Ever on the lookout for ways to improve how we teach our students, I asked NADOI members what they do to prepare, or warm up their students prior to class. Several replied that they were more concerned about “chilling out” their rowdy beginner dogs than warming them up, and others utilized class time to find ways to help their students settle their dogs. Agility instructors were definitely more likely to want their students to flex and stretch their muscles, while obedience instructors seemed more intent on getting control and focus.
Margie English # 332 says, “I don’t warm them up before class. I use the first exercise of the class to get the dogs in focus. In the pet classes this is usually a self control exercise like a sit-stay or sit-to-greet. The competition dogs usually need something more aerobic at the beginning of the class, so they get to heel for three or four minutes with lots of changes of pace.”
Lucinda Schuft # 894 tells me that she does something similar. She likes to get the dogs calmed down, and she also uses class time to accomplish that. “The Volhard long down, or settle, is taught at the first lesson, and the students are instructed to do it at home. Then we will usually do that at the beginning of the class hour. This really works great to get the dogs in the frame of mind to work.”
Margery West # 476 posts a “warm up sheet” for her pre novice and novice students. It is a timed warm up and may run from one to two minutes. They need to do all the exercises in that time and in any order (although Margery suggests the stick jumping be done last):
• Skip sits • Starts • “Get in”
• Finish right • Finish left • Back up
• Back up and drop • Tight circle right • Stick jumping
Adds Margery, “If done properly, there is time for a quick tug or catch game. If a handler feels he needs more warm up than this, he can do it before the official warm up period, which is a part of the class. The idea is to wake up the dog, mentally, and get them into a working mode.”
Donna Pashia # 1020, who teaches agility, told me that she leaves the warm up to each individual student, as everyone has their own needs and goals. Some of her students may get to class as much as 30 minutes early to warm up, and some arrive right on time. For competition, Donna says, “I have a routine warm up that is fun for the dog and stretches their muscles to prepare them for the work ahead. It also helps them to stay focused on the handler. It consists of a bow, a physical (manual) stretch of each leg, right and left spins, weaving around and through my legs, jumping up to touch my hand, and finally a short game of tug until it is nearly time on the line.”
Agility instructor Mary Pollard # 2003-03 provisional, agrees with Donna on the value of getting students to class a little early to prepare their dogs physically and mentally. “In our classes, the owners are expected to arrive early enough to get themselves together, and then dog and handler take a lap around the ring and do warm up exercises such as zigzags between the legs, bows (stretches), and circles. Then we start with the jump chutes just to get the juices flowing.” Mary adds that teaching these warm ups to beginning agility students helps them to prepare on their own when they start competing.
I agree with my fellow members that a good class many times depends on “preparing for class.” I ask all my students to come to class 20 or 30 minutes early to help their dog calm down, focus, and get ready to learn. Remember in elementary school when you had to sharpen your pencils and clean off your desk before the next lesson? Our obedience students also need a time when they can go through a few simple rituals that tell the dog, ‘it’s time to work.” I tell my students that if they dash home from work, change clothes, grab the dog, and drive to class (and always slide in the door right at the class start time), that the chances are good they will waste a good portion of that class hour. Being prepared for class with a few settling or warm up exercises will allow both dog and handler to get the most out of the class lesson.