Hi gang, I’m back! I’ve taken a bit of a hiatus from the blog, mostly due to being incredibly busy. I’ve started to teach more agility classes (on top of my actual full-time job), as well as my duties as the new RD for NS/NL for the AAC. I’ve also been steadily getting my condo ready to sell this year (with the hope of aquiring a giant agility field ((oh, and a house)) of my own). Add to that my recent inattention meaning I’ve had to rebuild all the old posts on this blog (which I’m far from done), and it’s been killing my motivation to write. But here I am with a bit of free time so I thought I’d check out some of my unfinished posts and see which one inspired me, and this is what I picked.
The more classes I teach the more I realize that normal people do not collect dog paraphernalia the way I do. So when I go to train I show up with a giant pile of stuff, where other people will show up in my class with a dog, a leash, and a tiny bag of treats. Before you do that I suggest you read through the rest of this post so that you can really make the most of your class and/or practice time.
The TLDR version? The essentials are a dog bed, more treats than you think you’ll need, and some of your pup’s fav toys. For more detailed advice, see below.
I almost always start out the class telling people that whatever amount of treats they brought is probably not going to be enough. You will never regret bringing too many treats, but you can find yourself struggling if you’re trying to teach your dog something difficult while rationing out the last few crumbs. If you’re in a class and your dog doesn’t have any crazy allergies, you can usually ask your teacher to give you some treats to make it through the current exercise. If your trainer is anything like me, they’d far rather see you reward the dog appropriately than watch you and your dog struggle just so they can save some treats for themselves. Just try not to do it every week 🙂
You should also try to bring a variety of treats. I usually come with a mix of medium value treats and at least one high-value reward that I only bust out if my dog does something extraordinary or I’m working on something really difficult. I’ve also taken to mixing a few kinds of medium rewards in my treat bag so my dog never knows what they are going to get, which helps to keep the medium rewards from becoming boring. Try to break your treats up before class so you’re not trying to do it as you reward your dog. Remember, timing is everything and you don’t want to miss a moment or lessen the value of a reward by taking too long to get it to your dog’s mouth. Your dog only needs a small taste, so you can break the treats up quite small. For my dogs (who are both around 50lbs) they are no more than a centimetre wide, sometimes smaller. You can use your dog’s kibble, just remember that in the excitement of the class environment it might not be exciting enough, which is why you should bring a back-up.
Just as I always come with a variety of treats, I always bring a selection of toys to match. I’ve collected a lot (a LOT) of toys over the years as Raafi is very fickle and likes it when I rotate old ones out and bring in new ones. He also really likes tugs with real fur on them, which tend to not be as durable as others. Invariably when I ask a new student to arrive with a toy the one they are most likely to bring is the cheap rope toys that you get at Walmart or in a puppy kit. These toys are usually very hard and only those dogs with an innately strong tug drive will like them. Most dogs prefer something softer, ideally with real animal fur. If you’re a vegan or vegetarian and that’s difficult for you, you can often find people on Etsy or elsewhere that repurpose old fur coats (so no new animals killed) to make toys, and some dogs are ok with toys made of fake fur. You can also get the jute and french linen toys commonly used by dogs doing protection training. If you’re trying to get your dog to tug more I suggest buying a longer toy that you can drag on the ground. This is also a good option for those dogs who like to grab their toy and run off as it’ll give you something to grab on to, and is also good for those dogs still learning how to grab their toy while avoiding your fingers!
If your dog is ball crazy you should absolutely bring a few of those. Raafi is gaga for the Kong Air Squeaker Tennis balls, which come in a nice three pack and are pretty easy on the wallet. They even sell a version that has a rope attachment so you can combine your dog’s tug and chase drive. There are lots of other “ball on a rope” toys out there too. One thing to keep in mind is if you do bring a toy that squeaks, it could disturb your classmates, so make sure you put it away while others are having their turn. Really, any ball that your dog loves will do, just remember that regular tennis balls (those not made for dogs), can be hard on your little buddy’s teeth.
If your dog prefers treats over toys, you do still have some options. There are lots of “treat pouch” style toys out there. From tugs with a velcro pouch to the increasingly popular Lotus Balls (and the many knockoffs), you have lots of ways to combine your dog’s love of treats with a toy (which can have many advantages for agility over trying to toss a treat on the floor an hoping it doesn’t get lost!). You can also just get a small treat pouch and use it in the same way, though most treat pouches are not designed to be thrown on the floor and stay closed.
Speaking of treat pouches, I highly recommend you pick one up, especially if you intend to take more than one class. My personal fav is the Doggone Good! Rapid rewards treat bag as the opening is closed with a magnet instead of a snap, velcro, or drawstring, which means there’s nothing to break and you can easily open and close it one-handed. You can get them in a few different sizes, but I have the largest one. You can fit enough treats in there that you shouldn’t have to refill for a week, plus there’s space for a ball or small tug, and small side pockets that are perfect for poop bags, plus a zipper pocket in the back large enough for your keys, wallet, and maybe even your phone. Regardless of what type you get, you’ll want one that can clip onto your pants or comes with a belt, has a lining that won’t hold smells (or can at least be washed on the regular), and is large enough for your needs. You can just use a phany pack, though they tend to be a bit harder to get your treats out of in a hurry. You can also just use your pockets—Salty Dog Canvas makes a cool pocket liner that you can use to keep your pants from smelling like freeze-dried liver 🙂 If you’re feeling really extra you can get a training vest, which is convenient but not fully necessary.
Beds or Crates
Your dog will need somewhere to chill in between turns. Depending on the facility and class structure, you can either let them chill in a crate or bring them a bed. Yes, your dog can just lay on the floor, but that can get uncomfortable during the whole hour of class (especially if you’re not sitting on cushioned flooring between turns!) and most dogs find it reassuring to have a place to go to. A bed can go a long way towards making your dog feel more comfortable and giving them a designated spot to hang out and relax. There are lots of nice portable bed options out there, though recently I’ve really liked using this fold up cot. Working on games that teach your dog it’s fun to hang out in their “place” while you work away from them will make your life a lot easier and training a lot less stressful, and have lots of extra side benefits that will have a real impact on their agility performance. Check out Susan Garret’s Crate Games as a great way to get started.
Where I currently train there are crates of various sizes on site that you can use, or you can bring your own. A soft crate is just fine in a class where you’ll never be that far from your dog, and it will make your life a lot easier when you’re walking sequences. Try to make sure your dog is comfortable going into the crate before taking it to class. See the Crate Games DVD listed above, or search on Youtube for some ideas. I think I might do a blog post on that in the future if anyone is interested. I’m always amazed at how many experienced competitors have not put the time into boundary games. These are usually the same competitors whose dogs stuggle to hold a startline 🙂
This isn’t necessary but can keep you from forgetting something essential. You can go real fancy with this, or do what I do which is use a grocery tote or a cheap duffle bought I from Ikea. It should be something that you don’t mind getting covered in dog hair, dropped treats, and slobbery tug toys. I like the larger bag as I have some extra things that I bring, which I’ll discuss below.
There are some smaller items that you might want to bring. I always bring a portable bowl (here’s a little two-pack) and sometimes an extra dish if I want to put some treats on my dog’s reward line. Don’t forget to bring water for your dog if you won’t have access on site. Sometimes I’ll bring fresh, smelly food as a reward (like Raafi’s raw food that he eats for breakfast and dinner now), so I’ll have that in Tupperware and a dish to reward him out of so I don’t get raw food all over the training area.
Now to get into the really optional items: It’s nice to have a towel on hand, especially if you’re training outside and it’s muddy out, or if you’ve come in out of the rain and you’re on special footing that you don’t want to get wet. I always have some Agility Pro (now called Endurastress) in my bag, especially if it’s going to be a long session. I bring a Back on Track mesh coat so Raafi’s muscles can stay nice and warm between turns. I also sometimes bring a foot target or a Treat & Train, depending on what I’m working on. And don’t forget your clicker if you use one. I try to make sure mine lives in my treat pouch, but I have an extra one in my training bag just in case. I have a notebook on hand for record keeping my own training sessions and keeping notes on my students. One last thing, if you’re training by yourself you should really film your sessions for review (and some even film their turn in class so they can review it later). I got this cheap little phone stand on Amazon that doesn’t take up too much space and has bendy legs so I have lots of options for getting that awkward angle you need to see as much of a sequence as possible.
So there you go. Just like my Trial Gear post, it might seem like a lot, but forgetting some of these things can really keep you from making the most of your training and class time. Set your dog (and yourself!) up for success and enjoy some stress-free training!