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AGILITY TIPS - Giving Your Puppy a Great Start  

How do you give your puppy a great start for agility.  One word:  FOUNDATION, FOUNDATION, FOUNDATION.  Equipment is the last part of agility that should be taught! There are so many things that need be done first! And actually, if the foundation part is taught well, the equipment part is fast & easy…

But even before you teach the foundations for agility, you need to teach a foundation for learning & your relationship.

You need to get to know your puppy, love your puppy, and respect your puppy.  Respect him for who he is, not who he  isn’t, or who you wish him to become.

Your puppy should be learning:
   The game of tug,
                 that clicker equals awesomeness,
                               how to bring the ball back
                                             or hold a sit,
                                                          how to take cookies nicely,
                                                                        that car rides are fun.
    How to navigate the world interacting with dogs,
                  And people and environments.
                                That the world, and in particular MY person, is a never-ending-game of FUN. 

Here is a list of FOUNDATION SKILLS to work on during your puppy's first year.  If you are starting agility with an older dog, go through this list and see what your dog may need to "bone up" on.

Crate Training
 - agility dogs will need to spend time in a crate, and do it without complaining. Also, unless you are planning to watch your puppy 100% of the time, having a crate will give you piece of mind when you have to leave the house, or go to bed, or just need a break from crazy puppy time. You can watch 'Crate Games' or just logically make a crate a happy place - feed them in the crate, make it a safe place, and never a punishment place.  Practice leaving your dog in the crate with you in the in the room.  Then work on being left in the crate with you not in the room - gradually increasing the out-of-sight time.

Potty, Potty, Potty - agility handlers will need to potty their dogs in many different environments.  It will make your life easier and infinitely more pleasant to teach your puppy these potty skills.  Potty on lead,  Potty on cue, Potty on a variety of surfaces.

Car Travel - unless you plan to train and trial in your backyard, teaching your dog to tolerate and even enjoy car travel is a must.  Start slow and start driving your dog to fantastically fun activities.  Make sure you start your dog's travels in a travel crate securely anchored to your vehicle.

Toys / Tug
 - get your puppy interested in toys and especially tugging with you early on. It will help bring a bond, and teach puppy that life is more fun when interacting with you. Make it a game of keep-away, but let them get it plenty of times too. Use their prey drive and drag it along the ground and get them to attack it. Play with plenty of different toys too - you don't want them to only want to play with just one toy.

Leave Them Wanting More - puppies' attention spans are short, so don't let them be the one to end any game you play with them. You want to be the one to end it and leave them wanting to play more. This will help build a good work ethic and focus on you.

Tricks - teaching tricks is great for both the puppy and the owner. It teaches the puppy to be more inquisitive with their environment and more adventurous. It also teaches you patience. There are 100's of tricks you can train, and endless resources out there, including youtube. As they say, it teaches your puppy how to learn.

Chase Game - its a good idea early on to get your puppy to chase you. This can be a fun game and brings out their natural drive. You want your dog to run after you when they see you run. You can introduce a 'ready.... ready... GO' with this game too.

Bond - to have a successful agility dog, you need a good bond with them. They should want to be doing whatever you are doing - be the most interesting thing in their lives. This is a lot of work! You really dont want your other dogs to be occupying the majority of your puppies' time. Some of the other tips I am giving help to build a good strong bond with your dog. I live on 40 acres and think nothing of letting my dogs out with me off-leash. None of them want to leave and go exploring - they are always within about 100 feet of me waiting to see what we might be doing next.

Hand Feeding - early on, take advantage of your dog's desire to eat and hand feed them. Its a perfect time to do a little training, and shows them that good things come from you.

Explore Places and Surfaces - take your puppy to many different places and explore! You want them to walk on sand, grass, rocks, leaves, concrete, hardwood floors, metal grates, etc. etc. Get them use to seeing new places. Climb a hill, go down into a pit, go in a forest. Whatever you can think of - expose them to it!

Noises - you want your puppy confident no matter what noises are present in their environment. It can help if your breeder exposed your puppy to a variety of noises before you got them, but definitely let them hear all the loud and weird sounds of the world. You can take treats with you when you go places, and when you hear a weird sound, give puppy a treat. For example, go to Lowes and you might hear a loud saw, a beeping forklift, moving doors, trucks, etc.

Things that move - agility dogs will need to be comfortable on the teeter. To start that, you want your puppy to be OK with things that move under their feet. Wobble boards are great for this, as are the exercise balls and 'peanuts' or a skateboard. Put them on many things that can move and let them get comfortable with it. (I love the flat carts at Lowe's or Home Depot!)

Other dogs - my puppy doesn't have to be friends with all the other dogs out there, but I want them confident enough that they are not afraid of other dogs. Find out from friends if they have dogs that 'love puppies' and spend some time with them. Not all dogs like puppies, and you dont want to have a bad experience at a young age, so do this with care in a controlled environment. Usually puppies of the same age and size will get along well.

Other People - my breed of choice, the Border Collie, is not a real 'people dog' and as such, I make sure to introduce my puppy to as many different people as I can. Here it's important to carry treats with you so that you can give some to strangers to feed to your puppy. You want puppy to think that all people are great. Try to get a variety of people too - men, women, big people with big hats, little screamy kids, black and white, etc. My dog Rip did not get enough socializing with people before I got him and as such he is not at all confident around strangers.

Eating Near Other Dogs - we have too many dogs to have any of them be food aggressive. Early on, puppy needs to learn that they can eat right next to another dog and that the other dog will not steal their food. There is to be no growling or guarding allowed. I can be hand feeding Envy a piece of raw chicken, and any other dog can be licking up the juices that might fall to the floor while she is eating and she does not care. This is VERY important to avoid fights within the pack!

Leash walking - unless you like to be dragged around, teach your puppy how to walk nicely on a leash while they are still tiny!

Introduce Water / Baths - at some point, puppy is going to need a bath. Also, as an agility dog, its nice to have them enjoy water because it can get them nice and cool during a hot outdoor trial. My Rip dog hates water - thinks its a punishment. I made sure to introduce Envy to water as something fun.

Picking Her Up - teach puppy that it's fun to get picked up. Again, treats will be your friend here. You want your dog comfortable with you picking them up and carrying them a bit.

COME -   Oh yeah, that oft-overlooked skill known as “recall”.   Just because your dog is on leash or in a contained environment for the majority of its life doesn’t mean it doesn’t need to learn to come when called. 

Foundation Behaviors Checklist Reward System /Willingness to switch between rewards (4 toys minimum + treats) Play with mom / Engage with mom / Respond to Invitation to Play Get it (permission to get a toy) Ready/Steady Hand in Collar Tug and Give Fetch Choosing mom over environment How to make choices / try / offer behaviors Self restraint / impulse control / It’s your choice Go to crate / rest in crate Stay / Wait Release from stay / “OK” Novel things are fun! Transitioning (moving from “at ease” to “working” mindset) Orient to mom at thresholds Dealing with Distractions / Look Recall Name recognition Moving attention/heel work /circle work Come to left side / right side / Orient to side Respond to acceleration / deceleration Basic Targeting: Nose Touch / Foot Touch / Back Feet / All Feet etc. Down Sit Send to stationary toy Correction Rear-end awareness/Strength Stretching Enjoy Physical Manipulation Poop/Piddle on command Left/Right or other directionals How to learn/ How to perfect behaviors - Tricks, Tricks, Tricks!

And always remember ...

1) ALWAYS be positive. Make your training sessions shorter if your dog gets tired or disinterested too quickly, and end on a positive note. If your dog consistently remembers agility training as the best time of his life, he'll want to train longer and please you more.

2) NEVER say "No". Or we should say rarely. If your dog doesn't do an obstacle correctly, say in a positive voice, "Oops, let's try this again", and go back to the beginning. If your dog still doesn't do it right, don't scowl or act all disappointed. Your dog will pick up on your mood and either "freeze", or keep making the same mistake. Try not to let your dog fail more than 2 times in a row. It's better to take some baby steps backwards. 

3) Don't compare your progress to someone else's progress as no two dogs are the same, and no two trainers are going to have the same plan.

4) Enjoy and be thankful for every minute you spend with your dog.

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