By Carolyn Fuhrer
Many veterinarians will advise their puppy clients not to do agility until their dog is full grown. This is correct and well-meant advice. Puppies should not be performing full size contact obstacles, regulation jumps, and a lot of twisting, turning moves before their bodies have matured, but there is so much they can learn about agility while they are still physically immature. A good instructor who has worked with puppies in agility can safely introduce your puppy to many important concepts of agility and help start you and your new puppy building a wonderful working relationship.
Basic commands such as wait, come, stay with me, go, sit, and down are all important aspects of agility training and also important foundation training for any pet dog. Clicker training works very well in agility and is so much fun to teach puppies. Puppyhood is the best time to establish a valuable reward-based training system and establish a clear understanding that focus and work “pay” very well.
So, already we have talked about so much to do and learn and we haven’t even introduced any equipment!
Puppies can be taught the concept of a jump with jump bars on the ground or only a few inches high. Puppies can be taught that jumps have value and to go away from you and perform the jump. They can be introduced to the different shapes and sizes of various wings on the jumps. Puppies can go through a tire that rests on the ground. They can learn to do a tunnel and have lots of fun with performing the tunnel from various angles.
Puppies can explore low ramps and planks with different types of surfaces. Low puppy boards or wobble boards introduce them to movement and noise. A low platform or table can be used to teach a desired table performance - sit or down and a wait and release.
Puppies can be introduced to the concept of weave poles by using open channel weaves where they run straight through.
The best part about all of this is that most puppies are naturally curious and will enjoy exploring all the different obstacles and surfaces with you as long as they are introduced properly and you let your puppy explore at its own pace. Do not try and lure your puppy if it shows hesitation by telling it “it’s okay”. Obviously to the puppy, it is NOT okay. If something concerns the puppy, leave it for a while and try again later or at another session. Respect your puppy’s needs and concerns, and it will learn to trust you. No matter what, do not compare your puppy’s progress to another puppy. Puppies all have different ways and styles of exploring this big new world. Take your time. Enjoy each day and new exploration, and remember that puppyhood goes by so fast, so make the most of it!
Carolyn Fuhrer has earned over 125 AKC titles with her Golden Retrievers, including 3 Champion Tracker titles. She is also an AKC Tracking Judge. You can contact her with questions, suggestions, and ideas for her column by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.