I’ll be honest, if anyone had suggested a cat doing agility to me before the other day, I would have assumed that they were joking. I know cats can be taught to do quite a lot of things, but agility? Surely not?
However, then somebody showed me this:
Suki agility training
Wow! What amazing young girl! She and her cat are obviously having a wonderful time and have made it absolutely clear just what can be achieved with the right teaching and motivation. If I had a cat right now I would most definitely be wanting to try this too.
As it turns out, there is no reason why not. Feline agility has already become hugely popular in the USA and is now catching on over here too as these links demonstrate:
Cat agility competitions increasingly popular
Olympic pet special cat agility
We even found some suppliers of cat agility equipment:
Just Jumps cat agility equipment
If you and your cat are into agility, please get in touch and maybe send us some photos. If you run a local business that provides opportunities for cat agility training, or supply suitable agility equipment for cats, please send us your details so we can add you to our Activity Centre Page.
The other day I noticed a woman frantically feeding her little dog treats in an attempt to stop him ‘yapping’ at the people she was chatting with. Unfortunately, as can so easily happen, her timing was off so that she was effectively rewarding and thus encouraging the over-excited barking rather than stopping it. The more the dog yapped, the more rewards and petting he received – definitely a win-win situation for him anyway!
We are all aware of instances of this sort of thing with children. A child in the supermarket starts screaming because he wants a packet of sweets and, embarrassed by the scene he’s creating, Mum gives in, thus reinforcing in the child’s mind that the best way of getting something he wants is to scream and stamp his feet.
Of course, it’s a bit different with dogs. Your dog isn’t likely to throw a temper tantrum to get his own way, is he? Or, is he? Let me give you another example. Your dog starts whining and barking while you are on the phone so you throw him a toy to keep him quiet. What you have actually done is teach him that whining and barking when you are on the phone is a great way of getting a game with a toy.
Here’s another one. Your dog jumps up at you excitedly when you walk into the room. You are wearing a brand new outfit that you don’t want covered in dog hairs so you yell at him and/or push him away impatiently. Unfortunately, instead of learning that you don’t like him jumping up, your reaction has actually reinforced in his mind that this is a great way of getting your attention and even a bit of a game.
Going back to that parent averting an embarrassing scene in the supermarket, how often are we guilty of letting our dog do something we don’t really want him to do because it’s easier than trying to stop him? No? What about when he barks and jumps around like a mad thing in his excitement to get out of the door, so we let him out? What about when he pulls us down the road after another dog or makes us laugh when he leaps around madly while we are trying to put on his leash to go for a walk?
Positive reinforcement only works when the reward – treat, praise, petting, game with toy – is delivered immediately in response to the desired behaviour. However, we also always need to remember that any and every time we deliver anything our dog finds rewarding, he will probably associate that reward with whatever he was doing a split second earlier…
Although many of you will have already seen the Yellow Dog advert box we’ve been displaying for a while, I thought it would also be a good idea to write a bit about this rapidly growing concept and to ask all of you to help spread this brilliant idea far and wide.
Yellow Dog is an international campaign which began in June last year in Sweden and is designed to create awareness that ‘some dogs need more space’. Support is rapidly growing wordwide, with dedicated websites now available in many countries, including the UK: Yellow Dog UK
Like most great ideas, the Yellow Dog concept is simple – if you and your dog need some space, then place a yellow ribbon, strip or bandanna on your dog’s leash to let other people know.
There can be all sorts of reasons why some dogs don’t like being approached by strangers, especially other dogs. For example, they may be:
- unwell or recovering from surgery
- newly rescued or rehomed
- in training or rehabilitation
- naturally fearful and/or under-socialised
- in season
- old and perhaps in discomfort
The problem is that some people, especially those who don’t have dogs or who have ‘happy-go-lucky’ dogs who get on with everyone, don’t always stop to think about the stress they can cause by approaching too close to a dog who ‘just needs more space’. There is nothing more scary than a bouncy dog and/or a well-meaning, over-friendly person bearing down on you when you have a nervous dog ready to explode on the end of your leash! Unfortunately, if you’re scared, your dog will know it and that will just make him worse…
So, please remember – if you see a dog with a YELLOW ribbon, bandanna or similar on the leash or on the dog, this dog needs some space. Please, do not approach the dog or his people or allow your dog to get too close. How close is too close? Only the dog or his people know, so maintain your distance and give them time to move out of your way.
I read a wonderful comment on Facebook recently from an owner who is so thrilled at how much better her dog is out walking now that she is using a yellow ribbon and people and other dogs are giving them the space they need. It is clearly a win-win situation, because her new-found confidence is rubbing off on her dog who, in turn, is becoming much calmer and better-behaved and may, one day, no longer need that space.
Of course, the Yellow Dog concept can only work if people know what the yellow ribbon means and are willing to respect it, so the more people you tell, the better – not just other dog owners but everyone! Mums and Dads, tell your kids, teachers tell your pupils, everyone tell your friends and work mates. Let’s ensure that by the end of 2013, EVERYONE knows that if a dog is wearing a yellow ribbon, you and your dog need to stay back and give them the space they need! Thank you.
If, like me, you have never even heard of Talking Dogs Rally then read on! A friend of mine recently emailed me to say she had just spent a rewarding if exhausting afternoon at a Talking Dogs Rally workshop and, not wishing to admit my ignorance, I quickly went online to discover more.
Basically, to compete in TD Rally, a handler and dog (team) start out with 200 points and attempt to negotiate a series of obedience exercises, known as stations, that have been set out in a numbered course, losing as few points as possible in the process. TD Rally encourages teams to compete against their own best previous scores rather just against each other and, with 75 different exercises to perform across 3 levels of difficulty, TD Rally is definitely designed to keep both owners and dogs occupied for some time!
The original concept for TD Rally was created in the USA about 10 years ago and the UK version was launched in 2010. It is described as being fun for all, whatever level of obedience your dog has achieved, and welcomes handlers of all ages and abilities. If you would like to find out more, why not have a look at the Talking Dogs Rally website.
You can also contact Reading-based Pets In Practise who are offering courses at all levels, or check out Paws for Success who run occasional workshops in Church Crookham (Hants) as well as providing 1 to 1 tuition.
If you and your dog(s) already compete in Talking Dogs Rally and would like to share your experiences, please get in touch.
Following on from my article last Monday about my puppy’s first agility lesson, here is my ‘week two’ update as promised.
This week, we had our first go on the agility equipment; very low jumps and the see-saw. Once again, most of the lesson was focused on commands and control, but this time it was put into practice whilst using the equipment, which worked out as a great balance of fun and training.
She had no problems with, or fear of, the jumps, but she was slightly nervous of the see-saw at first, mainly because it was a reasonably narrow plank that moved when she got to the other end! However, after a bit of practice and lots of hot dog treats, she got there!
The training we did on week one really worked wonders for us, as this week I was able to make her stand at the beginning of the sequence of jumps, and wait while I dropped her lead and walked away. She was also far more focused on me and less bothered about the other dogs.
The dogs really enjoyed it and mine seems to have caught on very quickly to what she needs to be doing and when, but I must admit that it was my co-ordination that let us down this week! In agility, it is very important to ensure you only command and reward using the hand closest to your dog, but I kept crossing mine over – it’s harder than it sounds, honest!
So, as I said last week, my take on agility is that it is not only fun, but it really helps with basic training too – I’m so glad we joined, and we will definitely move on to the advanced class at the end of this six week course.
I’ll post another update at the end of the six weeks. In the meantime, if you have any fun stories to share with us about your experiences with agility, we’d love to hear from you as always!