“Success isn’t always about greatness. It’s about consistency. Consistent hard work leads to success. Greatness will come.” - Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson
Two of the questions that I am asked the most are “what is the secret to your success?” and “what advice do you have for people who are new to the sport?” The answer to both of those questions isn’t a fancy dog training secret or a glamorous handling method that I invented. It’s consistency.
Consistency is Key
Dog training is a partnership that is built on trust. This is true whether you’re teaching your dog either a simple trick or an advanced agility maneuver. The dog must learn that the cue I give them and consistently produce the same outcome. This is illustrated even in the most basic skills you teach a puppy. For example, when teaching a recall (such as “come!”), when I call my puppy’s name, I reward them for moving towards me with some sort of valuable reinforcement, like a treat or a toy. When I establish this routine and the dog can learn to rely on that reinforcement, the recall gets better and more reliable. The puppy learns that when they hear the cue, something good is happening on a consistent basis.
Where many trainers often go wrong is by being inconsistent in their reinforcement, making them unreliable and breaking the trust with their dog. The less consistent the outcome, the less consistent the desired behavior. Think of the old fable of The Boy Who Cried Wolf. The Boy’s cries only worked a few times before the farmer stopped going to help. The inconsistency of the Boy broke the trust between him and the farmer.
Built on Trust
By definition, being consistent is ‘to act or do in the same way over time, especially so as to be fair and accurate'. In agility, the more consistent our training and our cues, the better the trust between handler and dog. An unsure dog is potentially slow and methodical. The more trust the dog has in the handler, however, the more confidence and speed is developed. On course, my dogs can trust that if I am accelerating in a straight line that I want them to also run forward and jump in extension. I am not going to abruptly stop after they have jumped to scream their name and change direction on course. If I want a turn, I will decelerate or move lateral on the approach to the jump in order to cue the turn before commitment. The more I consistently perform these cues, the more confident my dog is of the behavior. And the more confident the dog, the better the result!
It doesn’t matter if we are talking about teaching a puppy to recall when asked, or to teach a dog to run a straight line across the finish line at Westminster…consistent training can lead to greatness in all that we ask our dogs to do.
About Jenn Crank
Jennifer Crank is an accomplished agility competitor and instructor. She started training and showing dogs when she was five and earned her first agility title at seven and hasn’t slowed down yet. In 2009, along with competing she also opened up her own training facility called IncrediPaws in Columbus, OH
As a competitor, Jennifer has won many major agility competitions in the United States and Europe, including the AKC National Agility Championship, World Agility Open, FCI Agility World Championship, the Master’s Agility Championship at Westminster, USDAA Cynosport’s Grand Prix, Cynosport’s Steeplechase, Cynosport’s Biathlon, and UKI’s U.S. Open Masters Heats. Internationally, she is the only American to earn 3 overall individual medals and one team medal at the FCI Agility World Championship.
As an instructor, Jennifer has been teaching agility for almost twenty years. “I love it when my students do well in the ring but the most rewarding part of teaching has been the shared moments of insight on the training field—those “light bulb” moments where the handler and dog figure something out. My students have also helped me because teaching them and figuring out what works for different dogs and courses has sharpened my own training and handling skills.”
For more information on Jennifer as a competitor and trainer, visit the IncrediPaws website at www.incredipaws.com.