As I mentioned in a post earlier this week, Koira's box turns are horrible at tournaments. She hits the box, hard, nearly straight on, with just her front feet. A turn like this puts a lot of stress on the ankles, elbows, and shoulders of the dog when slamming into the box, and stress onto the hips, knees, and back of the dog when she then has to wrench herself around to return down the lane. I refer to this kind of turn as a smash-and-grab.
Now, many dogs race their entire career with a smash-and-grab. Some of them are slightly better turns than others. Many dogs avoid injuring themselves even with a smash-and-grab. But, a team member just retired her 10 year old Tervuren, who had a poor box turn, due to back issues. She loves her dog dearly (because he is a total sweetheart), and has pulled him from competitions to prevent him from injuring himself worse. Every time she mentions his box turn causing this problem, and regret at not working to change it years ago, it makes me cringe for Koira's turn.
I don't want to have to retire my dog at 10 due to problems I may be able to prevent with training now.
So, I am taking a box training journey. It is way easier to train a good turn the first time around than to correct a poor turn. Every time a dog hits the box with a poor turn, it will take at least 2 times hitting the box with a correct turn to fully retrain the dog. For some dogs who have been competing for years, it may simply be not worth it to try to retrain the box turn, especially if the current turn is half-way decent or the dog runs slow and hits the box gently. Unfortunately, Koira doesn't fall into those categories.
My team will be helping me come up with a training plan for Koira's box turn. She currently has a nice turn with a prop in front of the box, but has no turn at all after a few hits without the prop (such as in a tournament setting). So far, we have managed to fade from a full jump board to a pvc jump prop. The goal is to have good, consistent, high, fast turns without any prop at all. To this effect, I will be practicing at home with Koira daily, putting the prop in and taking it out, keeping a high criteria for the turn and only rewarding good ones. Taking the prop out, though, risks building in the muscle memory of the bad turn, so it will have to be done carefully. With the help of my team, I know we will be able to fix the technical aspects of Koira's turn.
In addition, I need to find a way to make Koira believe that doing box turns is the Best Thing Ever. If she enjoys doing them, she will want to do them correct. It will also help improve her speed down to the box. So, I need input on how to motivate my dog to LOVE box turns. Koira's favorite tricks right now are heeling (which she seems to see as free cookies) and "waving", which is her default behavior whenever a treat is brought out. She is very food motivated, toy motivated, and willing to please. Praise makes her prance around looking all proud of herself. But, she can get over-amped easily, making her brain melt a bit, so she will sometimes resort to body-slamming me for her tug or "waving" at me repeatedly (and punching me in the process) for a cookie.
So, I guess I am appealing a bit to my readers, both flyball trainers and dog trainers in general. I want my dog to LOVE box turns. How would you go about doing this?