ALL Dogs Have the Potential to be their BEST at Agility

How Agility Dogs Become Superstars

In my article 6 Vital Tips This Dog Agility Trainer Needs You to Embrace, the second item I share is:

“ALL Dogs Have the Potential to be their BEST at Agility

Yes, that means your healthy dog! All that matters is that you want your dog to experience joy and satisfaction in agility, all while performing the action-based criteria that you clearly taught.”

How do I know YOUR dog has the potential?

Well first, they have you. If you doubt that you are one heck of an asset for your dog, please read my article 3 Traits of a Successful Agility Handler – How Handlers Begin to Create Superstar Agility Dogs to better understand the personal power you hold.

Second, dogs are absolutely incredible and fantastic creatures! Chances are, everyone reading this article has at least one dog (or more) who fills a unique role in their life. Whether it’s that of a companion, teacher, walking partner, social instigator, playmate, family member, working dog, etc. the depth of capabilities the canine world provides to each of us is astonishing. However, all of this talent is potentially lost or may fail to become fully developed without your proper human guidance. Especially in agility.

4 Things That Will Bring Out the BEST in Your Agility Dog:

A Clear Communication Program –

“The problem with communication…is the illusion that it has been accomplished” – George Bernard Shaw

Back in the early years I sincerely thought I was training my dog appropriately in agility. In hindsight, I was using human logic on a dog that didn’t even speak English. Human logic led to a continuous swirling of inaccurate communication, misunderstandings, frustration and disappointment for both me and my dog. I was working hard, but clearly I wasn’t working smart.

I made the decision to focus in a new direction and I worked to seek out information, resources and mentors. What finally took my agility team from okay to outstanding was the decision to focus on providing clarity and consistency, paired with an educated use of rewards and their placement. The results were phenomenal, but the best part was the increase in confidence and fun while succeeding.

Side Note: It is incredibly rare for first time agility handlers to understand the need to take time and resources to learn a clear communication program (especially since most instructors only focus on the obstacle performance at this level), but this is truly one of the best areas to fully support your dog in becoming their very best in dog agility.

Train From the Dog’s Viewpoint –

Remember when I mentioned above that in the early years I was training my dog with human logic? Well, that means I was also training my dog from my point of view. Which in hindsight doesn’t make any logical sense because I was not the one being held accountable to execute the directed performance, my dog was! Many years later I recognized that I needed to make a perception shift and train based on my dog’s view point, not mine.

Watch, Learn and Teach the Physical Requirements –

“Handlers don’t train dogs to do obstacles, they train dogs on the physical skills required to accomplish an obstacle.” – Lisa Selthofer

Dogs that seem to have been born with an agility blueprint stamped into their brain are truly rare. Which means that the majority of dogs need guidance on what the heck they’re supposed to do with their front and back feet, torso, head, stride, legs and more. Teaching a dog what physical actions are required to perform an agility task is a large part of what dog agility training is about.

Take time to understand HOW a dog physically accomplishes a task (such as a 2-on 2-off contact performance) and then determine WHAT physical actions you’ll need to train and reinforce your dog on. Keep in mind that you’ll want to create a dog that will ultimately work independently (without prompts or aids) when the training is complete.

Adopt Action-Based Goals –

I’ve often equated dog agility runs to Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride at Disney World, as the adventure can be just as incredibly unpredictable and leave you feeling left in the dark as to what the heck just happened. After all, we are dealing with;

  • Dogs – who randomly poop on a course or pee away your chance at a qualifying run
  • Humans – we’re known to be less than perfect
  • Weather – rain or snow anyone?
  • Wildlife – did I mention a horse once ran through my course while a dog was running?
  • and so many more odd and uncontrollable things that are bound to happen

If you choose to place your goals, efforts, initiatives and agility worth solely on qualifying runs and titles, you will end up feeling robbed, cheated and disappointed when an unmanageable issue unexpectedly arrives and dashes that run’s dream away.

Instead, invest in action-based goals that focus on the trainable behaviors within your control. I like to break this down further and call it the ‘If-Then Training’ because I know that ‘If’ I do a specific cue, ‘Then’ my dog will respond with a specific pre-trained action.

In competition I chain multiple action-based behaviors together, so that basically I’m focusing on lots of small easy tasks that my dog and I have consistently trained. While I can’t guarantee the odd situation or error won’t ever happen, I will share that this goal setting method has greatly reduced my competition stress while increasing my team’s focus, accomplishments and internal self-value.

Where To Go From Here

I truly enjoy sharing these articles with you and I hope they are providing valuable information for you. Stay tuned for for my next blog post where I’ll discuss why Dog Agility Superstars Aren’t Born. They are Made.

In the meantime, if you enjoyed this article and would like to automatically receive the next upcoming blog post in your email, please complete the form below. Also, sharing is caring, so please forward this blog post to 3 friends and post on your social media account now. Your friends will thank you!

Happy Handling!

Lisa Selthofer

Articles In The Superstar Series:

  1. 6 Vital Tips This Dog Agility Trainer Needs You to Embrace
  2. 3 Traits of a Successful Agility Handler
  3. All Dogs Have the Potential to be Their BEST in Agility
  4. Dog Agility Superstars Aren’t Born. They Are Made
  5. 10 Simple (But Important) Things to Remember About Your Agility Goals
  6. Never Compare Your Agility Journey to the Journey of Others (coming soon)
  7. It Doesn’t Matter What Others Think (coming soon)

As a 20+ year dog agility coach, I am passionate about producing quality resources for dog agility teams by promoting self-development and delivering clear and specific training solutions that enable teams’ to perform with clarity and confidence!

My unique experience as a hands-on trainer and 18+ year dog agility judge led me to create Sequencing For Success and the highly successful 2on-2off Contact Training DVD.

Our household has included Dalmatians, Labradors, Belgian Tervuren, Border Collies and engaging cats.

Contact Lisa via email AgilityOne at (replace at with @ sign)

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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