Agility is an excellent way to help an active puppy burn off some energy while having fun at the same time he is building a bond with his owner. While strenuous training is not recommended, or requiring the puppy to jump at full heights, the puppy can learn a lot of the basic foundations that make up agility.
Puppies can be introduced to agility equipment such as a low tire jump, low tables and boards. They can be taught to sit or down on the pause table and be introduced to the closed chute. A low see-saw can be used, as well as a board that imitates the dog walk, but that is either lying on the ground or just above it. While weave pole training is not recommended until the dog has reached maturity due to his length of stride, open poles can be introduced or laid flat on the ground. Open poles is where the poles are tilted and open, but not so far tilted down that the puppy feels that he should jump over them.
Several different directional commands can be trained also. These are what trainer and competitor Diane Bauman calls “The Four Ways.” This consists of a call-to, send, run-by right and run-by left. You can teach the puppy to perform an obstacle by moving to you on the call-to. This is where you would place your puppy on one side of the obstacle and have him stay, or be held by a helper, and you would call him to you over the obstacle. Once the puppy is understanding the call-to, you can work with him on the send, where he is sent away from you to an obstacle that is in front of you. When the puppy is comfortable with these, then you can begin to teach the run-by left and run-by right. This is where the puppy will approach an obstacle while either on your left side or right side as you go by it, and complete the exercise in front of him. It is very important to teach the puppy to work on both sides of you when doing a run-by, so that he will be comfortable with both and execute them with no difficulties.
Puppies can also be taught to a target or touch board. A target is something that the dog is trained to touch while the touch board is a target that is in the shape of a flat board. These fit nicely onto the contact equipment such as the dog walk and A-frame. To train the target, the target may be a plastic lid, a piece of cardboard, or wooden board. Remember that it is easier to teach the dog to touch it with his paw if the target is large rather than small. The touch can be from either the dog’s paw or the dog’s nose, whichever the dog seems to prefer. Smaller dogs with short legs seem to prefer the nose touch, whereas tall dogs seem to prefer to use their paw.
Commands can also be introduced to the puppy. These include sit, down, stay, okay (or another release word), here, close, turn, back, run, out, and whoa.
- “Sit” is used at the start line and on the pause table, while the down is used at times on the pause table, at the start line and to help teach contacts.
- “Stay” is used at the start line and sometimes on the pause table.
- “Okay” is used as a release word meaning that the dog is released from the last command, but another command may quickly follow. The okay must be taught so that the dog does not read your motion, but understands that he is released from the last command.
- The command “here” is to have the dog move toward you and line up in the same direction that you are facing so that he looks for the next obstacle on the course.
- The “close” command is used when you want the dog to remain close by your side and not execute the obstacles around him.
- The “turn” is for a 180 degree turn away from you, either on your right or left. If the dog is on your right, he should do a 180 degree turn to the right, if on the left, a 180 degree turn to your left. This is for directing him to obstacles that are very close to each other.
- “Back” is taught so the dog can switch leads and arc away from you. Since a dog naturally leads with either front foot, in order for him to change directions, he must be told when to switch leads.
- “Run” is used for distance work when you are at least one obstacle behind him. With “run,” the dog should continue in a straight line and take the next obstacle.
- “Out” is the opposite of “here,” as you want the dog to move away from you laterally.
- “Whoa” is used so the dog shortens his stride, mainly for jumping and up contacts.
The puppy should also know his name and respond to it by turning his attention to you. It is important to not overuse or abuse the puppy’s name. Make sure the puppy has a positive connection to it and that you do not call him to you to punish him or use it so much for no real reason and the dog learns to ignore it. When training him, call his name and when he gives you eye contact, toss a reward to him. Always keep his name upbeat and interesting.
Progress as the puppy tells you that he is ready to move on. With patience and consistency, the puppy will mature into an excellent and confidant agility competitor.
To learn how to take your puppy all the way to a MACH title, read Diane L. Bauman’s book (with Jessica Ajoux) Agility Start to Finish.