction of your sit stay. Make sure you keep your eyes on your dog as you front cross so you can assess the turn.

Before you attempt this make sure you know what the “Perfect Picture” of that turn should look like. You need to know what you want to see so you can judge what you do see. Makes sense huh? You can always go back and read my “Perfect Picture” blog for more information.

assesing-jump-performanceWell, what did you think? Was it : A thing of beauty? Totally sucked? Ummmm, sort of ok?
Did you like the turn but the dog came around the jump very slowly and didn’t power towards you?……..?

First of all, congratulate yourself because you, maybe for the first time, gave a sh**t about the quality of a turn.😀 YAY!! And so it begins.

The great take away here is that you made the process manageable because you are taking things one skill at a time. You are beginning to progress beyond just doing enough to get by, into being able to assess your dog’s performance and thereby improve your skills.
You can’t fix what’s broke if you don’t know which part is broke in the first place. Right?! So back to our first drill, if you didn’t like your dog’s turn in a sequence here are a couple of possibilities.

If you weren’t totally standing still it’s possible you were cueing acceleration towards the jump when you should have been cueing deceleration.This would result in a wide turn.
Your dog doesn’t understand how to turn well. A bad turn and slow speed around a turn is most likely caused by a lack of value and training specific goals for turns. How to create a great turn is a whole other blog 😀 but I am sure you can talk to your instructor and get some solutions.

Next let’s assess your dog’s performance on a contact behavior. Every time my dog completes a contact I am judging their performance. I never ignore this. I am always aware of what occurred as my dog performed the skill.

In order to asses this we have to go back to the concepts in my Perfect Picture Blog. If I don’t know what I want the skill to ultimately look like it is hard to judge performance. So make sure you have your perfect picture in your head before you begin.
Just do one contact to begin with to keep it simple. Set them 20’ back rev them up and let them fly!

cditem_a_m0u4654How was your dog’s speed?
Did they power across the apex?
Did they confidently drive into the 2 on 2 off position or were they hesitant or slow?
Did they run off the end rather than stop in position if 2on2 off is my criteria?

Did I pull them off?
Are they always random, so it was status quo?
Did they hold the end until released, or jump the gun?

If I made the contact a challenge such as sending to the contact and running laterally away to my next position, what did I think?

Often in my head I will quickly rate their performance, was it: Amazing!!, Great!, Good, Passable, Not So Much or That Sucked!

By rating the performance every time I can also make a decision whether to reward the behavior, go on with my sequence or stop and try it again.

As a drill, video the session and see if your on the spot assessment jibes with what you see in the video review.

Remember to make things manageable for yourself! Begin by assessing a single behavior and then move to short sequences and see if you can still assess each piece.

Quick Thoughts AGAIN On Connection

By learning to evaluate your behaviors as you run you have the added benefit of keeping a better connection with your dog on course. You can’t assess what kind of a turn your dog made at the last jump if you are not seeing them take it and finish the turn.The better your connection the clearer your directions will be to your dog. That is an awesome benefit!

If you are struggling with this, the culprit probably is that you are losing sight of your dog as you front cross. I mentioned this earlier in the article but it is important to reiterate. As I front cross while my feet step towards where I am going and my body moves through the cross, my head stays with my dog so that I am able to maintain eye contact.

Connect,Connect, Connect!

_p3a7667-2If you use blind crosses then you want to practice connecting back with your dog as quickly as you can. This way you will be able to see your dog’s performance and communicate your directions with more clarity.

Practice this behavior starting with just a single jump as well. Even this simple act will help improve your performance on course as you will be much more aware of your dog’s performance.

Have a blast focusing on these skills and make it part of what you do every time you run or a course or practice a sequence.

Have Fun Training!
Stacy Winkler


Author: Stacy Winkler

I have been a dog agility trainer for going on 15 years. I am a frequent contributor to Clean Run Magazine. I teach online classes to students around the world. I also teach privately online as well as at my home field in Vista, California. I specialize in drive, connection and play as well as strong foundation and masters work.

4 thoughts on “Getting By Is Not Enough! You CAN Learn To Watch And Evaluate Your Dog’s Skills As You Sequence

  1. On Wed, Dec 7, 2016 at 9:55 PM, Stacy Winkler’s Keen Dog Blog wrote:

    > stacywinkler posted: “One of the concepts that I feel many students > struggle or don’t even think about, is being able to evaluate the success > of their dog’s skills AS they work or run their dog. Now I’m not talking > about their ability to look at a skill in general and say:”He” >


  2. Love your Blog. You are so “on”. I’m constantly forwarding your articles to my agility friends. I’m adding a trip to see you to my bucket list. I drove my dogs to the park for the first time in 42 days and my hands were so cold I couldn’t feel my knee! (knee surgery sucks) Thanks for sharing your knowledge. 🐩 MACH Max, (Daysprings Live Life to the Max) and I both thank you!


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