I found that when I introduced toys into the equation, any memory of working with the poles flew right out of Pax’s head. All he was focused on was the BALL. He was more than willing to run out to get me to throw the ball — I taught that a long time ago — but the concept of running through the poles just seemed to elude him. He was getting really frustrated with the low rate of reinforcement. I realized I was going to have to start from scratch if I wanted him running through the poles in anticipation of a thrown toy.
Then I started wondering… Is that what I want? I am not ever going to be competitive at agility. I am overweight, clumsy, and slow. I’d like to qualify, yes, but I don’t need really fast times. In fact, I’d be running mostly AKC agility (because that’s the most common around here), and AKC favors precision and control over speed anyway. The last thing in the world I need is a really fast dog!
So do I need to train Pax to blow through the weaves at top speed? Do I need to use a thrown toy? Will it bite me in the butt later if I don’t use a thrown toy for this obstacle?
Honestly, I don’t have a good answer to that. Clearly, I can see a HUGE benefit to using thrown toys as reinforcers in agility.
In the meantime, I found a happy medium between food and tennis balls: a tug toy. Yesterday I went up to Monroe to get some food for the boys, and I found a great tug toy. It comes in various sizes, but the puppy size seemed absolutely perfect for tugging as it’s done in agility. Pax went absolutely nuts for it. So nuts that I heard him whining during the evening, and when I went to find him, he was lying near where I’d put the toy, gazing longingly in its direction. And yet, when I used tugging as a reward with the poles, he was better able to concentrate than he was when I used a thrown tennis ball.
I *still* need to start from scratch, because his arousal level is totally different than with food, but it seems like it’s a more manageable level than it would be if I continued using tennis balls.
Just wish I knew whether that was going to bite me in the butt later.