First off, sorry for the long post.
Lori - I don't find the words matter most of the time
, so long as you're consistent, you give it specific
meaning, and your dog clearly understands what it means. And just because a trainer uses a word for a specific action doesn't mean you have to.
I have a good lesson learned for why a word matters is if it's too similar to anther word or command they know well. I truly think one reason Fiona and I struggled SO MUCH with contacts is because I was taught (and blindly followed) to use the word "FEET!" for my 2o2o command. Well, guess what Fiona's nickname is? Fi. Guess how similar those sound when yelled to a dog running full speed ahead? I worked with contact boards at home, I tried contacts on stairs, you name it and we worked it. At home I could stand in the kitchen with her and say "Feet!" and she'd trot into the living room and put her back feet on the board - she knew what a contact was. But when running a course and I'd yell "FEET!" guess what she'd do... She'd leap off the equipment and run up to me looking at me like, "Here I am! Yay!" because she thought I was calling her to me.
It hit me one night in class when I heard someone new to our class yell "Hit it!" to command the 2o2o. As soon as I retrained the command with a new word - I chose "touch" because it sounds unlike any other command she has - almost immediately she was giving me solid 2o2o. (I don't use "hit it" though because I use "get it" for my girls when I send them out to a target. I've learned my lesson! LOL) I have kicked myself in the ass 100 times over for all the months of headache I wasted for her by me yelling a word she was mis-hearing. Seriously. MONTHS. But I've never trained agility before so when the trainer said she used the word "feet" I took that literally and used it too.
So I would say to be aware of how a word might sound to a dog. I can't think of any words that rhyme with or sound similar to Sebastian...so maybe don't use "shushmastian" as a command.
Wanna hear another way I messed her up for months and months? LOL This is my cautionary tale for making sure you give *specific meaning* to all commands. I was using the same command for the DW as I did the teeter - "walk on." I've spent a LOT of time working on teeter issues with her off and on the last year and I only recently figured out it was about 90% MY fault and 10% bad experiences (caused by it being my fault, no less). And I mean recently as in right before we had our big breakthrough in training about 2 months ago.
I've done tons of reading, tons of talking to trainers, tons of reaching out to other teams, watching videos...blah, blah, blah, you name it - and I've done it regarding teeter work the last year. After our last fun run where she did so well (and I shared some pictures of it beginning of January) I had a major lightbulb moment. A good friend came along and took those pictures for me and his camera is amazing and he's talented and he took a full second by second pictorial series of her teeter approach and fly off. Right down to the cringe worthy moment of it bouncing back up and slamming her in the ass...again. *sigh* I was really upset seeing that laid out in front of me in photos. Really upset. I don't want her to ever have a bad experience and I felt like such a failure for setting her up for bad teeters all. The. Time.
I really felt sick because I have this amazingly resilient dog who loves agility and who, in spite of being scared and hurt on one obstacle several times, she'd still charge full steam ahead and trust me time and again that it was going to be okay. But it wasn't. It was repeatedly bad for her. I felt like my ignorance taking advantage of what a great dog she is and I hated that I wasn't finding the answer. I tell ya, there is a huge difference between watching a bad teeter happen on video and having the still frames laid out in front of you to stare at and see every little thing. Every wince from your dog, every foot placed wrong. Every thing. It's awful
And I decided enough was enough. I wasn't willing to watch her fly off or fall off one more time. Once more was completely unacceptable. We were either going to solve it before we ran a course with it again or we just weren't going to run standard. Some way or another, I wasn't going to put her in what was an unpredictable situation for her. There was some way to fix it. There had to be. Tons of dogs are successful on the teeter and she could be to. So I woke up in the middle of the night after that run and I couldn't sleep. I dragged out my lap top and laid in bed reading up on teeters and contacts for a couple hours until I happened across some article about the canine visual system and how it's different from humans. And then I remembered reading about why there's tape on the weave poles and jump bars and why some dogs will blow obstacles if the walls of a venue are white depending on where the tape is located on the bar/pole and height of the dog (i.e., are they even able to see the tape? or is it above their line of sight?); their eyes have more rods and fewer cones than we do. So they don't see colors as well as they see motion. And it hit me...Fiona had no idea how to visually differentiate between the teeter and the DW. Which also resulted in her not knowing SHE is in control of the teeter. Instead the teeter was this unpredictable obstacle that plummeted beneath her feet while the DW remained stable yet they looked the same on approach.
I couldn't believe I hadn't realized it before. If the teeter was before the DW on a course, she'd end up flying off the teeter full speed ahead but then trot up the DW and drop where she expected it pivot. And if the DW was before the teeter she'd fly up the DW successfully and then she'd fly up the teeter landing on the pivot point and crash. But if we worked on just the teeter, she'd get it. And if we worked just the DW, she was fine on that. But she didn't know which was which when running a full course like she did when working one obstacle at a time a few times in a row. Visuals weren't enough for her when approaching these things head on because they look the same to a dog head on and there I was using the same stupid command for both! And our trainers - who have trained several MACH dogs each - had never encountered a dog who didn't figure it out eventually with repeated exposure and positive experiences in training.
Then I realized I was saying "WALK ON" for both and I could have died. Of course she had no idea what to expect - they looked the same on approach and I wasn't really telling her which obstacle she was on! I changed my word to teeter and we retrained it from scratch. It took 2 weeks to fix. That's all. 2 weeks. Now she's driving it, dropping on the pivot, and finishing straight off through the contact. *sigh*
And nearly everyone else I train with uses "walk on/it" for both the DW and the teeter and their dogs all just figure it out.
I also feel so fortunate every single day that I have her because another less confident, less determined dog would not have allowed me the mistakes I've made. I could have really screwed up so many other dogs with this stupid crap. But Fi is so resilient and so sure of herself. She has no fear. She thinks I'm crazy sometimes (and who can blame her?) but she's not afraid of what I'm sending her to do and she's not afraid to be wrong (mostly because she just doesn't ever believe she's wrong anyway LOL).
Don't get me wrong...we had a long time working through her victory laps and trying to leave the ring and running over to jump on people and insisting on racing back and forth through the tunnel 20 times and picking her own course...she's not been an angle, but I sure haven't done her any favors either.
Really, if you want to talk about rookie mistakes holding a dog back...well, you'll have to pry the sash from my hands because I've earned it! LOL
Fiona is a walking testament to how one can make the DUMBEST mistakes with their first agility dog but you can overcome challenges and really, really, REALLY stupid mistakes if you're thoughtful and put in the work.