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Keeping agility safe...
isn't just a hobby. It's a way of life. For dogs too, working agility can be a
literal lifesaver, boosting confidence and giving the dog an outlet for
excessive energy. Sadly though, it seems that increasingly, people are putting
dogs into the ring that they suspect may become so stressed or threatened, they
feel the need to bite. It's important agility is a positive experience for all
concerned. Editor of The Agility Voice, Jill Spurr has kindly agreed to
share her article.
is a great outlet for dogs that have issues, but you should always balance the
benefit to your dog of that run in that place on that day against the risk of
putting your dog into a position where they feel they need to bite. Of course
things happen out of the blue but, if you know your dog is at bite risk, you
need to manage that risk closely.
- Recognise your dog's triggers and keep a record of
them. How many triggers can your dog be exposed to
in a day without showing stress signs? Do you recognise the early signs of
stress before they reach over arousal?
- Beware of trigger stacking.
Biting is at the top of the ladder of Aggression, but a series of smaller
triggers can push your dog to the point it feels the need to bite.
- Diarise any behaviours related to the dog's aggression
or triggers. This can help you to become more
aware of what lies behind your dog's problem. Use this to think about the
accumulation of triggers over a day or week to help you decide whether to
attend a competition and potentially how much to do while you are there.
- Understand your dog's critical distance
- how close does a potential trigger need to be to cause a reaction. Use
this to assess how safe a run may be.
- Agility has the potential to increase arousal,
which in turn increases the risk of a bite and should be considered when
deciding to run. At the very least, natural arousal from the show may affect
critical distance your dog may need to be further away from its triggers to
be comfortable and unlikely to react.
- The link between pain and aggressive behaviour is well
documented. Be vigilant for any sign of injury,
soreness, ill-health or simply being off colour, and be cautious when
bringing a dog back into competition after an injury or illness.
- Risk assess each run individually
- is your dog likely to be exposed to its triggers? What is around the ring?
Where are entries, exists, queues? What will your dog be running towards?
What is the judge's path? Are there any points on the course your dog's
confidence may drop. What is your dog's demeanour today?
- Don't expect people to take off hats and move
children. You are responsible for what triggers
your dog is exposed to and you can only guarantee what you are in control
of. If your dog finds everything like this triggering, ask yourself if your
dog is really benefitting from being at an agility competition where there
will be lots.
- Don't assume that plastic netted rings are safe.
It will NOT contain a dog intent on getting out (or in) and, in addition,
can be a trigger itself, causing Barrier Stress.
- Always play safe for people and your dog. If in
doubt, don't run.
- Don't resume a run if your dog has interacted with a
trigger, even if it went a short distance towards
and then broke away. Definitely reward the decision to return to you without
resorting to aggression, but don't use agility as that reward.
- If your dog has bitten or has shown the early signs of
aggression, then invest in professional, qualified, experienced
Be honest with yourself. What does your dog get from a show
environment that it cannot get from training with well-managed interactions with
people? Who are you competing for? It is it possible with management to compete
with a reactive dog, but it requires vigilance and understanding on your part.
About the author...
Jill Spurr is Editor of The Agility Voice.
First published in The Agility Voice (August 2022)
Reposted on 17th July 2023 with kind permission of the