By Cathy Pronzini
When can I start my Puli puppy in agility training? As soon as he/she can walk!!!
I think that you can start training a very young puppy in agility. There are many obstacles that can be taught that do not put any strain on the growing puppy frame. Agility is NOT all jumping.
Remember that all puppy-training sessions should be kept short. Leave them wanting to do more.
The Table obstacle requires a Sit or Down and a Stay. The Sit, Down and Stay commands can and should be taught as part of your beginning puppy training. When they are older, the jump to the table can be added always with the sit and/or down stay on the table.
The Weave Poles tend to be the obstacle that takes the longest to learn and perfect. There is no reason that a young puppy can’t start this training— take food and lead them through the weave poles; teach them the proper entry to the weaves; send them out to the weaves.
A Tunnel is safe for any puppy to run through. Start with a straight tunnel, when the puppy is comfortable with that, then curve it in all directions; add the chute.
Teach them to walk through a ladder that has been laid on the ground (this helps them learn where they are putting their feet). This is very important for later Teeter and Dog Walk work.
A very low A-Frame-like ramp (maybe 1 foot at highest) can be taught early. Even a low Teeter is okay. The goal is to teach these obstacles early to get the puppy used to the different pieces of equipment and to put ‘names’ on the obstacles.
The puppy should NEVER be allowed to fail, they should be helped through all obstacles and encouraged, never forced. Agility has to be fun. To get the best performance from your dog in competition, he/she has to be working in ‘play’ mode.
Jumping can be taught before the puppy is fully-grown, as long as the bar is kept very low (maybe 4 – 6 inches). The major part of jump training is to get the dog to do the jump that you ask; actually being able to jump full height takes far less training. The full height A-Frame, Teeter and Dog Walk should wait until the puppy is more fully-grown and totally coordinated. One fall from a contact obstacle could cause not only injury, but fear of that obstacle.
Any age puppy can begin to learn obstacle discrimination commands (tunnel, table, etc), they can start to learn that they can work away from your side, and they can begin to learn directional commands (out, come, left, right).
Even if jumping full height and full height contacts are left until the dog is 12 months old, if all the rest has already been learned, you should still be ready to compete almost as soon as the dog is eligible.
The AKC allows dogs that are 12 months old to compete in Agility, USDAA and NADAC require that the dog be 18 months old.
So don’t wait to start your puppy on agility training – get out there and have some fun!
From Puli News February, 2000