Speed is the most important quality an agility dog needs, according to Silvia, and should be taught right from the beginning. Speed should be imprinted on puppies--do everything with speed , in other words. Agility is only fun for dogs because they get to run, not because of the equipment. After some number of times on the equipment, it will become boring in and of itself but speed will always be exciting. However, dogs who don't enjoy running probably will never enjoy agility. For example, those really large dogs who have to crouch to go through tunnels do it willingly only because they love running and not because they enjoy crawling through tunnels.
Running fast on an agility course can be accomplished by making sure the dog knows exactly where to go at all times. So if you teach "cik" and "Cap" the dog will be able to run as fast as they can up to the jump and then be able to run very fast away from it, too.
An agility dog must also like food or a toy. For dogs not interested in food, all their meals should should be used to teach tricks. This will develop their interest in working with their handler. Tricks are the best thing to do with a performance dog becuase there's no pressure and because they get a lot of rewards. [A good point--handlers who tend to get tense when they're training a performance dog will smile and laugh and use a high rate of reinforcement when they're training tricks.]
The way to increase speed in a dog with lower motivation for agility is to give them a treat for each trick they do for a few tricks and then ask them to do several tricks in a row after which they earn a jackpot. This way they learn that doing a sequence of things is better than doing individual tasks.
A typical agility class isn't a good place for dogs with lower motivation because there's so much waiting around. Silvia's classes have only 3 dogs in them so they can keep busy most of the time. When they're not working, the dog is either crated or tied to the fence and when the handler works them it's with a lot of intensity. Using the dog's favorite tricks is a good thing to do when waiting on the startline, keeps dog happy and motivated without anxiety. Some tricks she mentioned were to spin left and right, jump up and bark. [I've been letting Devon watch one or two dogs run before him because he doesn't seem to want to tug while waiting at the gate].
Another way to motivate a dog on course is to talk to them because it creates energy in the handler. It can also help the dog learn the names of the obstacles if you say the name "tunnel, tunnel, tunnel" as the dog is looking at and approaching it. Talking also helps the dog stay connected with you instead of looking around for another obstacle.
Sylvia feels that some people with lower motivation dogs miss many opportunities to develop motivation at home. She thinks that when the dog is acting "hyper" is the perfect time to train some tricks or get the dog running around rather than telling it to lie down or giving it something to chew on.
She also doesn't think a dog with lower motivation should ever be left on the startline while the handler leads out. She's unable to lead out with La so she's taught her how to spot the first obstacle or line of jumps while Sylvia holds her and revs her up. She'll also push La back with her hand on La's chest to get a little bit of a lead out.
To teach puppies how to run with their handlers Silvia begins by using a target on the floor and then restraining the puppy by the shoulders a little distance away. Once the puppy is straining toward the target, the handler lets go and runs with the puppy to the target. This is practised until the puppy will run to a target from a good distance away and eventually the target is taken up and replaced with a U shaped tunnel [which I imagine is introduced seperately beforehand]. The handler can race to and away from the tunnel and jumps can also be added to teach the puppy (and handler) to run fast and how to do crosses.
Silvia emphasised that handlers should never repeat any obstacle in a sequence. If a dog bypasses a jump or other obstacle, or takes the wrong obstacle in a discrimination, the handler should practice the sequence without the dog until confident they'll handle it correctly. She described a situation that commonly occurs where the dog is running faster than the handler and takes the wrong obstacle or bypasses a jump because the handler is out of place. The handler calls the dog back to him to repeat the sequence and this time, because the dog isn't sure what to do, the dog runs a little slower and the handler rewards the dog for getting it right but is really rewarding the dog for going slower.
What that handler should be doing, according to Silvia, is finishing the sequence with the dog on the first try and then thinking up a new sequence that will allow him to approach the same challenge but with a different beginning sequence.
Silvia also doesn't practice individual obstacles. If she wants to practice the A-frame, for example, she'll set it up between two U shaped tunnels so that the dog will be continuously running to the next tunnel. She does the same thing when she wants to practice turns or crosses with a dog. She'll set up a jump or jumps between two U shaped tunnels so that the dog is always running to the next tunnel.
She also sometimes tells her students to reward after one obstacle, then two obstacles, then three, etc because then the dog is anticipating a reward and begins to run faster [just like what you see so many dogs do after the 10th or 11th obstacle on course]. At the point when the dog speeds up and is running faster is the time to throw the reward out ahead of the dog not after the dog has slowed down and been cajoled into running only slightly less slowly.
Another element of speed and motivation is thorough socialization of the dog. It's important that they be thoroughly comfortable with the noise, activity and other dogs at an agility trial. Along the same lines, get your dog used to you being loud when you play and train for two reasons: first, use your voice to give energy to a lower drive dog and second, you may need to make yourself heard at a loud trial. [And I would add that many of us who get nervous at trials might get louder or speak in a higher register than when we're relaxed.]
Silvia only trains on agility equipment 2-4 times a week and recommends making agility a special treat for lower drive dogs. Reserve their favorite food and/or toys for when you're training on equipment and keep sessions short and high energy. Be sure you are able to reward at exactly the time you want to by always having your reward in hand. Any delay in delivering the reward can mean marking the wrong behavior.
[Train Jaime every day so he can rely on muscle memory when he's too high to think. Keep Devon's agility sessions short and work on training more tricks--especially for use on startline.
Remember: the more obstacles, the higher the reward
Remember: reward the running
Remember: the joy is in the running]
*comments within [ ] are my own thoughts