General Training

Puppy Training

Early training of puppies in agility is feasible, but it must be done responsibly. Much or most of the control aspects of agility can be accomplished by the time the dog is a year old and the hard physical training can be done after that. Puppies should not be jumped more than 6" for the smaller breeds and 12" for the larger breeds until after the growth plates close. The A-frame should be kept a very low 4-5'(with 9' ramps), and the teeter and dogwalk should be kept low as well. Maintain the channel in the weaves so that there is not an excessive amount of twisting. At about a year old, have your vet x-ray your pup to check his hips and make sure the growth plates are closed. After that you can gradually move the jump heights and contacts up to competition heights. (Kent Mahan)

Virtually all puppies can begin "agility" training very young. You can start teaching a young puppy a "jump" command - assuming that "jump" ("over", "hup" or whatever) meant go between two uprights. Start a puppy on the down ramp of the dog walk and the down ramp of an A-frame set low, and teach the puppy to walk off the end of the ramp to a target. Most, if not all puppies, can learn a weave chute and tunnels. If teaching all these things is made a game, like all puppy training should be, it should be a very positive experience to the puppy, and prepare that puppy for training later. Besides teaching the puppy this fun game of agility, puppy agility training helps with coordination and confidence. With the right training method and the right mindset, any puppy can benefit mightily from agility training. (Billie Rosen)

There is *so* much you can do with puppies that doesn't really involve the obstacles, and is safe and fun! Spend your time teaching the pup to play and have fun, and use games that encourage skills you want in agility, rather than doing the obstacles themselves. Here are some games to play:

"Find the Tunnel" - Once he is happy running through the tunnel, start moving it further away and encourage puppy to run and find the tunnel to run through. Eventually put it in a separate room. Helps dog develop distance work and enthusiasm.

"Round the Wall" - Find a hallway in the house with doorways on both ends. Teach the dog to run in a circle around the wall (through one door, then the room, back through the other door). Use toy to encourage dog to go through first doorway then call through second doorway. Helps dog learn go-outs, and distance work.

"Round the Handler" - Teach dog to swing around behind handler and continue forward to get toy. Start with dog in front, entice around body with toy, and throw it as the dog comes around. Can use hand signal or command, or both. Train both dog swinging around from left to right, and vice versa. Easy way to start dog learning "heel" and "side" as well as being very useful way to reposition dog on a course without losing much time.

"Teeter Board". Take a large plank, and place on top of a ball. The smaller the ball at first, the better. In fact, a pencil works well at first. The board should also be very wide at first. Let puppy run across board. Use food to entice if necessary. You can use a wide board across a hallway so puppy does it several times during the day, just going through the house. You can gradually increase the size of the ball and decrease the size of the plank. Gets puppy used to movement under his feet.

"Downs". Try Monica Percival's method of training downs under the leg (make a tunnel with your leg, teach dog to down underneath it with a cookie), and then fun moving downs. Helps to get fast downs on tables.

Targets - Can teach a "look down" and "take" on the flat. Add run-bys and also use in combination with other things like after a tunnel.

These are just some of the fun things you can do with a young dog without doing much physical stuff. Another thing you can do with a puppy is just place him right at the end of the contacts, and let him sit there and get fed. If you spend months with the dog sitting (or standing) at the base of a contact before starting to back up, and add in the target as you move up, you can get some very nice contacts.

As always with a puppy, do very short sessions, and keep it real fun.

If you spend the time laying the foundation with a young dog for the skills they need to do well in agility...responsiveness, independent work, comfort away from handler and on either side, and above all...enthusiasm and desire to work...when you begin training in earnest, you will find your dog working at a higher level much faster than if you pushed them from the start to do equipment.
(Mary Jo Sminkey)

A neat idea from a Malinois breeder is to set up a puppy play yard inside a small fenced in area. This play area, among other things, might have little steps leading up to a platform, a low plank leading up to the same platform off of the other side, a great big wide (truck) tire with sand on the inside for the puppies to climb up and into and, most importantly, a short plank over a brick or something no higher than about 4 inches off the ground to resemble a baby teeter. The puppies can play out there all day from about 4 weeks on, fall asleep in the tire, and just climb up and on and over all day long.

You can imagine what this does to young puppies - getting them used to climbing, to being up a little higher, to shaky footing, and most importantly, in the baby teeter's case, getting them used to "the earth moving under their feet." And the "training" is painless - it just sort of happens in the course of their day! Sure beats raising puppies in a 4 X 8 kennel run!!
(Marion Erp )

Puppy time is a good time to teach the dog learning skills, attentiveness, manners, a play/work relationship (mostly play for puppies). Tunnels especially can be an appropriate obstacle for a puppy, and maybe flat ramp work. Down, Come and Heel commands can be taught fairly early (without worrying about robbing the dog of its puppyhood). (Bud Houston)

There isn't any reason NOT to teach baby puppies some small semblance of what they'll be learning later. It is also crucial, of course, to work on house and street manners.

The BIGGEST and MOST IMPORTANT thing to teach a pup is that you are the best playmate, the most fun, the dispenser of all wisdom and goodies. To do this, you have to be intrinsically INTERESTING to your puppy. This is not really something that can be taught to an owner, it pretty much has to be felt.

Various artificial methods of getting this have been developed, and some of them enjoy some measure of success: isolating puppies from other dogs except for brief socialization periods, keeping all interesting toys away from the puppy except when you are playing, too, etc. Some of these do help even when the owner is a boring person. But in reality, if you can be interesting, truly interesting, to your dog, you don't need any of these little tricks. (Pam Hartley)

The puppy's environment can greatly affect the rate of development. As recent tests with rats have shown, the mental ability to solve puzzles differs greatly between rats reared in a dull and uneventful environment, and those reared in a mentally stimulating, colorful and exciting one. Another notable aspect was the difference in the brain cell structures. The stimulated brain had many more interconnections between cells for processing information and, with ageing, the brain's ability to generate new cells was greatly enhanced.

In regard to puppies the "equipment" should be safe and supervised but the "obstacles" should be designed for mental stimulation, and not just for "agility" as "grown-ups" know it. For example, to build the puppy's confidence with movement use a three foot square board with a tennis ball under the centre while playing with the puppy. Using treats, play a game of "rocking the board"... later on you will have a very confident dog on the see-saw. A hurdle may be a length of pvc tube on the ground that the puppy can run over. Tunnels, open-ended cardboard boxes. For a "chute" use only two sides and a top on a frame.

Do not use weaves as we know them, but a mental weave, to mentally condition the puppy for weave training later on when grown up. Get two boards about 6 foot long, painted black, and set about 12 inches apart so as to form a channel. Now at the correct spacing, starting with the left-hand board, paint a vertical stripe about 1.5 inches wide, alternating from left to right, ie., the second stripe would be on the right-hand board. Again using a toy encourage the puppy to run through the channel straight towards you (no turning or twisting) and then, as confidence grows. "away" for a toy. Soon you will have the puppy "pre-conditioned" and mentally stimulated and full of confidence. Of course this also depends on the puppy's ability and other experiences and inherited traits, but you will improve development and train-ability for agility. It is important not to over train the puppy in this way; it requires little now and again. With their fast growing minds puppies learn very fast. Keep it fun.
(Robert Loftus)

*Everything* you do with your puppy is a learning experience (positive OR negative). It is important to *teach* them to love to play and to be thrilled by the words "good dog!" They need to learn that it is mutually rewarding to have a happy master. It is a mistake to wait until they are 6 months old to begin "training". It is important to establish a bond and relationship between the dog and handler at an early age. The challenge is figuring out how to make a game for the dog that accomplishes your "training" goal without the dog ever realizing "training" has taken place.

You can teach puppies much more than "come", "sit" and "stand". Add "go", "right", "left", etc. Teaching them to enjoy exploring their environment at a young age (such as the hiking excursions) makes learning the obstacles a natural part of the process, not a distinct "training" session. There should not be a difference between "training" and "training for competition". Try to keep *all* training fun and motivational (even with your adult dogs that are actively competing) so that it is *always* a game for the dog. Then one doesn't have to worry about stress and agility burn out.

Each dog needs to be evaluated as an individual. Its speed of progression and readiness for actual competition is the handler's challenge to determine. A handler that is confident and self-assured can take a dog into competition that is considerably "greener" than the handler that is that is a novice and unprepared to help the dog have a positive experience. A big clue that perhaps it is too soon is if the handler finds himself suddenly nervous and worried when it was "so much fun in practice"; a nervous handler is not conveying "this is fun" to the dog. As you "train" your puppy *and* your adult agility dog, remember that agility *is* fun. (Linda Mecklenburg)

Training dogs to always touch the "contacts" is a major goal of agility competitors; many a prize is won or lost on this "point". There are almost as many methods of training and/or correcting problems as there are handlers, By pre-conditioning our puppy to negotiate these obstacles correctly many of the problems can be avoided.

The object of this pre-conditioning is to teach the puppy to "walk/run" onto and off of the contact obstacles. No leaping or jumping. Get a board about 6ft long and 2ft wide, paint it grey with "yellow contacts" of 12" to 18", at each end. The board may be flat on the ground or suspended 2" above it to produce a slight movement as the puppy runs over it. The important areas for the puppy are the start and finish "contact" points where praise and reward are given, with a sit or a down to stabilize the puppy. Later on a length of pvc tube under the centre will make a puppy see-saw, and we can introduce a "wait" at the pivot point. By placing the puppy on the first contact and a ball on the end contact, the puppy learns that it is rewarding to reach the start and finish of the contact obstacles.

"Older" puppies that are missing contacts need a reward to touch both contacts. The use of half-hoops just in front of and just after contacts can also help, but train the hoops separately first. A ball placed about 6" to 12" after the down contact is another motivation to walk the full length of the obstacle. Always break a fast dog's stride immediately prior to the contact obstacle to prevent the dog leaping or jumping onto the obstacle, and always encourage the dog to "walk/run" onto it. A fast dog may also need the "wait" at the apex to maintain control and a "walk/run" down the ramp.

You can also lower the A-frame till the dog can "walk/run" over it and then gradually increase the height as the dog's confidence and ability grows. By preventing "mistakes" happening we can avoid the need to correct them. Reinforce the correct behaviour while extinguishing the unwanted one.

One final point: Aways train as you hope to compete. Your body language must be consistent. Don't crowd your dog by leaning over him on the contacts. Use your body position to help maintain control, speeding up or slowing down to guide and help your dog's confidence. After all, that is what handlers are for!
(Robert Loftus)


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