March 2020

Canceling Rave On’s and Lincoln’s Spring rally and agility trial entries really hurt

As the world’s health crisis grew so quickly, my personal aspirations crashed but did not disappear. Then, somewhere from the selfish depths of my pity pot, came a little voice: “Wake up! You are always wishing for more time to practice. Now you have it.”

  Practice better

Practice progressions = success. Following agility retirement in 2019, we could not heel ten feet. Now we routinely walk briskly – in great position – over 1300 feet through our woods. 

Practice is sports’ key ingredient – the hours and days when inner raw materials are molded and shaped into those of athletes. Competitive games that include dogs are the rule, not the exception. Extraordinary or mediocre, our trial performances are the measure of our practice.

A common behavior among sports icons and hotshots is the enormous amount of effort dedicated to practice. Elite athletes don’t just work through the game; they also dedicate time for strategic physical conditioning and for identifying and studying the finer points that surround their games. Practice for us is not limited to solutions for problems that have actually occurred; we strive to anticipate and pro-actively prepare for advantages over issues that might occur in the future.

Serious trainers among us imagine, design and experiment with small pieces of course maneuvers and rewards to best facilitate our dogs’ understanding and to maintain maximum enthusiasm. To the less enlightened. these behaviors can seem unrelated to our sport of choice. 

Rave On was ready! Her first Master/RACH outing netted 3 each of AKC rally’s combined high double & triple awards


Straighter, faster, tighter – it can be consuming. Safer, stronger, fitter – practice with your dog can feel like a calling. Yet for the less experienced, practice sessions can also be daunting. People who aspire to enter sports events with dogs assume complicated dual roles as students (themselves) and teachers (to their dogs). As a result. they must simultaneously absorb new information while translating and transmitting instructions to their canine teammates.

“Handler maturity” (growth) is different from a handler’s physical age or number of years in the game. By the time handlers are closing in on “expert,” they’ve replaced Hollywood fantasies with authentic appreciation for two very different species working together. The result is that practice sessions begin to produce a stand-alone kind of satisfaction. In the process, improvement and success, learning and becoming, often begin to outweigh winning.  

Is it time for a change?

At different points in our personal and athletic development, we should reflect and re-evaluate what we want from working with our dogs. It is a myth that practice makes perfect. Long periods of poorly planned sessions do not make our efforts any more effective. A well-considered plan should lead to a future of better performance, rather than just more of the same.  

When trial performances fall short of personal expectations, it should serve as motivation to practice and train differently, not just more. That might mean changing and adding coaches or methods to facilitate growth, which is common in sports as competitors mature.

Online courses are abundant, offering welcome distraction to so many people currently stuck at home. Consider, though, that time online with the gurus must also includes information that enables you to weave effective practice plans around key points. Entertainment is nice, too; but will you also learn practice strategies to get you to the level of the savvy demo dogs being shown on the videos?

 Choose wisely. Knowing better means you can do better.

This sign hangs over our dogs’ fit-room, inside American Dog Obedience Center’s kennel building.

The best way to change how you practice is not so much standing in the training field/yard/room wondering what to do differently during the next hour. Instead, dedicate time for careful consideration of short and longer term goals, and then form a thoughtful plan. You might need help with this important piece.



Rave On’s “Game of Cones” rally practice 


The future results of your sporting experiences with your dog will be dependent upon the quality of your practice. Many people have more time for training these days. Go for it! However, first consider carefully whether your desire is to spend time merely practicing more. Instead, might you invite personal and performance change through a forward-focused plan for practicing with your dog?        

Fitness exercises for strength, flexibility, and body awareness are regular elements of our dogs’ practice routines.

Vimeo links to inspire you! 


Copyright 2020 by Kris Butler. All rights reserved.