Don’t Jump the Gun! Start Line Practice, Refining the Release from Sit/Stay

{ Video demonstrating “start line rush” }
 The enviroment of a trial or fun match is perfect for noticing what an agility team needs work on. The classroom environment does not show issues that will come up in more exciting enviroments. When you begin feeling ready for agility fun matches, my advice is to go to as many as you can. Don’t wait until you think you are “perfect!” Fun matches are for practice, they provide an important practice environment that the classroom cannot offer, and you will learn so much from them. And as you improve in distracting environments, ask your teacher to watch, and send videos to your mentors.
Don't Jump the Gun! Start Line Practice, Refining the Release from Sit/Stay
In the classroom environment, Miles does a great “sit/stay.” It is annoyingly good — sometimes he doesn’t want to go until everyone is watching. Which brings us to his excitement at agility events. Here is our typical scenario at matches: I position Miles, have him “sit and stay” somewhere before the start line. I then cross the start line to lead out and position myself where I want to be when I decide to release him. In a split second, Miles’ intense twitching (desperately wanting to GO!) is enough to trick me into starting before I am ready, because I am worried that he will run off. Did he subtly break his sit, causing me to quickly said “okay” and go? Did I say “okay” because he leaned forward? Who knows. Either way, I wasn’t ready.
On the surface, especially from the handler’s perspective, it might seem like you have chosen when to go. I think a lot of people, especially during training and class time believe that they are deciding when to go, when in reality, they are not. Their dog is.
If you let your dog rush you without working on a good start line routine, they will always get to say when you begin running, and as the challenges increase, you will be rushing off before you are in the right mindset to do the course to the best of your ability. The human’s part of an agility team is to know the course and direct their teammate. How can you do that if you are rushed?
Don't Jump the Gun! Start Line Practice, Refining the Release from Sit/Stay
Refining the Release from Sit/Stay: 
Not Just for Agility
Here is the routine I’ve been doing with Miles, which has greatly improved our start line routine.
1. Tell your dog to “Sit” and then “Stay.” (They should have a working knowledge of what is expected of them when asked to “sit and stay” before attempting the following exercise).
2. Take a few steps away, and then make movements. Maybe you will move your arm, twitch, dart a little, whatever you can think of that might naturally occur. Keep this test sequence short. Set difficulty based on your dog’s skill level. Do not be too distracting if your dog can’t handle it.
3. Return to dog immediately, click and reward with a treat.
* Keep training sessions short. Do not increase difficulty (distance level, distraction level, traveling to distracting environments, incorporating obstacles) until your dog has a good handle on the exercise. If your dog has mastered one level, gradually increase difficulty the next time you train.
{  Our sloppy homework video  }

2 comments on Don’t Jump the Gun! Start Line Practice, Refining the Release from Sit/Stay

  • Cassafrass

    That video of all the Border Collies made me giggle, especially when the handlers were pushing their dogs butt down only to have it pop back up once their back was turned. 😉 This is a great article, will be sharing!

    It really brought home the point of the handler choosing to go, not the dog. It's so easy to get worried about the dog breaking the behavior and, instead of working on it, just saying "go"! I find myself doing this kind of thing with Wally all the time and the only way I'm able to work on it is by having a third-party observe and comment (which is why I love private lessons!).

    Well done!

  • Emma (author)

    Thank you Cassie. I agree completely about the importance of both third-party observers, and of handler control. Sometimes I am amazed when I realize that I can be more impatient than my dog!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *