General Training

What to do about barking/jumping at the handler

In USDAA some judges will now excuse a handler from the ring when nipping occurs, so it is something that you do not want to put up with. There are the dogs that bark because it seems to be what they do (shelties), there are those that bark out of excitement or frustration, and there are the mystery barkers. Whatever the reason for the barking of your dog, try limiting the number of obstacles and doing very short sequences in your practice sessions. But, even more important, use targeting. A dog that is targeted is focused on the bait, NOT on the handler's hand. (Anne Smith)

Barking becomes a problem if it causes the dog to lose focus. You may have to try different things to see what works for your dog. Work a lot on leash for control and walk through the course, not run -- it seems that the faster the dog gets to run, the more frenzied and crazy the barking can get. Do obstacles one at a time or two at a time and reward for not barking, no reward for barking. Also use lots of targeting. It helps to focus their attention on the task at hand.

Another thing that has an enormous impact on barking is how much you are talking. If you are really revved up and running at the mouth between obstacles, encouraging him, the dog will only bark more. If the dog is naturally high and revved, it may be getting too much verbal stimulus, thus encouraging the barking. If you use more hand signals and less vocal -- and less enthusiastic, more business like vocal when you issue commands -- the barking will diminish. (Barbara Bicksler)

Barking itself doesn't appear to be much of a problem for most dogs, but you may wonder how the heck they can hear the commands over their own barking. Doesn't seem to get in their way. For a less confident dog, you might even encourage barking. It gets them pumped up. The jumping up and nipping is a separate problem though. One way to discourage it is to place soccer shin guards over one's arms during practice. Make it so it's not at all a fun game to engage in without any outward correction. A little tap, oops, gee that wasn't good was it? This is an obedience type problem and can be worked upon at home away from the agility field.

The handler probably can recreate the situation at the park just running around playing. When the dog jumps up and nips, stop, grab its scruff and give it a hearty ANGH! Not on my skin, buster! If the dog is really full of itself it probably won't hurt it to stop the game altogether. Promptly turn and walk briskly in the other direction totally ignoring the dog. "This is NOT the game we're playing!" You're not holding him back if you're simply asking him to behave himself. Do what he can do in small increments and reward him for his good behavior when he does it, but the handler may not be able to get to excited about it. He/she may need to be softer with commands and avoid exciting the dog, just turn the shoulders in the direction desired and go. Hand signals may need to be dropped for the time being. (Katie Greer)

Try simply stopping and ignoring the dog until he calms down. For some dogs, it's enough to just shut down for a little while out on the field, and then continue. By leaving the field, you risk rewarding the dog. He might like the act of running off the field or going to his crate, etc. It may take a while for the dog to figure out that barking = no movement, but once it does, it will probably lessen the barking to get more of what it wants - running around and doing agility. (Shari Heino)

If the dog is barking with frustration because the handler can't keep up as is often the case with excited, fast dogs, an exercise to try consists of putting about 6 obstacles, usually just jumps and tunnels in a small circle, a minimum distance apart, i.e. jump, 4/5 paces, jump, 4/5 paces etc. The handler stands in the center of the circle so they can always keep up with the dog. All you do is keep going round the circle until the dog settles down and gets on with what it is doing, they may not stop barking but they should not be barking at you. It is very important that if the dog misses an obstacle to KEEP GOING eventually you should be able to stand in the middle of the circle and the dog will work round you.

Keep the jumps low if it is a beginner dog, the point is to get the dog over the obstacles, style is not important. The difficult part is working out when to move and when to stand still which unfortunately cannot be demonstrated by written word. This is also a good way of teaching a dog to send/learn a go-on or go-away command. As dogs have tunnel vision a circle probably looks like a straight line to them while they are going round it. (Eleanor M. Thomas)

One other thing is to see if the dog only starts the herding when the handler turns towards the dog (most common) or away from the dog and then to adjust the side that the handler runs to minimize the conflict - in competition this can be a real bind but it does mean that you might achieve bruise free training sessions. (Tony Dickinson)

Another suggestion for nipping the handler is bitter apple sprayed on clothing, hands etc. (Carmel Rickard)


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