The Benefits of Mark Training

Takoda_mark_12-18-16I recently posted the following on the Canine Jumping Forum Facebook Group.  The post generated a slew of questions, which I included at the bottom of this post along with my answers to make information easier to find in the future.

I do a lot of Mark training with my 3 dogs and have seen first hand how well it teaches dogs to collect, load, and use their rears to brake. I have recommended Mark training to agility friends (for various reasons) and they have seen improved contact performances, weave pole entries, jumping styles, and start line stays. As a result of all these experiences I think Mark training can help dogs with jumping issues (including dogs that leave out strides, jump early, stutter step, launch, dive over bars, jump long and flat even when a turn is coming, and even dogs with moderate perceptual issues). If a dog is still participating in agility, I believe the dog will benefit from Mark training (both physically and mentally).

I learned about the benefits of Mark training from Sharon Nelson, who gave me permission to share her words on the Canine Jumping Forum:

Owners will go to every seminar and try to solve their issues that are both mental and physical for their dogs. If it is my seminar, most will admit that they didn’t do their mark training (or stopped using marks the moment “equipment” started being used). If it is a training list to solve problems then no one will consider using marks for mental and physical conditioning. They will jump at the chance to try a new “move” from the handler or new fitness training using new Fitpaws equipment. I think Fitpaws can do great things, but it cannot mimic a dog in full motion and engaging muscles for stops and turns. You can strengthen those muscles, but that doesn’t teach the dog how to use them in motion. It is like training a race horse to run, but never putting them in a starting gate until the race day.

In the horse world, it is all about foundation. It is fully understood how the foundation MUST be there in order to get physical and mental excellence. But in the dog world, people go straight to the advanced moving steps long before they have any foundation for the dog to be mentally and physically prepared. It is all about getting to do all of the “handler moves” with little concern for the dog’s body.

The incidence of dog’s being injured and taking time off for “rehab” is at an all time high. Agility should NOT ever cause injury to a dog that is physically capable of doing the sport.

Early take off syndrome is rarely the real issue. But it is a cool name. A lack of physical strength and ability to correctly use their body is frequently the issue. But it is easier to be part of a group with a cool name than to do the basics using foundation exercises.

Mark training is really fun! But too many just do the minor work and if their dog will put their feet on a mark, even if done slowly and with no enthusiasm, they do believe that they have done their mark training. Mark training is all about the steps of combining the highest level of eager enthusiasm (EE) and impulse control (IC). It is that EE-IC that creates that high level of speed combined with accuracy. And so much of that “accuracy” is because of the dog’s ability to correctly use their body for collection and tight turns. Collection is used for those contacts, weave entries, and tight turns.

People will do a lot of “conditioning” while the dog is doing static exercises or going on long jogs on hard surfaces. But dogs also need to also do the training that engages the actual body parts needed for the actual behavior. But most dogs will just be run at jumps and expected to go over them without the strength training from “running” mark training. -Sharon Nelson

TIPS on mark training to improve jumping style (physical benefits): Gradually increasing the dog’s speed by increasing the distance between mark buckets will teach the dog how to brake from the rear, which is the same action (rear feet deep under body) needed to load for jumping in an arc vs. jumping long and flat. In order for marks to be effective to train a dog to load more effectively, the dog must target the mark with his front feet and stick the landing vs. knock over the mark or run past it, then turn around to place front feet on it.

TIPS on mark training to improve mental state: Dogs that “stress up” benefit from the “emotional anchor” Marks provide. Sharon has written extensively about the physical, visual and auditory changes that occur when dogs become over-aroused. Sensitive dogs that “stress down” may begin to worry about jumping after knocking a bar or crashing into a jump. For these dogs, using Marks in training increases their confidence. Adding mark buckets after a single jump, a row of jumps, or at the end of sequences offers these dogs something positive to focus on… the Mark and path to the Mark vs. staring at and worrying about each jump, which can cause stutter-stepping and/or launching in an attempt to avoid hitting the scary jump bars.

UPDATE TO THIS POST:  September 4, 2019.  In the coming months, detailed instructions and videos for using Mark buckets for jump training will be added to “Hit the Ground Running” Jump Training On-line Classes.  Its about time!  LOL – Dev Sperber, Moderator of the Canine Jumping Forum

(below)  Takoda’s first group mark session at 8 weeks old

The slowed-down video below is NOT an example of adding speed to Mark training. At 0:37, you can see my 9 week old puppy beginning to learn how to use his rear to stop with his front feet on a Mark bucket. He was also learning about impulse control.. not releasing on my other dogs’ motion.

Below is my puppy jumping 16″ a year and a half later. He had just started doing a little jumping at the time I shot this video. You can see how well he knows how to use his body to jump in extension and in collection… independent of handler motion or position.

Q. How does this transfer to the over-arousaed dog in a show environment? This can be done as part of the warm up routine or while waiting to go into the ring, but I don’t see its applicability during the actual run.

A. Mark training can change a dog’s mental/ emotional association with agility obstacles. “Emotional Anchor” is a great description of what dogs look like when stopping on marks after being higher than kites. I’ve seen the highest dogs on the planet learn to “keep their heads” much better at trials after doing Mark training with full speed and enthusiasm/ balanced by impulse control as described by Sharon Nelson. I believe jumping issues are the result of a combination of physical and mental issues. Mark training works on both at the same time. I hope you try it for yourself. I was not a believer until I tried it with my 2 mature dogs and saw remarkable changes.

Q. Tell us more. My young McNab is higher than a kite at shows. No fun to even run her she’s fine till I walk in the gate and it’s all barking not looking forward on some things. Jumping off the side of DW and Aframe. Has a beautiful teeter tho. She’s just so excited to go. Got all her Novice titles right away and I even took a year off and just do play time and walks and some conditioning. And she’s such a good dog. When your sending over the jump are you sending to the bucket? Are they supposed to stop with there front feet on the bucket them swivel around and come back?

A. That second video just shows my pup’s jumping style. I was throwing a ball as a reward or recalling him back to me. I could have sent him to a mark.. and followed by walking over to him to deliver a food reward while he waited on the mark. He has done a ton of that but would have made for a long, boring video. I have seen remarkable results with dogs like yours.. dogs that are fine until they see equipment, or walk into a ring, or see another dog running. I’ve seen barking, spinning, charging and even biting dogs calm down enough to keep their heads as a result of Mark training.

Q. Ok, I really need to do some. So can you give me a start.  I am more than ready to get going on this. Hope it helps.

A. To start, you will create value for front feet on a mark bucket. Once the dog gets that, you can gradually begin to add distance/ speed alternating between sending (lateral and forward) and recalling from greater and greater distances and with the handler in various positions.. close to the mark and far away until the dog races full speed with enthusiasm ahead yet sticks most of the landings. If the dog knocks over the bucket by not collecting, no biggie.. just no reward for that rep. If it happens a lot, then you have progressed too fast.

Q. This work is very interesting to me. I have a lot of trouble convincing my boy to rock back for collection and he wants to come in sliding on all fours. I have done some recalls to sit in front of jumps to try to help but I like the look of this. He has done all the pivoting on a perch so has a lot of value for this already. Once you can get speed on the flat do you put this in front of a jump?

A. You can have your dog sit with front feet on a mark, butt on the ground, sort of a “super sit” which causes the dog to really rock back. You want to do a lot of super short sessions where your dog demonstrates great speed and enthusiasm while also collecting on the last stride and using his rear to brake. Then add at least 2 more buckets so you are sending or recalling your dog from bucket to bucket (adding handler motion.. and handling the dog’s path like you would for an agility sequence). Then you can start adding jumps between the marks. I’d start with the dog at a comfortable distance from a jump (on a mark bucket) and place a second Mark bucket on the landing side of that jump about 10′ away from the jump for a medium sized dog. You may need to tweak the spacing to start. Consider adding the jump (and eventually more jumps) as an experiment… and keep mixing in a bunch of Mark to Mark sends to keep the dog’s focus on anticipating collection.

Q. What are the buckets? They look like feed tubs from Tractor supply.

A. Yes. The ones in the video above are the small size (good for mini dogs). There are medium and large buckets. I have some of each… which I use for different scenarios. The medium sized ones are great for my medium sized BC.

Q. I want to try this thing.  Never heard of it before so can you please tell me how tall should the targets be approximately?

A. A lot of companies make them. The size I like best is “4 Quart”. Here is a photo:

4_quart_mark_bucketQ. I *really* like the idea behind this exercise and have to admit I’ve never heard of it before… foundations or advanced training. I think I will try to get some video of my girl(s) doing this after they understand the position and play it in slow motion to see how well they actually shift their weight. it looks like the marks are maybe supposed to be somewhere between wrist and elbow height? Anything other pointers for a “good” mark?

A. I’d love to see videos! The cool thing about mark training is you can see collection and weight shifting in real time. Mark buckets are basic feed buckets you can buy at any feed store (and Walmart or so I’ve heard). Get the medium sized one for BC sized dogs. The tiny ones are great for my mini dogs and I used them with my puppy but they are a bit small to expect a larger dog to race up to and not knock over (although I do use them once in a while with my BC).

Q. I’m going to try it too, just a little confused on how to do it and start. It’s something I can do with my girl as I don’t have my equipment right now and she loves working and new things. Do we start with a clicker? Or just go from bucket to bucket.

A. from another member: I figure I’ll just jump in and teach the position… shaping it and building lots of value/enthusiasm for front feet on the mark with rear feet moving around it (clicking for movement, teaching pivoting into heel position, etc) and then start having her run (short distances to avoid too much momentum) between buckets. Then build up to changing my and my dog’s positions, distance from, speed, etc as my dog approaches the mark. Not sure if that’s the “right” approach to training it but I think the main components of the game are position (front feet sticking the mark), intense enthusiasm, and independent performance…

A. from me: Pivoting is not important for the purpose of teaching collection. Its just something I do with my dogs via ST! Once the dog is offering front feet on the mark, begin adding distance.  The main components of the game are position (front feet sticking the mark), intense enthusiasm, and independent performance. Please share your videos on the Forum. I’d love to see what you are doing! Love everyone’s  open-mindedness to something new!

Q. I’ll take some video of current jumping form as well as set-point form. After a while of working the Mark training I will video jumping effort again and see if my girl seems to be connecting the dots at all

A. I wouldn’t mix Marks with Jumps until your dog can reliably run full speed ahead to a row of Marks (the more the better but at least 3) and is able to stick her landings on each bucket with you standing past the last bucket. This will let you know she has figured out HOW to go from extension to collection.

Q. I’m still having trouble seeing how this transfers from a training situation to a trial. Do you gradually increase the number of obstacles between markers until the dog is running full courses? Have multiple markers within a sequence or course and not release the dog to the next marker until the dog has calmed down? And then this dog will ultimately be able to self regulate its arousal while running a 20 jump course at a trial? A standard course would be different than a jumpers course because in standard there are stopping points were a dog could self-regulate on the contacts, table. I googled this and could not find any information on the use of markers, pedestals, platforms, etc in this context. I would really like to see a before and after video of a retrain (a dog that was already trialing) of a very aroused dog using using this method…I do think that this is worth playing with as a strengthening exercise and an end of run “anchor”

A. Info about Mark training has been available through Sharon Nelson’s on-line seminar group for a few years now. At first I’m sure many people were skeptical and I understand why. I asked myself “What could be so profound about a dog doing nothing but standing on a low rubber feed bucket?” But my natural MO when presented with something new is to test it and see for myself. So I did, and was floored by the mental shift that organically happened with my 2 mature dogs… and I didn’t even know Marks had a “mental component” back then. I thought they were only about teaching dogs to collect. The thing I think you are missing is what makes Mark Training different? A mental shift occurs naturally when dogs have had experiences standing with their front feet up on a Mark Bucket. The posture of the dog, front feet higher than rear feet in the classic Rin Tin Tin pose, “grounds” the dog. Added to the mix is impulse control, as the dog learns to wait while the handler walks over to the Mark to give the dog a food reward. My description may not sound that different from your description: “….and not release the dog to the next marker until the dog has calmed down” but it is different in one significant way. With Mark training, once the dog has enough experience standing on a Mark bucket, she feels like she is in control, because she is. Once Marks have been integrated with agility obstacles (scattered around practice courses), dogs that “stress up” will begin to offer running to a Mark when they feel themselves getting too high instead of charging at their handlers, barking, spinning, or racing around grabbing obstacles. So instead of a dog that experiences stress automatically spiraling upwards out of control, Marks create a new behavioral chain: Dog starts feeling stressed. Dog runs to a Mark and stands still, which is calming and she finds herself quickly back in a good working state of mind. The dog learns how to lower her stress/ arousal by being still as experienced on the Mark. With enough experience, the dog can be asked to DOWN at a trial and the stillness has the same positive affect (vs. being punishment). In a trial setting, Marks are great for mentally grounding a dog before and after a run. I also like to use 1 or 2 Marks with a practice jump, to warm up my dog’s brain and body re: GO ONs and WRAPS. A dog facing a Mark bucket and asked to wrap the jump and come back to the handler vs. jump and go on to the mark is a great discrimination warm up. Once a dog is proficient with Marks, even just heeling a dog by Marks is a great mental warm up. Dogs become HUGE “bucket sucks” so heeling around Marks and not getting sucked onto one, lets us know if the dog and handler are working together as a team… but this is a side note.

Q. This sounds like a lot of fun, even tho we are working on a specific thing. I cant wait to get started. You know I have been doing Something like this with my dog, on my discs, but have asked her to sit and face me, so this is going to be some retraining for her.

A. BUY AT LEAST 3 MARK BUCKETS. You may end up wanting even more. I think I have about 13 in total which I keep in various places (my car, my house, my yard). One thing I have not mentioned is the benefits of rewarding dog in heel position vs. when dog is facing you. Its easy enough to do since the handler is walking over the the dog on the Mark to reward. Sometime hard to remember to do it though.

Q. Do you use them on a practice course after the dogs are good on them, and can you explain a little how you would run the course with the buckets out there.

A. Here is how I introduced my puppy to agility obstacles. After running him between Mark Buckets, I started putting a single obstacle between the Marks and VIOLA he took whatever was in his path (hoops, jumps, barrels, and eventually weave poles). Marks taught him to have great forward focus and to run straight lines in response to my handling. I didn’t realize it until he started trialing but we both learned EVERYTHING we needed to learn about handling as a team using just Marks, Hoops and Barrels. He learned back-side jumping (not that we use that skill), sends, go ons, wraps, swtiches, and backs (turning away from me in a 180) and he understands my handling close up and at huge distances.. all due to early Mark training. He is also a great jumper and performs contacts beautifully because of how well he uses his body (from Mark training). His start line stays are rock solid because of Mark training. He doesn’t lose his head at trials due to Mark training. He breezed through Intro, Novice, and Open without a hitch and is competing at the Elite level due to Mark training. Marks are the most profound training tool I’ve come across in the 8 years I’ve been doing agility. A tool best used throughout a dog’s lifetime vs. a prop you use for a while to “fix a problem”, then stop using it. Really watch your dogs when doing Mark training and you will be as blown away as I have been.

Q. And so in other words when you send them you dont want them to turn and face you, to stay in the forward position, this is going to be hard for my dog that always insists on looking at me for what to do or treats. Can we train it without treats or wean them off treats?

A.The hardest thing to train on Marks is the dog targeting the Mark and NOT spinning around to face the handler. You can recall the dog to a Mark, so the dog lands squarely on it and is still facing the direction she was running. You then walk back to the dog reward. I work on forward focus using 3 Marks in a row. I send my dog to the first Mark, and quickly release to the next Mark. After a few reps my dogs figure out they may be continuing on in that direction and will stop turning around to face me BUT this is very advanced and not really necessary since the Mark does not have a front and back like say a contact has. Its round and thus non-directional. So the dog is correct to spin around to face the handler when sent to a mark. In this scenario, the handler puts herself in heel position when rewarding the dog vs. asking the dog to move into heel position. Marks are GREAT for dogs for training dogs to stop looking at the handler. While the dog is running towards the Mark, she is looking AT THE MARK, not the handler. The dog learns to do this with obstacles too.. but first things first. Focus on the basic Mark foundation training. You will notice changes in your dog without having to “train” them.

(below) Link to indoor Mark session with 3 Marks in a row. Takoda was 4.5 months old.

(below) link to blog post with videos of Jake and Lil working 3 Marks (same set up as above)

(below) Takoda at 13 weeks old working on a flat plank with a Mark. Notice how his body stays facing forward while waiting for me to catch up.

(below) Takoda at 5.5 months first exposure to a pinwheel using Marks:

I had an AH HA about Marks as a result of Q & As: If a dog knocks over the mark bucket when released, have the dog sit before releasing for a few reps so they learn to rock back and push off from the rear vs. push off from the front. Then go back to standing releases and if your dog is like my 3, the dog will continue to push off from the rear (like from a sit) because the dog now knows HOW to get running as fast as possible.

(below) an example of releasing from a SIT:

Q. Are you telling him sit or waiting for him to offer it. And no Moms a feed bag, I like that. I realize that it may be thought that working a course with this may slow a dog down, but I look at it that a dog may be more thoughtful that is fast, and a slow dog eager to get to the next one. The reason it should work for me is that I am living at a place where I can’t throw a toy or ball as my dog takes off with it, doing a victory lap, lol, and I can’t have her doing that till she brings it back to me. We did that a lot when she was younger, but I was somewhere that she could run around. But in a way it was self rewarding, she is very head strong when it comes to her training and my main goal now is to not let her think she’s so much in control of me and what we are doing. Does this make sense.
And this does remind me of what Stuart Mah the great agility trainer once told me, to put targets around your course, even with a treat on them to keep your dog focused ahead, and work what he called city and country driving.

A. I’ll telling him to Sit in the video. I think most, if not all people would agree that a thinking dog makes for a better agility partner than a dog that goes over-the-top when entering the agility ring. A thinking dog has impulse control and understands that agility is a team sport that involves GO, STOP, GO vs. GO, GO, GOOOOOOOOOOOOO! I learned a lot from Stuart Mah! Lil’s earliest training was based on stuff I learned from him. Once a dog has been exposed to Marks, they are GREAT for proofing. My dogs are total “bucket sucks.” I regularly heel Takoda around Marks to test his understanding of heeling. This is another thing we do at trials for mental warm up.

Q. I’m really interested in this. My dogs never quite figured out the “rock back” part of a 2 on 2 off contact… especially the Aframe. It’s more a “run to the end and slam your front paws down…. or jump it… whatever.” Is there a way to incorporate this into contact training?

A. Absolutely. Prior to Mark training I didn’t think it was possible for a long-backed AT to stop safely on an A-Frame due to the extreme angle. But after doing a bunch of Mark training one winter, both of my ATs stopped very nicely (4 on) the A-frame. Mark training helps by teaching dogs to brake from the rear vs. brake by slamming front feet into the ground (2o2o).

Q. Dev- can you expand on how you use your mark bucket at a trial as a warm up. My boy is versed in mark buckets and I have thought about bringing to a trial just wasn’t sure how to implement them in a warm up.  I also want to use them for his jumping as that is his least favorite class.

A. Jumping is Lil’s least favorite class too! I like to use the marks in conjunction with the practice jump.. on the landing side of the jump.. about 10′ away then I alternate between GO ONs and WRAPS sending forward to the jump and laterally away from the jump. It lets me know if my dog is paying attention to my handling vs. just running to the visible Mark bucket. The things I do most often as a warm up after walking around for a bit are 1) pivots back and forth from heel position on my left to heel position on my right (moving my feet accordingly so my dog’s front feet stay on the mark as they rotate into heel position on the new side. This is great for focus and also for warming up their muscles. 2) Sends and Recalls to a Mark to rehearse the physical contact performance/ braking from the rear. If I have time to go outside to an off-leash area, I’ll take my dog and a Mark and add speed/ distance running to the Mark, mixing in some fun heeling stuff, especially if my dog seems a bit too high. Another thing I find myself doing more of with Takoda is heeling around the Mark mixed with releasing him to GO MARK. He REALLY wants to GO MARK on his own so its super challenging for him to heel within inches of it.. but he can do it (good boy). I think its a fantastic mental warm up to remind him that agility is a team sport!

Q. I’m sure I will be checking back in with this from time to time to see if I realize any new pointers that I may overlook initially. One question for you… my really intense “stress up” girl was introduced to this yesterday. We just did a quick learn position, then began adding intensity to “proof” the position before adding in handler variables and/or more Marks. However with adding in any intensity (any distance but calm handler, no distance but mentally rev’d, etc) I noticed my girl hits her mark in a crouched position almost laying her chest on the mark itself with front legs laying flat on the top of the bucket. She’s not tipping the bucket with this approach and I can’t tell how much weight is actually shifted to her rear or not but it’s certainly not a “standing” on the mark with front feet. Granted, she has been learning a lot of teeter behavior of “run to the end and wrap paws around edge” so that I *do* get a low center of gravity and hopeful weight shift so she may be offering this because of that… do you think I shouldn’t reward any attempts with this crouched position and when I do reward maybe give it to her high in an attempt to reward her standing up? Or does is matter and might fix itself as we progress?

A. I’d click (or say YES) when her front paws hit the mark but then reward her in such a way that she gets the food when standing upright on the Mark. I don’t think it will take long for her to skip the crouch. One more thing to pay attention to is how your dog takes the food rewards from your hand. This is something extremely valuable I learned from Sharon Nelson.. and is a great indicator of a dog’s mental status. If the dog starts taking food harder, gets grabby, or refuses food, you know she is not in an ideal working state of mind…. at which time I suggest shifting gears and working on THAT while your dog is standing on the Mark.

One other thing… I wouldn’t intentionally try to “add intensity” or do anything to rev up a dog that tends to go over the top. You want your dog to associate Marks.. and Agility with a good mental state vs. crazed… like the state of mind your dog would need to have while herding.

Q. On a side note I am really excited to see how this might benefit my young gun later in her career. I can already tell she will very much be a stress up girl and she gets aroused easily, LOVES to train and doesn’t care to think too much. She’s very athletic and intense which translates to sloppy with her body because she can get away with it. She will be my first personal “high” dog to trial with and I can just imagine how this Mark training might benefit her in learning how to *use* her body and stay grounded mentally even when highly stimulated. I don’t want to take away her excitement and arousal for the game, but it is my job to be a good trainer and make sure she can work with/through it. LOVE the fact that this can be done both indoors and without the picture of obstacles at first!

A. Mark training is invaluable for dogs like the one you are describing Alice! It doesn’t take away drive It helps dogs focus their drive. It also helps avoid injury.

Comment by me: One other benefit of Mark training that I didn’t realize was even happening until I started trialing with my youngster is we learned everything we needed to know about each other in terms of handling before he ever saw a jump or contact.. all done with Marks, then Hoops and Barrels. BTW–for non-NADAC peeps…. handling a barrel is like handling a c-shaped tunnel. The only difference is a barrel has an infinite number of entries and exits (which you can handle). How you handle a barrel and tunnel are identical in terms of what the dog needs to see before he runs behind a barrel or ducks into a tunnel.

Q. My first experience, my dog stood nicely on the first tub, sent to the second spin around and sit, its worse when shes on my right side, on the first tub I am right there so shes in good position. when I release her to the second one, she rushes too much to get there and even tho I am walking forward, they are only about 10 ft apart she gets there to fast and spins around looking at me and sits. So I got the idea to put her on a leash so when shes incorrect, I just get her back and attempt it again and when its right give the treat, So I am at this point helping her be right and keeping her under control till I feel comfortable to take the leash off , better to get more sessions correct at this point than a lot of practicing failures, so she will know what is right and what is wrong. This is really hard and going to try to keep sessions short, and a few times a day. Wow, what a challenge. Oh and I am waiting for her to look forward to the second mark before I release her so she gets the idea to look forward not at me.

A. Its OK that your dog runs to the Mark ahead of you and its fine that she turns around. Its VERY advanced to expect a dog to continue to face the way they were moving when the handler is behind.. and not at all important in terms of the core foundation skills she will be learning. If she beats you to the Mark, which she should be doing when sent, put YOURSELF in heel position and reward at your side when you meet her at the Mark bucket. Its important that the dog has free choice and its great that she is running with enthusiasm to the Mark. RE: what she is looking at when you release her, this is not so important in terms of core foundation skills… but I get why you want her to look ahead given the issues you have had with too much looking at the handler.

Q. About that grabby treat my dog is really bad about that I learned that from Amanda Nelson at a Seminar I went to with her. I wont have any fingers left during this mark training, its something I have to work with her every single day. Shes still a little grabby but its somewhat better I try to make sure not to rush the treat to her to keep her in a better calm state, if thats possible.

A. I’m with Amanda.. and Sharon on this topic for sure. If a dog gets grabby on the Mark, consider that as important feedback and then change your training objective and deal with that issue until she is able to take food without taking off your fingers. This is an important part of what she will learn on Mark buckets in terms of regulating her arousal level if you train the dog that shows up for the session vs. focus solely on your training objectives and goals. I tend to start Mark sessions with my grabby AT with feeding kibble (piece by piece) while he stands on a Mark. Once he is able to take the food without being grabby, he gets to run to the next Mark, where I test his ability to THINK again before releasing him to another Mark. It may not be the most exciting training session to watch but it is super important to address the issue of over-arousal anytime it rears is little head.

(below)  Takoda’s first time running Elite Jumpers at 22 months old.  He breezed right through Intro, Novice and Open and am I am thrilled with how well he is running Elite Courses, especially because we NEVER run full courses during practice.  My yard is not big enough and I only have 4 jumps.   Takoda was challenged on this course for sure, and I felt a bit of hesitation on some parts of this course but felt super connected from the moment we entered the ring.  I am convinced all the Mark training we did early on.. and continue to do has contributed to Takoda’s early success in and out of the agility ring.

(below) Takoda’s first time running Elite Chances

(below) Takoda’s first time running Open X-Hoopers

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