Friday, August 11, 2023

Obstacle Course Games

 Games Based Training involves coaching and concepts instead of dominance based obedience.

This is Post 3 in the Games Series!
If you haven't read Post 1: Train Smarter, Not Harder with Games or Post 2: Helping Distracted & Fearful Dogs with Games be sure to go back and visit them!

What are Canine Coaches

You may have heard me use the term Canine Coach before or if you've done any online training with me you've heard about the Crazy2Calm Canine Coaches. While many people still refer to us as the Dog Trainer (which is totally OK) this games based approach to training makes us more like a Coach. A good trainer should be able to teach each owner how to be successful as a dog/owner team. 

As a Canine Coach, it's my job to guide the owner and dog towards things that will be make life easier and more fun for both them. This might involve teaching the owner and dog how to walk nicely down the trail instead of have the dog dragging the owner down the trail. Owners come to me with all kinds of issues; biting, jumping, counter surfing, pulling on lead, barking at people...this list could go on and on. As a Coach, I will observe the human/dog interactions and make small adjustments to the way they are doing things, giving them a change to improve bit by bit over time. Just like humans, dogs can't change their habits over night and big changes take more time to learn. Small changes that feel good and often natural can make the world of difference for my clients.

One of the ways we help the dog and owner make small changes into new habits is to set up obstacle courses designed to help them practice the new skills they are learning together.

Building Obstacle Courses

Check out this video of Canine Coach, Faith playing with her dog Echo on an Obstacle Course

Obstacle course make learning fun! We all learn better when we are having fun!
Obstacle courses improve teamwork as communication becomes more clear!
Obstacle courses build good habits that often reduce the chances of bad behaviors happening!

Gone are the days where most owners desire to dominate over their dog with an iron fist. Today people have dogs because they love having them around and simply want to co-exist successfully together. While dogs have lived with humans for thousands of years, that doesn't mean they are born knowing how to navigate or survive in this human based world. This is why puppies bite, jump, steal food and many other bad habits that drive owners crazy. 

Dogs with bad habits are not bad dogs! They simply haven't learned the behaviors their owners love. Instead of a team that works together, dog and owner sometimes work against each other without realizing it. 

Often this is due to a communication gap or language barrier. A good Canine Coach will help you bridge that gap and develop teamwork that leads to better communication, increased skills, and become a stronger team. 

Obstacle courses can be set up to teach just about any skill or concept you want to teach your dog. Start with defining the overall goal for the obstacle course.

"I want to help my dog earn reinforcement for walking in the heel position while having fun!"

I created a game with buckets, similar to horse barrel racing, where teams can practice heel and turning around corners/objects in a predictable or unpredictable pattern. Some dogs do better when they can predict what the owner will do, while other dogs focus better if they don't know what's happening next. The bucket heel zone obstacle allows us to figure out what the human can do to make heeling easier for the dog to succeed. You can also build some speed variation into the bucket game for dogs that like speed or humans that want to make it more challenging.

Once you have your first set of obstacles to practice your main goal, I'll also set up a few other obstacles that my dog has already practiced and does well it. Then you can spend 1-3 minutes doing the bucket game, move on to perhaps a parkour station, then maybe some mat training or basic obedience stations, then circle back and repeat. This can help keep your dog engaged and having fun longer with a mix if mini-sessions, under 3 minutes each, then rolled together in a longer session or 10-15 minutes.

Obstacle Course to Teach Cues

Any good trainer to tell you to avoid using a verbal cue until your dog is good at the behavior. Using a cue for heel before your dog knows the position can add confusion to your training. Playing games such as doing obstacle courses that rely on your dog staying in heel can build the excitement and reinforcement history for that skill, then slowly you add in the verbal cue while the dog is doing the skill correctly.

My SDiT Rosalind struggles with getting her leash tangled on everything, including herself! I've always taught my dogs directional cues by capturing the direction changes on walks with a verbal cue. As an adolescent Roz is way too distracted on walks right now to learn these cues. To make it easier, I set up an obstacle course at the Training Center to teach her the concept of going the same way around things as I do. This helps me to teach the left, right & follow cues that will help us navigate public spaces together as a team instead of every man/dog for themselves.

Canine Coaches are happy to help!

Canine Coaches have lots of great games to teach all the skills you and your dog need. We want you to succeed and therefore we are committed to modifying our games based on all the individuals (human and canine) involved. 

Games grow Concepts
Concepts grow Skills
Skills grow Confidence
Confidence grows Optimism
And Optimism grows Resilience.

If you're ready to start playing the games to help your team grow, reach out to our Canine Coaches so we can help you create the teamwork you've always wanted between you and your dog. Reach out to us at and we will find a package that will work for you!

No comments:

Post a Comment

Play with a Purpose

Announcing the new Play With a Purpose Mini-Class! I created this class with puppies in mind, focusing on games for 4-10 months old dogs. Re...