Ounce’s agility training – preparing the contacts

Puppy agility: what can we teach now?

Dogs cannot do agility until they are a year old; we don’t want to damage their joints and it’s better to wait until their bones have finished growing.  However, there is a great deal we can do if we know we want to do agility with them later on.

Wait – teaching a good solid stay and release

This is one of the first things you will need your dog to do.  They need to be able to wait while you get ahead of them.  Many people with slower breeds of dog start with their dog and run around the course with the dog beside them.  It looks so lovely and I am often jealous of this great bonding experience.  Not with a collie!  The faster you run with a collie, the faster they will try and beat you!  They like to be ahead of you.  They have great vision, particularly their peripheral vision, which means they can see you coming!

Therefore, if you want to have any hope of getting your dog round a course, you will need them to wait for you to get a head start.  Fortunately, I have been teaching Ounce to wait since she was a tiny puppy, so her wait is not bad at all.  Of course I need to continue to practice it, but we have the basics solidly in place.

Recall – working off lead and coming back at the end

You can’t do agility on the lead!  So we need to be able to let them off, run around with them and then get them back again. Getting them back at the end of an agility run is a bit different from the ‘formal recall’, but if you have the latter, the former should be straightforward.  Here’s a reminder of Ounce’s formal recall training.

Still not quite sure why I thought it was OK to wear my pyjamas to do this video.

Other moves to teach

Once we have a wait and a recall in the bag, we can start to work on other commands.  These include:

  • round – go around an obstacle and come back to me
  • left and right – yes really!
  • on it – get onto something, ie a piece of contact equipment
  • touch – stand with two feet on the equipment and two feet off

The last two are what I am trying to teach in this video.  I am using this box because it’s nice and sturdy.  I am trying to ‘shape’ her behaviour.  This means I am trying to get Ounce to understand what I want without me having to show her each time.  She is already familiar with the moves and you can see how eager she is to show me!  If you look carefully, you can see that near the start of the video, I reward her for getting ‘on it’ and then ask for a ‘touch’.  She does it immediately, but is so excited that she then jumps at me, so doesn’t get a reward.  I am being critical and I want her to stay in that position until I release her.  So I have to show her and encourage her.

NB: This is the whole of her training for today.  I do not want to spend ages with her in this position because again, I don’t want to put undue strain on her joints.  But as with all training, consistency and practice  are what pays off.  If we spend a few seconds doing this a few times a week after our walks, Ounce will be a long way towards her contacts when we transfer this skill to the field.

Why do we teach contacts in this way?

It seems a bit odd that we want our dog to stop at the end of the contact equipment (dog walk, A-frame and seesaw), with this very specific requirement of ‘two feet on, two feet off’.  We do this to stop dogs jumping off the top, which can cause them serious injury.  All the contact equipment has painted sections at the bottom which must be stepped on before the dog moves on.  If we teach the dog to get down to the bottom and take a treat from ground level, waiting until we release them before moving off, we ensure that they are safe, which is better for their health.  It also stops them being given faults.

There are other ways to teach contacts; a ‘running contact’ is when the dog goes down to the bottom but then carries on without stopping.  If you have a fast dog though, this just means you have to keep running!  It’s a bit of a mystic art anyway, not something I am familiar with!

Why do agility?

The same reason we should do any form of training or sporting activity with our dog – for fun!  Agility is great fun for the dog, they find it really exciting and stimulating.  Generally it should be safe and should build their athleticism, while giving them something to think about.  It can even improve your athleticism, although this is a bit debatable!

There are many different activities you can do with a dog.  It doesn’t matter what you do, as long as you are spending focused time with your dog, enjoying each other’s company.  If you have several dogs, it becomes even more important that you focus on each individual dog for a set period each week.


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