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Slow starts

My three year old miniature Australian shepherd gets stuck at the start line if I lead out at trials. He looks all spacey, like he has mentally checked out. When he starts he is very slow for the first three or four obstacles, then he speeds up and is fine for the rest of the course. I have tried being very consistent with my releases and at home he does OK. It isn't like dogs who start slow then speed up because they know they are getting a treat at the end of the run, it is more like a stress reaction. I can run with him, of course, and that works, but I want to be able to lead out at trials when I need to. Any suggestions?

I know this problem. I solved it by playing: I bought a special leash without metal things and introduced this leash to my dog as one of the best toys. I motivated my dog to play and to tug with the leash. Now this is our special trial-leash and I have a "toy" right away at the start and can play with my dog and motivate her. So the start is something positive now: it is fun!

Does he do it at practice and/or class also? If so, I would get him excited and then go back and start again, and then celebrate/treats/play. I never want to rehearse starting out slow and then speeding up and then getting a treat/play. I would also focus on games that encourage explosive releases from stays. (staying for food, staying for chase games, staying for a thrown toy or food bag, etc.).

Have you got a verbal to help build up the excitement?

Thanks to all of you for responding! In will work on using the leash. He isn't an enthusiastic tugger, but we can work on that. He is a bit slow in practice, we don't go to class, he was very stressed in class and I could barely get him around a course. Funnily enough, though, except for his starts he isn't like that at trials, he seems excited to be there, and runs well except for his starts. I do have a verbal - "are you ready" and I am working with him in the kitchen saying "go" to his food bowl now that it is raining all the time. Restrained recalls don't work, he sits down or rolls onto his back if I push on his chest :-)) Again, thank you for all these great suggestions.

Hi Diana,

I had the wonderful opportunity to study under Chuck Tompkins, Sea World's curator of zoological operations. He changed how I viewed training and life.

He would often see students (agility) that had inadvertantly made their body position part of the behavior. For example, the handler had to slow down or stop to get the two on two off on a contact or they had to be right beside their dog for the weave poles.

I may be totally off base but since you mentioned that you can run with your dog without a lead out and get speed, then perhaps he thinks that your motion is part of the behavior. I don't know it this would account for " the spacey look" but if you think this is possible, then you could begin taking your body motion out of the equation and work on independent obstacle performance (jumps).

Keep us posted.

Lynn

Thank you, Lynn. I think you make a very important point. I have tried to be consistent and even train releases at home with my hands behind my back to make sure he isn't cueing off my body movement. I really think it is stress because of the way he looks. He isn't making eye contact with me and often even looks away. I am going to post another question on ring stress.

Hi Diana,

Based on your description of no eye contact etc., I do believe there is stress going on. It sounds like you are able to lead out and still get the speed you want in practice but not at trials.

Hey Diana,

I would suggest continuing to work on tugging and/or finding a way to make his food treat "alive". Drag a bait bag around, or throw a bait bag, etc. MOTION MOTION MOTION is an important part of it. You moving with get him more involved. Also, I totally would be working on being able to push on his chest/restrain him as a part of this. I would rehearse it first at home for his food bowl or something like that (make you sure you pick a part of the house that has good traction). Does he pull on the leash or on his harness? Use that! Whatever you can to get active response out of him.

Just more ideas, Renee

All great ideas, Renee. We are having three sessions a day working on releases. Fortunately, I work at home, so I can do this! I did have a lightbulb moment yesterday that I should share, though. We went out to do a short course for the first time in a couple of weeks. I left him at the start line, thinking he would release since we have been working on this a lot. He did the same thing, looking all spacey, not responding. I have always used 'OK' as his release. After a couple of 'OKs' I said, "Arlo, GO!", and he shot off the start line. Is this the 'poisoned cue'? Somehow his release word has negative connotations? Now this is only one episode and we have a trial this weekend, so we will see.

In my opinion, it is a great thing that you can re-create the problem at home/at practice! That way you can work on it! Does he look spacey as you lead or when you say his release word?

Hi Diana,

Thanks for writing to the forum :) My husband had this same problem with his young dog when she first started trialling, she would be fine if he led out one or two steps but any more she would "zone out", look around, sniff the ground etc. What we found really worked for her is that he (after training this at home first) would run out to his lead out spot instead of walking. The fast motion kept her guessing and focussed on him and she wasn't distracted by the environment. She also was more keen to "catch him" as soon as he released.

Some dogs also may be confused with their release and are not 100% sure on what the release cue is and are hesitant after release in case they weren't suppossed to break. It sounds like your dog understands the word Go much better as a release word, so like you said, maybe you should now use this, and reward the dog as much as possible for any fast motion after you give the "go". If you ever run your dog off lead at parks or in the forest you can also use "Go" to release him after unclipping the lead, anything to make that word more valuable is helpful.

You may also get some good ideas from watching the Building Drive video if you haven't already :)

Hi Niki:

I just watched the Building Drive video again, and it is very useful. My dog is very meek, so if I restrain him or press on his chest he just sits down or rolls over, so that doesn't work for him in practice. You did give me an idea, though. I am using 'go' and it works much better, so when I take my dogs to the beach and they charge out of the truck, I will restrain him and use 'go' then let him catch up with the other dogs. That is the most excited he gets, when we go to the forest or the beach. I will definitely try the running and see if it helps. Thank you so much for your response.

Thank you for the above link Jenni! - all very helpful! Thank you! I will re-think my start procedure... thinking I will try going to the start line in a "sort of run" to keep up some momentum... thinking, thinking, thinking!

Do you remember the story about Chi's seesaw? I think there are some good points in this article that are also related to this issue at the startline :-)

Here is an update. I am using 'go' when I feed him his dinner and when we go to the beach or the forest. At first with his dinner he wasn't very fast, but he is getting the idea. I am running away from him, leaving him in a sit, then saying 'go'. He doesn't chase me, he will bypass me to take an obstacle, so this seems to be working. We had a trial a week ago, and he started well, but I ran with him every time and I played with him before we went in the ring. We have another one in a week and I will do short leadouts, using 'go' and running away. I think he is already making progress!! I do remember Chi's seesaw, and I thought of it with this problem. Thanks to everyone who gave advice!!

Another idea to maybe put in your thinking box is to be aware of what is going on behind your dog. One of my smaller less confident dogs was very slow to start if there was something/ someone behind her which she wasn't sure about. And more activity usually happens at trials, of course.

Nice to hear your update on the situation Diana :-)

We wrote a blog post related to this issue, check it out!

My 3 year old Jack Russell terrier and I are having a big issue at trials. She is super willing and happy to train at home and at seminars. We have traveled to several different places for seminars (including plane travel) and she has trained very well at those seminars. She has good skills and is fast. She has a good start line stay but will take several obstacles and then dive down and bite my feet. It has happened frequently at weaves but it also will happen at jumps where she will come into me instead of jumping and then bite my feet. I have not been able to get her to repeat this behavior in a class or seminar situation. I am at a loss for what to do. Suggestions Please......

My 3 year old Jack Russell terrier and I are having a big issue at trials. She is super willing and happy to train at home and at seminars. We have traveled to several different places for seminars (including plane travel) and she has trained very well at those seminars. She has good skills and is fast. She has a good start line stay but will take several obstacles and then dive down and bite my feet. It has happened frequently at weaves but it also will happen at jumps where she will come into me instead of jumping and then bite my feet. I have not been able to get her to repeat this behavior in a class or seminar situation. I am at a loss for what to do.

Suggestions Please......

Hi Donna,

Do you have any video of when this happens? Are you very nervous at trials? Do you perhaps stand still too long or take small shuffling steps at the start because you are nervous? Do you change how early you give the verbal command for weaves or how much independence you give her for the weave entry in a trial compared to other situations? Is she much more excited and worked up in a trial situation? Perhaps you can try simulating a trial situation at a seminar or a friend's training place, where you can try to get her to the same level of excitement at the start and see if that brings out the behaviour. Or try doing all sorts of crazy things near the weaves (if she is ok weaving with distraction) such as shuffling your feet or star jumps, to see if that affects her.

What do you usually do in a trial when she does this? I would suggest you tell her it is not on by removing her from the ring and not allowing her to continue with the run, if you don't do so already. Does she only do this after a lead out or also in the middle of a couruse?

I do have video from training at home and at trials when she does this. I run several other older dogs and have been competing for a while and I am not really the nervous type. Perhaps with this younger one I might be feeling a bit nervous and I am unaware of that. At the start I lead out with confidence and can get a fairly good lead out. I have cut it back a bit thinking it might help her out. I will have to review my videos from training and trialing and see where I am at the weaves in each. Perhaps I am not giving her the same independence at the trial. At first when she had done this at a trial I put her at a down to stop the behavior and then continued. It did not stop it for the rest of the course though. Just this past weekend I took her out of the ring. She had exhibited some stress behaviors at a trial like scratching when she is sitting at the start line. The behavior does not always begin after a lead out. It can also happen in the middle of the course. I appreciate your suggestions and will give them a try.

DIANA,

In addition to all the other recommendations which were all good. I thought about some of the things that have been working with my dog more in regards to holding her stay but it all goes back to staying connected. I line her up along side in reinforcement zone she is standing as i leave i tell her to sit (moving sit) i stay connected over my shoulder verbally tell her good while leaving get to my lead out position and release while i am still in motion (if possible) This keeps me moving, keeps her attentive , keeps us connected, and also keeps me ahead so I do not get behind. Releasing while in motion may help as it seems your dog likes when you run with him?? Good Luck

I know this problem. I solved it by playing: I bought a special leash without metal things and introduced this leash to my dog as one of the best toys. I motivated my dog to play and to tug with the leash. Now this is our special trial-leash and I have a "toy" right away at the start and can play with my dog and motivate her. So the start is something positive now: it is fun!

Magic Momo also now enjoys playing with her leash and it is great to warm her up with it. I have her tugging on it as I enter the ring. In AKC this is permitted, although in some other US agility organizations it is not. Which ever organization one forbids it, I will just avoid.

I love the technique-quiz-3-part-2 video where one of the handlers runs out and marks an obstacle with her hands. I'm doing that now and I think this helps Momo focus. Momo is frozen in place no matter what I do -- until I give my trademarked start cue. :)

My 3 year old Jack Russell terrier and I are having a big issue at trials. ....

Suggestions Please......

I suspect the problem is that your dog senses your own nervousness. I suggest using a mental toughness program so you are excited and focused at a trial -- not nervous. A good resource is a book by Lanny Basham. Also, get yourself laughing at the startline. Really! I do my best and so does Magic Momo when I can have a good laugh at the startline! Thinking of my new iCoffee machine gets me laughing. Check out the slogan and you will see why. Momo is like this machine. ![http://dogtrainingpsychology.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/momo-ben-loman-weave-poles-2-2-28-1016.jpeg]

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