General Training


To practice calling the dog off something, you must set them up in situations where the undesirable behavior will be tempted: have them do a row of jumps, then call them off the last one, that kind of thing. Don't use the dog's name all the time, so when you really need to get their attention (i.e. to call them off that yummy jump!) you can use their name. Also use "come", or whatever is a fairly reliable recall word for them. Set up situations where your dog will be tempted to run to their favorite obstacle. When they are heading for it, try calling them off with their name (LOUD) and whatever command you use to get them to come to you. When they come right away, give them a reward (every time to start with), then space them out so they don't know when the reward will be given. But if they disregard your command and do the obstacle anyway, just IGNORE the wrong behavior and go on to another obstacle.

This will probably take time and patience, but the rewards will be worth the effort. Just don't let yourself get too frustrated! Run the dog through the set-ups just a few times, then do something else for awhile. One important thing to remember when you are practicing the call-offs: make a REALLY BIG DEAL of it when she obeys and comes to you instead of doing that obstacle! (Julie Clarke)

Teach the dog the command "Pass" which means,"don't get on that, we're going somewhere else." Initially on-leash, as soon as they start towards an obstacle without your command, guide them away with "pass" and lots of praise when they stay with you. Or, if you have a good solid command to keep them running with you like "side" or "place", etc., you could use that to call them off. "NO" is not a good idea, reserve that only for very extreme dangers. (Brenda Marr)

Most call-offs are a result of handler error and we should try to avoid putting ourselves (or, more accurately, our dogs) in the position of needing a call-off. While it is impressive for the audience to see that "slam on the brakes and change directions" reaction from a dog in response to a call off, it usually reflects a problem with the handler's strategy, positioning or timing.

Of course there are clearly some courses that set the dog/handler team up for at least some call offs. As handlers we can try to train our dogs to be as versatile and responsive as possible, but we also have to adjust our handling to their strengths and weaknesses (which change over time to keep us on our toes). Some dogs pull in to their handler easier and others push away easier, and your handling strategy for a difficult sequence in a course must take that into consideration. Also reserve the use of a strong "come" command for when you really need it so that your dog doesn't learn to tune it out.

Everything goes back to the foundation (or lack thereof) of practical obedience and relationship between the dog and the handler. Does the dog listen to and obey the handler -- not some of the time or when the dog feels like it, but ALL the time? We must insist on 100% obedience in practice or we certainly can't expect it in competition.

Obedience needs to be trained outside of the agility ring first. As far as the relationship component, obviously we want our dogs to obey not because we force them to, but because they want to. The best things in the world revolve around you, their owner/handler. Using a leash or longe line, set up situations to illustrate to your dog that he must respond immediately when you call him no matter what he is doing- whether he is laying in the corner, sniffing under a tree, chasing a ball or heading for an obstacle. Then show him that coming to you results in something EVEN BETTER than what he was doing before- lots of praise, a ball, or a series of other obstacles to do. (Initially this should be taught away from obstacles so you don't create a problem of a dog who hesitates to check with you before doing an obstacle.) The attitude you are trying to develop is that of a dog that hears you issue a command (come, in this case) and responds immediately because he wants to and he knows it will be fun.
(Nadia Barrett)

Sometimes your body language says take the obstacle and your mouth says "No". This is a quick way to take the enthusiasm out of the sport for the dog, particularly a soft dog. Remember that mistake that that dog just made may be your own! (Kent Mahan)

Improper call-offs not only takes the enthusiasm out of the sport for the dog, but it can also teach the dog to ignore your body language since they obviously can't trust it to be correct. If your dog learns not to trust your body language, a major component of the team is lost. What may seem to be the dog's fault at the time is often revealed to be the handler's fault when you watch the tape. (Nadia Barrett)


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