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My dog barks during agility

My mutt Ace has become much more vocal and excited during agility practice within the last six months. He barks wildly nonstop, as you can see in the video below. Watch it on mute if you don’t want to be totally annoyed.

I haven’t addressed Ace’s “talking back” issue until now because I don’t know how to handle the problem. In the meantime, his “attitude” has gotten worse.

What concerns me the most is not his barking, but how his excitement escalates to aggressive behavior such as nipping my hands. He has left bruises several times. It’s hard to see it in the video, but he bites at my sleeves during the weave poles.

My mutt is out of control.

Agility trainers I’ve worked with tell me that Ace wants to run as fast as he can. Because the obstacles slow him down, he gets frustrated when he has to maneuver them. The room we practice agility in is also too small, leaving him little room to get up to speed. His barking is his way of telling me “Let’s go!”

One trainer (Hi Sandy!) has told me all along that I’ve been causing these problems by literally taking too big of steps with my feet. Like Ace, I want to go fast. After all, we are both runners.

But my large steps cause me to stop suddenly as we reach each obstacle, causing Ace to do a jump or pop upwards. This popping motion that Ace did led to barking, which led to nipping. I don’t notice that I’m doing any quick stops in the video, but I’m sure I still do it on certain course layouts. Either way, Ace has formed the habit to jump at my hands and bark.

Ace’s crazy, continuous barking began several months ago on the teeter. This is an obstacle he is still nervous on. What a big baby! He would bark on the teeter because he didn’t want to walk across it. He used to try to skip the teeter entirely and then grunt and bark when I forced him across it.

The barking on the teeter led to barking at the weave poles. He wanted to run right by them instead of actually weaving. When I slowed him down to do them correctly, he began grunting and soon after that he was full out barking. Now he barks nonstop throughout the whole course, even when he is in a down-stay position on the table.

He used to be better at agility, and now he has gotten worse and tries to skip obstacles. Is my dog bored or what?

The way Ace is acting in this video is pretty typical, although his excitement often escalates to more than this. That’s when he fixates on my hands and mouths them like they are a toy.

Unwanted behavior is never the dog’s fault.

I joined an agility class for something my dog and I could do together – a way to increase our bond while exercising and challenging ourselves. One of the reasons I haven’t addressed Ace’s barking is because agility is supposed to fun. We aren’t serious competitors, so I’ve never worried about his behavior too much. Also, in a class setting, it’s hard to slow down and take individual time to work when others are waiting for a turn.

But now I’ve reached that point where enough is enough. It’s hard to have fun with a barking dog, especially one beginning to show dominance and aggression. It’s hard not to take it personally when Ace hurts my hands. It’s hard not to lose my temper when he can’t control himself enough to hear basic commands, let alone respond to them.

Of course, I don’t blame Ace for his behavior. It’s totally my fault for not addressing these issues before they became habits. Ace can’t rationalize what he’s doing. He’s just being a dog, and he’s trying to be a good dog. All he wants to do is follow me around and make me happy.

I had my boyfriend Josh run Ace on the course last week to see if our dog would respond differently to him. He did not. Ace was probably even more excited because Josh was out there with him for the first time. Ace even tried to go for Josh’s hands.

I’ve had more experienced trainers do run-throughs with Ace on the course, and he is much better with them. He does not bark or become fixated on their hands. He is able to focus better because he is less excited. One member of our class suggested Ace gets more excited around me because I’m his person, and he likes me so much. But I think he does better with the other trainers because they are more assertive, and he sees them as authority figures.

My dog is not a vocal dog outside of agility. We practice obedience in the same building, on the same floor, and he is a totally different dog then – quiet, laid back, responsive! He seems to really enjoy both obedience and agility but for different reasons.

Obedience is about calmly following my lead and commands, something Ace enjoys. Agility, on the other hand, brings out one crazy dog! Although he looks happy on the course – his tail never quits wagging – I worry that his excited behavior at agility is similar to his obsessive behavior around a tennis ball. The fact that he fixates on my hands and gets a glazed stare is not a good sign.

What should I do differently with this dog?

We are taking this session off from agility because I need to give myself a break, but we will be back again to weekly practices in May. I really enjoy agility and want to improve. However, I don’t see that happening unless I can get more control over my dog on the course.

Does anyone have any suggestions for Ace and I?

One option is to slow Ace down and even practice with a leash on him for awhile. That way I have more control and can put him into down-stay positions whenever his excitement escalates.

I also see that Ace and I need to work on distance. If he can learn to listen and read my signals better from a distance, he will be able to run the course without me right by him the whole time. That way he won’t be able to fixate on my hands so easily. He will also have to think a little more rather than just follow me the whole time. Distance work is something we can practice in general at home and in areas other than on agility equipment.

Finally, I need to be more assertive with my dog with both my voice and body posture. I am too laid back with him. My voice is not firm and either are my hand signals. The more passive I am, the more powerful he becomes. I don’t have to yell, but I have to be the authoritative figure that I am.

A nice, long bike ride with Ace before we go to practice should also help. 🙂

If you bike with your dog, you may be interested in a dog bike leash.

Does anyone else have a dog who is crazy at agility? How about crazy in general?

Related articles:

When to start a puppy in agility


Wednesday 30th of March 2016

Hi, I know it's an old post but just found it searching the net for solutions or stroies or anything because I think i just hit bottom yesterdays's agility training with my dog and still feeling desperate and sad about it. He is 6 yrs old now, a vizsla and SGP mix and I just love him:) started making agility with him about 2 yrs ago, but regular weekly training just a year ago. He had always 'over excitement' issues but since a couple of months it's just impossible to train with him and that makes me truly said bec. he would be really great in this sport (super fast, no fear, good bodlylang.-reading skills). We are far more worse than the first time we saw an obstacle..And the sad truth is, I can not control him anymore . He barks continoiusly, ignores my command on the run, because he 'knows' how is to do it well-he thinks. Runs to my trainers when we are just about to start off, and I could still continue the list. Yes, I have to admit, I'm not enough 'strong' for this stonrg-headed dog, but we came a really long way now, and worked really hard on a better relationship, but I'm a woman and he clearly respects more and immediatley a calm, assertive man. And as you just wrote, I'm in a training class and can not take away others time from training with my issues, so I'm also frustrated. I'm still not sure we quit the agility, because it's one of my fav.dogsports -to do and watch-, maybe I still try to get back my dog under control before making the step.. I was just thinking going near(!) the training place and just sit, rewarding him for any calm behaviour, then by time making baby steps closer to the area and then maybe just be on other ppl's training with my dog and try to work on that good behaviour..not sure yet when to start. I've read in comments you quit agility. Since then did you try it again? If yes, how did it go, any improvement?:) Sorry for my long post, maybe just felt ' oh, it's not just me!' :)) Wish you all the fun with your dog!


Monday 21st of May 2012

Oops, sorry everyone - I forgot to post an update from my comment above.

Short story, is that I tried everything I read on this blog and have had some success! Jet (my Border Collie) is whizzing around a fairly large outdoor agility course and having a great time. We still have our moments, but so do all owners!

He still barks sometimes on the way round, but this doesn't worry me - it's just him saying he's having fun. But the howling and nipping has almost stopped. More later.

So what worked for me from a general perspective? I'll put the general stuff first and specifics later. It's probably important to mention that I thought that I was doing well as a handler, and that the dog was being difficult. How wrong!

1. Maturity: He was about a year old when we started agility He's now about 18 months and has grown up a bit, as well as getting used to us.(he was a rescue dog). 2. Excel in the regular training, make sure that your dog has good manners and that you are in charge of the relationship. If your dog regards you just as a vending machine for food and snacks, you are on the wrong track. 3. Our dog trainer is a "whisperer" and has amazing insight about the dog's behaviour as it changes. Make sure your trainer is telling you how to work to keep your dog under your control rather than doing his own thing. (See 3. We had a private 90 minute session with our trainer and focused on good manners rather than obedience. This took off the peer pressure from regular lessons and meant we could repeat exercises and go back to work on handling. 4. Probably the problem is your handling, and not the dog! He's just a dog! You are probably giving the wrong cues at the wrong time which can upset a dog that wants to work for you. 5. Our agility course is outside and there is a lot of scope for him to charge around rather than being constrained. In bad weather once we were inside, and it wasn't as much fun for any of us.

And for the specifics: a) Use a high value treat. (I made liver cake - real cheap and easy, and dogs love it. Top tip: Carry your microwave outside or into the garage to cook it, otherwise your house will stink for a week. Cut it up into small chunks and freeze it. 1 pound of liver will make a cake that will last about 4-6 weeks). b) Don't wave the treat around in your hand as a lure. Keep the treat in your pocket and reward at the end of the course. If the dog is jumping or nipping at your hand, it's because he's asking for the reward early. I make Jet lie down at the end of the course to get rewarded, which has stopped him jumping up and nipping. Never give the dog any reward for free - including petting or stroking! If you have a nipping dog, make him work for it. (He thinks you're like a treat vending machine otherwise!) c) Give early commands. Jet was moving so fast that he was confused about where to head next. So now I am shouting the name of the next piece of the equipment as he's in mid-flight over the previous one. This has stopped him howling - it was all him telling me that he was confused about what I was asking. d) barking is OK, and can be stopped by asking more and making him run faster. Howling is bad, but it's mainly through confusion, so I give him earlier direction. e) Don't be afraid to go back and repeat a piece of equipment. Praise when the dog does well, but don't give attention if the dog messes up. Just ignore, don't scold, no eye contact (because it's a reward), and walk calmly back to the start.

We're not perfect yet - it's a work in progress. Weaving was the biggest challenge because I started by using treats as a lure, just to get him through. I moved from there to an empty hand and rewarding at the end, and from there to nudging him through with my knee, to just a body sway. But it's easy for me to fall into bad habits!

Good luck all!

Lindsay Stordahl

Monday 21st of May 2012

Thank you! I am thinking about taking my dog back to some agility classes. He is 6 years old now, and we haven't done agility since he was about 3. I think I will notice a difference just because of his age. And I like your point that most likely the owner is the one doing something wrong, not the dog. Right on!


Sunday 20th of May 2012

Oh my goodness, there are others out there!! LOL! Melon is a 7 month old BC who barks at me to run, run, run! It's so frustrating as I know he loves it so much and I would love to run with him but I cant stand the constant barking when he gets so excited. He turns from a funny, energetic pup into this wolf with scary, glinty eyes with jumping and nipping of hands, trousers, etc. I started putting him back on the leash the second this behaviour started which stopped him from barking at me to run but now of course he's hard to get back on the leash at the end of a good walk! Agh! Yesterday I tried running with him on the leash but he just dragged me along like a Husky and his sled, waaaaay too excited! I'm not sure where to go from here as he has the attention span of a gnat and won't play fetch for more than about 5 throws of a ball, after that he just runs after the ball but won't bring it back as he just wants to do the running bit...Hmph!!


Saturday 28th of July 2012

Hi Emma,

I am reading through these because my dog Lucy is starting to bark when she gets excited or overwhelmed on walks and was looking for tips. She is about 14 months now. Just wanted to tell you that she was exactly the same as what you described at 7 months until about 11 months, and she is calming down wonderfully compared to before. I tried letting her run it off at dog parks and long walks, but sometimes they just did not help.

What helped me was a slower walk (before I was trying to keep it brisk to exercise her well), and I concentrated on having her on a loose leash and stopping whenEVER it was taut, 100% of the time. This really helps us both to relax and doesn't involve a lot of verbal commands. She now understands that she needs to keep the leash loose in order to keep going, and she is able to relax a LOT more. When we meet with things that excite her (right now it is butterflies and ducks), I shorten the leash (but keep it loose) and she is more aware of me and the need to control herself. She doesn't nip or bite on walks anymore, she just kind of pushes my hand happily sometimes - I am sure your dog will grow out of it if you try your best to stay calm and ignore it. But as I said, she sometimes barks - I am trying to figure out this new thing.

I can't run with my dog or do anything too exciting (although at the dog park we play frisbee and of course I let her run freely there) when we are taking regular walks (she freaks out and loses all control) but I have noticed that a relaxed, slower-paced, non-pulling walk is satisfying for her (she now nuzzles my hand and looks up at me a lot more) and she is very relaxed at home. When we meet with unexpected things that make her hyper, I just stop and wait with her until she calms, or keep her moving past the distraction despite her jumping to try to look back. It is going better and better, and sometimes she will even ignore things that normally make her excited. I hope that encourages you. I thought I had the craziest dog in the WORLD and my parents came to visit in April and told my husband and me to give her away. I am so glad we ignored that well-intentioned advice! Lucy is sweet and good-natured at heart, just very curious and active. And she is MUCH more obedient now that I take a calmer approach.

Lindsay Stordahl

Monday 21st of May 2012

Be patient! He should settle down a bit as he gets older. Have you tried a dog backpack? I've found that that is a really good tool to help tire the dog out mentally and physically. When my lab mix was younger, I would take him running while he wore his pack with a small amount of weight in it. Helped tremendously! I would also do more basic obedience work to give him a mental challenge.


Monday 19th of March 2012

Lindsay - thanks for your blog. You describe exactly the situation that I've been experiencing since I've been taking my border collie to agility training.

Perfectly well mannered most of the time, but starts barking around the course and when we get to the weave. He's also started to mouth and try and grab my guide hand as we go around - particularly on weaving. Sounds like many people in your comments have had similar experiences.

I will try the various suggestions from your blog comments, but would welcome any input from someone that has experienced and resolved this specific issue (rather than generic well intentioned suggestions)

Lindsay Stordahl

Sunday 25th of March 2012

I have to admit I haven't gone back to agility since writing this. It's been a few years. I really miss it, and I've thought about getting back to it just for fun. Who knows, maybe my dog will have outgrown that issue since he's older now. But I doubt it. He still gets very excited over chasing a ball. Agility brings out that same excited state of mind from him.

If I do agility with him again, I am just going to do my best to remain calm and to end the fun whenever he barks like that. I know agility is supposed to be pretty laid back and fun, but that behavior is not acceptable to me. I do think he can learn some self control and learn that when he barks, the fun is over.

I always had more success when I slowed down on the course, too. I had him go at almost a walk. And I shoved treats in his mouth whenever he was quiet.

Best of luck to you with your border. Let me know how it goes!


Wednesday 23rd of November 2011

Hi, Just wondering how you have got on with your agility training and what method seemed to work the best for you?

I have a 2year old border collie and she is also coming into me nipping and jumping up in agility, it usually happens in competition because she knows its competition and that's when she is most excited so its very hard for me to correct when im in competition and it does get very frustrating because she will do a lovely run and then 1/4 to the finish she will jump up and nip at me!

Lindsay Stordahl

Thursday 24th of November 2011

I stopped training my dog for agility actually. We were just doing it for fun and it was not very fun for me. I've thought about going back, but my dog does better with obedience type work rather than getting riled up for agility. If I took him back, I would definitely use an e-collar with him to stop the barking/nipping. And then I would give him his ultimate favorite treats for being controlled and quiet.