Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Puppies in Agility: How Much is Too Much Pushing?

It's time for another thought-provoking day sponsored by the Dog Agility Blog Action Day! Today's topic: Starting Puppies in Agility

I don't know if I'm the best source of information on this topic, but I have been there. In fact, starting a puppy in agility was the main reason why I started this blog--I wanted to chronicle my journey with LaMesa as she started her agility career, as well as my journey with Dally, whom I had started a few years prior.

Dally and I didn't start doing agility until she was about 3 years old. LaMesa, however, was started around her first birthday.

Starting a puppy from scratch was definitely a lot more difficult than starting a more mature dog who had already been around the block a couple of times. It's so hard to remind yourself that everything is new in every way, and they won't get everything so quickly.

I'm thankful to have had people who made sure I didn't push LaMesa too much too early. I'm afraid there are some that will start their puppies already on difficult things such as tight turns, jumps, climbing, when their bodies just aren't ready. I'm all for laying down groundwork--that's what we do with horses is do a lot of groundwork before they're even introduced to the saddle.

For LaMesa, we started classes with Merinda. On top of the basic obedience, we did a lot of different things like learning to wrap jump standards. We learned to do changes of directions on the flat with front crosses, rears, and blinds. We learned how to push away to get distance…again on the ground. We slowly added contacts, but kept them low and simple. We started to add jumps at a low height, which for LaMesa was 4 and 8 inches, towards the end of the first session.

This photo was taken during one of our first class sessions.
This time we focused mostly on her focus on me.
We wanted to make sure our dogs were able to handle the stress of jumps before we added that stress. It's so important to remember that.

I think it's also important to remember to give your puppy a vacation from training. With young horses, we called it the "2-Year-Old Vacation". That vacation allows for their minds to take a break, just as much as the body. What you'll find is that somehow a lot of that training really was absorbed by the young one, and when they came back from vacation they're further along and ready to learn more. Young dogs need those vacations as well. They need a break from constant training to be able to be a dog--stretch their legs and their minds, relax and enjoy the partnership they now have.

LaMesa's first trial wasn't until she was 15 months old, at a CPE trial and entered in just a couple of classes, mostly to get the experience. Her first AKC trial wasn't until she was 18 months old, and perhaps I should have waited a little longer for that one, as it was outside and she was so wired.

LaMesa's first agility trial ever--CPE. She looks so small there! 
I don't push to trial often, but definitely not as a young dog would I want to hit a trial every weekend. The stress that can put on their minds, as well as their bodies, might not be ready for that. Maybe it's just me, but I shiver to hear about dogs who are close to their MACHs when they just turned 2. Are we asking too much too soon?

We have to remember to make this fun with our puppies, as well as our dogs. Absorb the lessons that not only are you teaching your puppy, but that your puppy is teaching you. LaMesa has taught me so much more patience and diligence than I ever have with any young horse or older dog. And I'm still learning.

My Partner
Be sure to check out other DABAD blogs for their takes on training puppies in agility.

Some good reads from the day (so far):


  1. Great post.. love the idea of letting them take mental vacations. I know of a lot of handlers who don't let puppies act like puppies.. they so need it!

    1. Thank you. Yes, I learned the "mental vacation" from training horses, and I know it makes a huge difference even for my 8-year-old Corgi. It allows hard training to sink in, and they come back refreshed and excited to learn more!

  2. Mesa does look so little there!