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A Beginner's Guide to Agility Training

Does your puppy jump logs and recycle bins with the greatest of ease? Does he dodge the kids' toys on the floor with majestic swiftness? Then it's a good time to introduce him to agility training. Most facilities will not take a dog until he is over a year old because puppies under that age are not coordinated and developed enough. Dogs at this age have at least 90% of their adult coordination and development so agility is a good choice now for exercising and learning new commands.

Agility training has many physical benefits including increased stride length, height and rate, improved ankle stability and hamstring conditioning. It also improves their minds by providing them with work. Most dogs benefit from doing the work their breed or breeds were made for. And it's easy to learn about and get involved in.

Agility Training Equipment

  1. Tunnels - These are for your puppy to run through

  2. Ladders - These are for your puppy to climb

  3. Weave Poles - Your puppy weaves his way through these

  4. Jump - This is adjustable for your pup to jump over

  5. Tire Jump -This attaches to side bars and can be moved up and down

  6. Chute - This is collapsible and attaches to the tunnel

  7. Pause Box - Usually four bars attached to create a square which you place on the ground for your puppy to pause in

Getting Involved

There are two ways to get involved in agility training - at home or by taking lessons. Starting at home can be a great idea if you have a good agility training book on hand and lots of patience. There are complete, transportable courses that can be set up in your own yard. You can also join an agility training class. These are becoming more and more common but there's a possibility you'll have to travel a little to find one. Check with an agility organization such as the AKC, USDDA or NADAC for listings or call a local dog training facility for recommendations.

There are also benefits for owners including the bonding with your puppy, a reinforcement that you're alpha, and the challenge of trials. It provides a way to compete with your puppy even if he's not a purebred. There are separate agility organizations that hold competitions but you can also often find them, open to mixed dogs as well, at purebred shows. And the great news is you'll notice an improvement in your hamstrings, too.

Advice from Other Dog Owners 

Start Training Your Puppy Right Away

Even though the old saying goes, "you can't teach an old dog new tricks," in reality you can start training a dog at any age - if the dog is nine weeks, nine months, or nine years old.

Even if you bring home a very young puppy, training and working on wanted behaviors starts immediately after the dog comes home with you. You would start teaching the dog to recognize her name and get her used to a set schedule of when you go outside, when she's fed, when it's time for walks and when it's time for bed time. Even playtime can be training - you're teaching her what she can and cannot play with, not to bite your hands, and rules for your games (such as, when you bite me, the game ends).

Formal training, such as sit, down, and come, can be started at a very young age as well. It's never too early to "shape" behaviors using positive rewards. A good time to enroll into a class is around 6 months old - puppy class.

~Chris & Brian C., owner of German Shepherd

Dealing with a Puppy That Chews Everything in Sight

Try offering your puppy a variety of chew toys. Notice the texture and softness of what he usually chooses to chew on (that he's not supposed to chew on) and try to pick a toy with that texture and softness. But don't get any toys shaped like any of the inappropriate items he chews. Dogs don't know the different between a chew toy shaped like a shoe and a real shoe.

Also, redirect the behavior. It's very simple to do this. All you need to do is when you see him chewing inappropriate items, show him the chew toy and encourage him to chew that instead. Praise and richly reward him for chewing the right things. Whenever he chews the wrong things, just redirect.

~Tiffany C., owner of Papillon mix

Tips on Housebreaking a Puppy

The best thing I found was crate-training at night, and when you're away from home. I didn't keep my dog crated when I was home with him, I locked him in the kitchen the first week, staying in there to play with him. On the second week we slowly let him have more freedom in the house.

We were always watching, and after all activity (sleeping, eating, playing) took him out right away. I took him out as much as every 15-30 minutes. We took him out the same door always, out to the same spot (by a big field we have beside our yard), said 'go potty, go potty' (he's 2 now, and still goes to the same area to poop) and petted/praised like crazy when he did (good BOY, good potty!) Then right back inside....no playing right after potty. If we played, it was inside, then back out to play, so he'd 'get it' that that trip out was for potty alone. When you pair whatever words (like "go potty") to the action, I think it helps...and he'd go potty on command after awhile. That's nice when you're getting ready to go somewhere in the car, and need him to go!

If he had accidents when in the crate, I never scolded...never. Just cleaned everything up. Nature's Miracle worked wonders for me; it cleans spots and odors great. We would never rub the puppy's nose in it if there were accidents in the house. That's what worked for me.

~Donna C., owner of Labrador Retriever

Training Your Puppy to Sleep Through the Night

My trainer told me that puppies can usually hold it longer during the night, when they are sleeping.

If your pup is waking up and crying to go out at night, you might try pushing her potty breaks back a little. If she normally wakes up at 12, wait an hour, then take her out at 1. If shes fine with that, push it back another hour, til 2, and so on. That's what I did with my dog and it worked well and quickly. Instead of taking her out at 5, I'd wait til 5:30. Then 6, then 6:30, etc. She was sleeping through the night by 12 weeks or so (but I'm sure every pup is different).

~Dana S., owner of German Shorthaired Pointer

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