The winter months are a great time for a few things with sport dogs. In this blog, I’m going to post my favorite things and something I highly recommend for new competitors. So if you’re “long in the tooth” in agility, there won’t be much new stuff here for you in this blog aside from some refreshers, but if you are “wet behind the ears” in the sport, then this post is for you!
Here are my favorite things to do with the Winter Months (running November-March):
- Give the dog some rest time from a specific sport. I usually try to give my dogs 6 weeks off agility. I give 6 weeks as that was the amount of time I needed to properly heal my shoulder injury, it is the duration of medical leave portion of post-partum recovery, so I figure that’s a good amount of time for a dog who is not showing any signs of injury/lameness. During that time we focus on general body-building exercises, runs in the field with snow, other tricks or training. This is important because dogs who are running full courses, doing a lot of jumping, can be at risk for repetitive strain injuries (shoulders, psoas, knees are the big ones). [Note: if my dog is showing signs of injury, then my dog does not follow this plan. They are on a proper rest with a proper ramp back-up plan AFTER the rest.]
- Train new skills (so for Jenga last year it was running contacts, this year the Threadle Wrap and turns on running contacts); and fill in training gaps (last year was insane weaves, this year is transitioning into and out of runs).
- Practice my course analysis strategy – this is good ol’ paper and pen (or now electronic photo and draw apps). From first learning how to read and interpret an agility map to tackling and memorizing the most complex world’s level courses, this is a skill that can easily be done on a winter stormy night by a fire with a cocoa in hand. You can find online courses to guide you through this, or go hunting online for courses, and have discussions with other agility friends and compare results!
- Work on my handler fitness – This is a favorite one for me for a reason – half the team is human and we need to finesse our physical cues. Not everyone needs to run long distances or increase their sprint speed, but learning proper mechanics so as to reduce injury is a foundation for agility. Also practicing the physical and verbal together is always a good use of time, which our partners ultimately appreciate.
All of these are great, especially for novice teams, but a really great thing to do to help prepare your dog for the upcoming trialing season (especially if it will be their first) is get your sports dog used to being measured!
Learn to be measured… a trick that is a great winter training objective!
There are two different types of measuring wickets in the sport of agility (the exact measurement pole with movable arm, and the cut-off points U-shaped wickets). For CKC and UKI your dog needs an exact measure. For AAC the cutoff wickets are most typically used (although they do accept exact measurements too). Get your dog happy and comfortable with measuring and your trialing season will be a whole lot more fun and less stressful. Here are the jump heights for all Canadian organizations (dated January 1, 2020, as these could change in the future).
For measuring, the dog needs to stand squarely (not confirmation stacked with back legs extended back a bit, but a natural square stance – photo of Kelsey shows this stance). The head needs to be in a neutral position. Raised too high or too low alters the measurement. The measurement is at the top of the dog’s shoulders (sometimes referred to as the withers).
So first train the stand, get that happy. You ARE allowed to feed the dog throughout the process, so luring and continual feeding is okay provided the dog isn’t wiggling around too much. Also, dogs are frequently measured on the pause table, so practice it there as well.
- Get the dog comfortable around the measuring wickets. Let them be curious and click-treat their checking them out.
- Get them comfortable standing beside the wickets.
- Get them comfortable with wickets moving around them.
- Get them comfortable with wickets (cut-off score or the arm) moving over top their back.
- Get them comfortable with the wickets touching their back.
- Get them comfortable with the cut-off score wickets coming down their sides and over their back.
Much of this you can do on your own. At some point, though, it is good idea to have a friend or instructor help you with the final steps.
Finally, your dog needs to be comfortable around strangers coming and touching them. That needs to be addressed separately from the wickets as you don’t want the wickets AND stranger danger to be married. Try to prevent the wickets from being poisoned by stress of a stranger. Work on the stranger issue away from the wickets first before doing a stranger-measurement.
CKC requires you to submit the dog’s exact measurement. Measuring only happens at trials if the judge thinks the dog is in the wrong height division. UKI requires one measure when the dog is after 2 years of age (measured at each trial until then). AAC requires 2-3 measures by different judges after the dog is 2 years of age (measured at each trial until then). Each organization requires its own measuring, so if your dog is doing agility, they need this to be comfortable.
So, given it is now January, this is a great time to get started on familiarizing your dog to the joys of getting measured!