Finding yourself daydreaming about weave poles and tunnels? The roar of the crowd at Crufts? Puppy agility training is something that many dog owners would love to get involved with, and rightly so seeing those dog and handler teams whizzing around an agility course, they make it look like a breeze!
Despite how easy it may look there’s actually loads of training that goes into agility competitions. Most of this training starts when they’re tiny puppies, even if they’re not actually on equipment yet there’s plenty you can do in advance to get your puppy ready for agility training. But remember if you’re interested in agility it doesn’t have to mean you need to compete, you can do it just for fun… there’s loads of fun to be had and trust us your dog will love you for it!
So let’s crack on, in this article we’re going to be filling you in with all the nitty-gritty about puppy agility such as:
- What age you can start puppy agility training
- How to get started with puppy agility training
- Extra tips on how to make puppy agility training a success
What age can I start puppy agility training?
So it’s not recommended that you start jumping in puppy agility training until puppies are over a year old, and dogs can’t compete at agility until they’re at least 18 months old, but what you can do is start laying the foundations of agility training as soon as you get them home. Oh yes, you can….!
By the way, if you were wondering why we wait until dogs are a certain age, it’s because your puppy is still growing and jumping puts pressure on their muscles and joints. We want our dogs to live long and healthy lives and doing too much strenuous exercise early on can be damaging for their body.
These exercises can be done on the flat (ground) and shouldn’t trouble their joints, or cause health problems.
Some basic exercises that are important for puppy agility training are:
- Teaching your puppy their name – they will need to know to respond quickly to their name when you’re directing them in a course
- Teaching your puppy to wait or stay at the start line until you get to the first piece of equipment
- Puppy recall so you can call them over to you or back, Agility is done off lead so dogs must have a reliable recall and not do laps of honour away from their handlers!
- Targeting and understanding where their body is going – you’ll use targeting later when working on equipment such as the seesaw or teeter and A-Frame.
- Puppy heelwork and learning to cross. The front cross is a common piece of movement used in agility when negotiating obstacles and jumps.
- Forward focus – you want a puppy to keep on going forward when they’re doing agility so you can teach them this with where you place your rewards.
- Building motivation with toys – we use lots of food in the early days of teaching puppy agility, but a full belly and a run is no fun, so get your puppy hooked on toys and tugging
Getting started with puppy agility training
To get your beloved pooch started with puppy agility training we’re going to give you 5 steps that will ensure you can hit the ground running when your puppy can start jumping and start agility training for real.
The 5 steps are
- Motivation and rewards – Keep that pup focused
- Focus on the handler (that means you)
- Your handling skills
- Body awareness
- Building pups confidence
You’ll be acing puppy agility training in no time if you follow our top tips!
Motivation and rewards in puppy agility training
Agility should be FUN! We use positive reinforcement to train, it’s the best way and more importantly, means you’ll build a lovely relationship with your agility teammate. Use puppy toys such as these so that your puppy cannot wait to train for agility!
Get your puppy engaged and focused on you
A puppy that’s focussed on their handler and wants to work with them will simply make the best dog for puppy agility training. Teach them lots of Watch Me, Auto check-in and fun focus work to ensure they want to do everything with you.
Handling skills for puppy agility training
Did you know a lot of agility is actually about what the handler is doing with their body? You’re going to have to learn what to do with your body to influence the way your dog moves around the agility course.
You’ll also want to teach your puppy to walk on both sides of you, be able to send them out to objects and back to you, and work away from you at a distance. And you thought it was all about them, eh?
Body awareness for puppy agility training
Your puppy is going to need to learn to balance to use equipment as well as understand what is going on with their body when they’re doing certain things in the agility arena. By teaching tricks such as two feet on and perch work, walking across ladders on the floor or cavaletti poles, you’ll be working on your puppy’s proprioception skills, ensuring they’ll find agility training later on a breeze.
Oh and see if they’re happy to go under chairs – fab for teaching the tunnel later on too!
Building confidence in puppy agility training
Some of the equipment in puppy agility training such as the seesaw (also known as a teeter) or the tunnel can be quite scary. The seesaw has to be run up and then crashed back down, and the tunnel wraps around so your puppy can end up in the dark!
To build confidence before you attempt these things in agility training try out exploration courses when your puppy is young so that they get used to walking on different surfaces that are potentially slippery underneath, as well as trying out gym pads and wobble boards for even more of a challenge. We have lots of information on getting puppies used to different surfaces as part of our Life Skills programme within the Zigzag puppy training app, download today and try it out with your puppy!
Drape a blanket over a chair and encourage your puppy to go inside by scattering treats underneath, so that dark spaces aren’t so frightening to them! They’ll be ready to go when the tunnel comes out.
For more ideas of exercises that will help you with puppy agility training, we have a personalised programme of exercises in our Zigzag puppy training app. We also have a team of puppy training experts just waiting for you to get in touch so they can help you with your puppy’s training.
Extra tips on puppy agility training
Okay, we know you can’t get enough of puppy agility training, and here at Zigzag, we want to help you have the most fun with your pooch so here are some extra tips.
- Teaching tricks such as spin and rollover are great fitness and mobility exercises you can teach your wannabe agility puppy that will help with their flexibility and their training.
- Teach exercises in quiet places first, no one likes being put under the spotlight when they haven’t quite got the hang of things yet.
- Think about your own fitness – Agility is a physical sport, and dogs are faster than us, so you might want to think about starting that couch to 5k yourself.
- Warm-up and cool down when training – you as well as your puppy. Do some brisk walking and warm up before you do anything fast-moving so your puppy doesn’t strain or pull any muscles, oh and that goes for you too!
- Keep sessions short and sweet – physical training is hard on a puppy’s body so go easy. Puppy agility training is a journey, not a race.
- Find a local puppy trainer who can go through some basics with you that will help you with puppy agility training later on.
We hope you’ve enjoyed reading about puppy agility training, we have high hopes we’ll see you in the ring in a few years! If you want to learn more about the foundational type of training you’ll need for puppy agility training then check out our article Puppy obedience training for ideas.