I was a geek before I was a dog zombie. I am a fan of The Guild, which is a web-based show produced by Felicia Day. Day also has a YouTube channel called Geek and Sundry (I am a geek and I am sundry!) and on a recent episode of The Flog (which is a video blog type thing — Felicia’s Blog, Flog, get it?) she has a professional training session with her dog, Cubby. Who is super cute, but not the cutest dog ever.
It was a nice segment. The trainer did some basic agility work with Day and Cubby, a good choice for a dog who looks like he has the genetic background (herding breeds) to have some smarts. She instructs Day to do a lot of luring with Cubby — using a food reward to guide him where she wants him to go. A lot of agility trainers use shaping instead, in which they set the dog up to do the right thing, let him figure it out, and then reward the right choice. This method can be a little slower up front, but produces a dog who learns how to learn, learns how to experiment in order to figure out what you want him to do, and in the end gets the concept you’re trying to communicate a little better. (Theoretically, anyways. Every trainer has their own opinion about what’s the best way to train.) One reason to choose luring over shaping for a YouTube show is that you need to have quick results. As fun as I think a shaping demo would have been, that wasn’t what this show was about.
The trainer concludes by saying that Cubby needs some mental stimulation every day. She had to pick one message to get across in a short segment, and I think she picked a great one. Yes, mental stimulation is important, especially in dogs who have to sit home all day when their owner is out working! Agility is loads of fun and I highly recommend it as a great partner sport that works your dog’s brain and muscles. In Cubby’s case, since Day described him as an older dog, he might benefit from a quick vet check to make sure he is up for the exertion of an agility class. In fact, it is always a good idea to check with your vet before starting a new exercise program for your dog, to make sure your dog is up for it. Some dogs need to lose a little weight before embarking on jumping over obstacles, for example.
If you want to get involved in agility, look up your local dog training clubs and schools and ask about local agility organizations, and take a class. When I was getting into agility, I found a local agility trial and volunteered at it. Then I asked all the competitiors what school they recommended locally. They all said the same one, so my choice was easy.
If your dog isn’t up for that kind of activity, you can give him mental stimulation other ways. Train him tricks. Leave him with toys stuffed with food for him to work out during the day. When you feed him kibble, scatter it in the grass for him to hunt for it. Everyone needs a little brain exercise from time to time, even dogs.