10 Tips for Keeping the Fastest Dog Fast at Agility
by John Heffernan
For the fastest dog around under 200 yards, whippets should be really fast in agility too. But I see many slow whippets and I also see many whippets that slow down over time. Here are 10 tips for keeping your whippet (or any other dog) fast in agility.
1) Don't correct. Don't let your dog know you are disappointed. Your dog should never know if your qualified or not. 99.9% of the you either made a mistake on your handling or your training or your proofing (the latter is most often ignored.) How many times have you watched a handler scold their dog for not doing what they said when you clearly see that the dog exactly followed the handler's body language? From the dog's point of view, they are getting punished for doing what you asked them to do.
One great way if you don't get the behavior you want is to go back to a small sequence and try it again. Reward if you get the behavior you want. If you still don't get it after 3 times, you either did not train it well enough or you need to try it at a different time and/or place. Let's say your course at home has a sequence of jump, jump, A-Frame, jump. If you don't get the contact you are looking for don't stop, don't treat, but run back as fast as you can and do try the jump, A-Frame, jump part of the sequence again. It's better to do that than just the A-Frame because you keep the game and excitement going.
Praise and treat if you get what you are looking for. Many handlers will try and correct, get mad, or stop and talk to their coach, ignoring there dog. Think about the dog's point of view. In the first case, the game stays exciting and they get to try again and maybe get a treat. In the second case, they are corrected and/or ignored, the game stops, and they know they have done something wrong.
2) Keep practices fun and short. Whippets typically don't tolerate a lot of repetition and will get bored. I use a rule of three. Never practice the same thing more than 3 times in row.
3) Avoid RFPs and call offs. Try dropping your shoulder or changing your path instead of using a reverse flow pivot or a strong call off. I use my voice when things are not clear but try to keep it fun helpful rather than either a “barked” order or panicked plea. Most whippets are “soft” and can't take the strong corrections over time.
4) Give your dog distance. Don't crowd. Work on distance all the time and from the beginning. Distance is not something you only use in Gamblers, FAST, and Chances. Dogs can find the fastest path by themselves when possible. Don't over-handle them. Trust them. Don't crowd or over-handle just at trials to try and get the Q.
5) Don't yell at your dog; use a cheerful tone of voice. Even if you choose to mark a mistake, keep it happy and try again.
6) Don't let your dog know you are nervous. I found that Wyatt can sense my nerves if he licks my face. The best thing is to work on not actually being nervous, but if you can't, fake it. I find my voice can change and I can act differently in terms of petting Wyatt when I am nervous. He seems to be an expert at picking up on this. So I try and act just like I would at class at a practice run.
7) Don't front cross in your dog's path. Front crosses have their place but I see lots of whippets handlers doing front cross much too close to their dog and either almost colliding or getting in their way and slowing them down. In these cases, use a rear cross if you can or use distance so you have enough space for a front cross.
8) Try NADAC especially NADAC tunnelers. NADAC courses tend to be very open and flowing and motivating especially to long striding dogs. Tunnelers can be an especially fun game for whippets. They love the speed and running with nothing to slow them down like tables, contacts, and weaves. Wyatt has gone over 6 yards a second in tunnelers, which is 18 feet in one second. It's the closest thing to racing you can do with your whippet!
9) Run fast; make it a race. Run on the outside if you have to do. Patriot really loves a good race to the end. It can be demotivating to be too far ahead though. If this happens, shorten your stride but keep your feet moving fast.
10) Have clear and consistent handling, don't flail your arms. Flailing tends to bring your dog into you. Keep your hand out consistently for the whole course. Your dog is going to be the least stressed if your handling is clear, predictable, and consistent. Easier said than done but you will rock as a team if you both know what to expect. You can them relax more and focus on the tricky stuff and not the whole course. Most of all, have fun with your whippet! Ultimately, it's not about titles, placements, Qs but about forming and enjoying a special partnership with your dog.