Staying connected to your dog is so important. If you start off with connection, it will be easier for you to maintain that connection throughout your run!
You walk into the agility ring, running through the course in your head. Your dog, too, is looking at all the obstacles and getting more excited by the second. As you get to the start line, you notice your dog is completely focused on the course and won’t even look at you. You try to set up the dog in position, but as soon as you unclip the leash the dog is gone over the first jump.
Or maybe you hurry into the obedience ring, flustered because the person before you didn’t show up so you were asked to go before you expected. You drag your dog into the ring, take off the leash, and walk quickly to the beginning of the heel pattern. Your dog lags behind, not sure what’s going on, and it takes you a few attempts to get him to sit.
Whether it’s agility, obedience, or rally, staying connected to your dog from the moment you enter the ring (or even before!) is really important! It’s easy to lose your dog as you go from happily feeding treats outside the ring to a quiet stoic person as soon as you pass through the gate. Here are some games you can play with your dog on the start line to keep you both engaged with each other!
Peek is a fun trick and is very useful for an agility startline. The dog goes around you and comes in between your legs, facing the same way you are. You can teach your dog to sit, stand, or down between your legs, whichever works best for you. From there, you can cue your dog to stay and lead out.
I call a left spin in heel twirl, and my dogs LOVE it! I often will use this in the obedience or rally ring as I’m getting to the start line. I’ll cue a quick twirl, my dog will whip around, sit in heel, and be ready to go. This works great for agility, too! If you’d prefer to set your dog on the right, teach a spin on that side too!
Another fun move the dogs really enjoy is around. The dog goes from heel position, quickly circles you, then sits in heel. Once my dog returns to heel, he’s excited and ready to go. For agility, you can teach the dog to circle you regardless of whether he’s on the right or left side.
A great way to get your dog’s head and focus up is touch. Once my dog sits in heel, I will ask for a quick hand touch, just high enough that the dog needs to lift off his front end but lands back in a sit. Dogs love this valuable game!
Regardless of your sport, it’s fun to have some short engaging games to play on the startline. Be careful that your dog listens to the cues and performs the trick quickly, and you do it as you set up. You don’t want it to take any extra time. Keep the games short and sweet and have fun while you work on staying connected to your dog!