We want our dogs to love the crazy game of agility as much as we do. I think this starts at the very beginning with play time and by building and protecting their confidence. Here are a few notes on what I do with my puppies.
Clear criteria on every obstacle. Run to me, run away from me and we run together.
Train easy, hard, easy. No mistakes, speed and fun rewarded. Screw up cookies.
Speed Circles – both of you running together as FAST as you can.
Two to Six Months – Time to love and build drive and trust. TOY TIME – A crazy fun play time with squeaky toys, tug toys, other dogs. You are SUPER excited and start and stop the play at anytime. This excitement will transition to the agility field. I use other dogs to build value of being with me. I take them out to the agility field as babies (safety first!). They get to run and play. To prepare for Running Contacts, I put a ramp on the back deck that has a matt and hoop at the end. They get used to running up and down the ramp with their head down. To prepare for the See Saw, I put the see saw on the ground and we play back and forth games with super treats. I raise the See Saw an inch every couple of weeks. No training session is more than 2 to 4 minutes.
Agility Field – The excitement begins when the dogs first see the agility field. You know you have built value when everyone starts screaming. We play with toys and chase each other around. Safety first, but the puppy can chase the other dogs around and play with toys and get treats. Nothing in the world is more fun or exciting that this place. I am a crazy person playing and running with everyone. We play more than we train.
6 Months to Closed Growth Plates – Start with tunnels and bars on the ground. Use Table as a competition with other dogs. First one on the table gets the first treat. SPEED CIRCLES – Put out jumps (or bars on the ground) and add in tunnels and contacts as appropriate. With and without other dogs. Just super fun and fast. Start a running contacts class, I used Anne Lenz. I also use FLASHPAWS basic training, my motion and my proximity is not a factor when the puppy is learning the obstacles and beginning sequencing. I don’t do full size jumping, or weave pole training until after growth plates have closed.
Scary Stuff – At the FIRST indication of a fear period, there is NO agility, bubble wrap please. When something scary or bad happens, don’t make a big deal out of it. If possible repeat whatever it was with a huge jackpot and end the session.