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Wendy N

When to start agility training

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We have a BC puppy, 17 weeks old. He’s coming along on his 7 basic commends and is nearly housebroken.  He has boundless energy and we have a big fenced in yard. Looking for guidance o when it’s worth buying him a very basic starter obstacle/agility course.   Thanks!

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I don't do agility (I can't LOL) but from what I've read others saying you should probably focus on foundations that involve body awareness instead of any kind of obstacles for quite some time yet. You don't want to risk damaging developing joints now.

I'm sure others more in the know will chime in soon.

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GentleLake is absolutely right, puppies have developing joints, and if you want to have a healthy dog as an adult, jumping and weaving, which put a lot of pressure on joints, are a no-no until at least 12 months old.  Having said that, it will make your agility training SO MUCH EASIER if you have trained foundation skills before the fun stuff of jumps and a-frames/scrambles etc.  Tunnels are an exception, because they are on the ground, but even they can cause injuries at high speed.

So to start everything is on ground level.  You need to start with strong obedience skills, recall and stays especially.  Also being able to work your dog on both sides of your body is a big help, because no course will be able to run with the dog always on your left, like classic obedience.

You need to be able to build some drive away from you.  Your dog has to want to power down a line of jumps or race away from you to a tunnel or weave poles, so building toy drive is helpful, and is also a great reward for your dog while training.  Tugging is another good reward game.

Teaching your dog to be able to turn in tight circles around obstacles is also a really useful foundation skill.  On an agility course, your dog will be asked to make turns around jumps, and knowing how to 'wrap' a jump can save fractions of seconds, improve jumping lines and generally make your job easier.

Teaching your dog to use its hind legs, called rear end awareness, is very important to improve general agility, and also to avoid injury.  Teaching them to put all four feet in a box, or to turn circles with front paws up on a box is a common exercise for this.

Another very useful skill is touching, which you can teach with a board on the ground.  The aim is to have your puppy walk all four feet on the board and stop with its front two feet off the board, and hind two on.  You start at slow motion with you alongside, until your puppy has reliably nailed it, and then progress to you being at the end, and then increase speed and stopping, etc.  This is to help with the contact equipment like the seesaw, a-frame/scramble and dog walk, where your dog has to put a paw in the colour at the end of the obstacle. 

All of this can and will take time to perfect, and when you nail it reliably when you are close to your dog, you work at doing it from further and further away.

But these basic skills are the among the foundations of agility training, and if you have trained these, you will find the more advanced skills SO MUCH EASIER!

Also, start thinking about attending some agility trials (when they reopen) so you can watch how people handle their dogs, read some agility articles (older articles can be found online for free) because there is a whole language to learn, and a way of looking at things that will be completely new.

Most of all, have fun with your dog!

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Thank you so much!!!  He’s already created  his own versions of tunnels underneath coffee tables, etc. and he’s quite the leaper.   He also tries to herd his big sister dogs ( lab and boxer mixes) .  Sounds like this will be a good activity next winter/spring!

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