The Dogs Choice

Last week I did a live lecture talking about how I teach my foundation for contacts. It was a lot of fun and all my students asked some really great questions!  One of the main questions that kept coming up was “what position do you want your dogs to perform on the contact?”

And my answer was “whatever they want.”

My philosophy for training dogs is that I want the dog to tell me what they want to do. The dog is the only one who knows what feels good both mentally and physically. I never want to force my dogs to do something a certain way. I have what I consider is a “base” that I teach all my dogs, the basic idea and goal I have for that skill. But I let the dog put their own personal spin on it and I let them choose what feels right.  Both Ally and Trip were trained with the same base, and they run, and are handled much, much different from each other.

Let’s go back to contact training for a minute.

My “base” contact behavior is a 2o2o, with the dog being as low on the board as they can.  And when I begin training the foundation for my contacts I ask my dogs to sit, to help them learn how to shift their weight to their rear end, But I do not hold the sit criteria.  As my dog progress through their contact training, I relax the sit criteria, So I let the dog choose what position feels best for them, not only physically, but mentally.

And this holds true for all of my training, I adjust and adapt all of my training for each dog.  From foundations to high level competitions, my dogs are always in charge of what feels best and what works for them.

I train all my dogs and encourage my students to train their dogs with a goal of confidence in mind. img_0455
For each training session, I want my main goal to be that my dogs perform the skill with confidence. So part of that confidence building is letting the dog have that choice in how things can be done. If we use contacts as an example again, my base is that I want my dogs to stop at the bottom of the contact, as close to the bottom as they can and preferably in a 2o2o. But if my dog is constantly telling me they want to do a 4 on the board, I will let them, or in Nargles case, she wanted a running contact. Trip’s default behavior for almost everything is to sit, so he sits at the bottom of the board, Ally’s default is a down, so she downs at the bottom of the board.

I love letting my dogs choose. If I forced Trip to do a down at the bottom of a contact he wouldn’t be happy, and he isn’t going to put his heart and soul into performing that behavior, because it doesn’t feel good to him. And I wouldn’t be happy because I would be constantly fixing and working on his contact behavior.

I also take into account if they are physically capable of doing the behavior that is being asked of them and if they are properly conditioned to do the behavior as well.  A lot of dogs that I see in my seminars and classes with an obstacle problem, actually have a conditioning problem. They do not have the strength to perform the behavior that is being asked of them, a dog cannot hold a proper 2o2o on the contact if they do not have the core strength to do so, same with weave poles, jumping, etc.

Be flexible with your training plan, always let your dog have a say in what is being asked. Your dog is talking to you, all you have to do is listen.


Published by Amanda Nelson

Amanda Nelson is well known for her distance handling skills, and she has been traveling the country and teaching seminars for 20+ years. She has traveled around the world to Australia, Japan, Netherlands, England, Switzerland and the Philippines teaching all levels of agility, with nearly all dog breeds. Amanda focuses on teaching teamwork as well as how to create a strong connection between dog and handler. She works with all styles of handling, from running with your dog to distance handling. Amanda tailors each training session, large or small, to the dog and handler to help bring out the best in the team. Her training techniques consist of a large amounts of targeting, food rewards, and toy rewards. Creating a fun learning environment for the dog encourages a fast, fun, and motivated dog in the agility ring. Amanda uses a combination of Upper Body Cues, Lower Body Cues, and Verbal Cues. This system was derived from the natural cues that most dogs read and pick up quickly. Handlers are taught how to use all of these cues, together, to create a customized handling system that can be tailored to their unique dog. All of these techniques have resulted in Amanda earning numerous titles with her dogs including the MOD SQUAD award, Purple Achievement Cup, and over 40 NADAC Championship titles. She has won the NADAC Championships multiple times, including winning the Super Stakes and Starter Stakes division. She has also been Top Bonus Dog, Top Purple Dog, and Top Dog of the Year several times in NADAC.

3 thoughts on “The Dogs Choice

  1. Thank you for this. Sometimes we are so hung up on “criteria” that we forget the goal of a happy dog that gets the job done!


  2. Amanda, what are the hints you look for at that nexus point when you’re ready to relax your initial 2o2o criteria if the dog wants? Another way to ask is, how do you know the dog is ready to decide? Thanks!


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