Beyond Foundation Resources

This page started as I was training Tangle. We had worked through a lot of the APHS foundation material that you can do without jumping a puppy, we had been through Mary Ellen Barry's foundation DVDs, Tangle was 7 months old and had most of the skills that he needed to be a good member of the house, but was not really old enough for me to begin any more advanced skills like jump training etc... You can reference my original post here

So, I was looking for ideas on what else I could work on that contributed to his common body of knowledge and in addition would be useful to his agility career.  None of these things have to be drilled or perfected!  10 minutes, three times a week will get you miles later on.

In general I would say that I am a huge believer in two things 1) latent learning 2) anything that a puppy learns early on, they are generally the best at for life (or it is the habit that is the hardest to break).  So, how do you capitalize on those beliefs without working your puppy when he is too young to physical perform the tasks?

List of early skills**

  1. Bang game on the teeter.  I know the "Bang Game" as a title is used a lot, but specifically what I would work on is hold the end of the teeter off the ground (4 inches or so), have the dog do the 2o2o behavior, and drop the teeter as they perform the behavior.  This came in handy when Tangle went through fear stages as a pup.  I would back up and use this skill again.
  2. Whether you are training a running contact or 2o2o I highly recommend working on the 2o2o skill.  Work it on a plank or something that they will not confuse with the actual obstacles.  I did this with Tangle and am now really glad that I did.  When I put the 2o2o behavior to the teeter Tangle had the whole performance in a single try - no joke!  Same when I transitioned him to a 2o2o dog walk!
  3. Building drive by running courses with cones.  Place 4 cones in a square and practice front cross, rear crosses, sends.  Place 2 cones 50 feet apart and play chance between them (Tangle loved this).
  4. 2 X 2 weaves at 9 months.  I only worked on entrances (two poles) so he wasn't weaving and moving his spine a whole bunch.  I proofed from every direction and with distance.  When I picked up the 2 x 2 training when Tangle was 11 months old I had him weaving six within a couple of weeks (didn't work it real hard), but the better part is he remembered the entrances!  I won't do any more weave work until 14 months or so.
  5. Hiking!  It is amazing how many natural obstacles your dog will encounter on a hike.  The more they have to plan their footing, keep their balance, the more body aware they will be.
  6. Shape everything!  Stupid pet tricks are a must.  It is about training the dog that if he fails, he should just offer something else, not give up.
  7. Approaches onto contacts.  One of the big things that is generally not trained, but everyone will complain about in a trial is the approach to a contact obstacle.  Use a flat plank, a pole that sticks in the ground (easy to fade).  Teach your pup to run the plank.  Once they know that, place two poles about a foot away from the beginning of the plank on both sides, creating kind of entrance markers.  Work the entrances around the clock so the dog knows to go in between the two poles and then run the plank.  Fade the poles with smaller and smaller dowels.  I don't expect my dog to be able to perform at speed really nasty turning entrances, but you will be glad that if you have an angled approach your dog knows how to straighten their approach on their own.
  8. Table games.  Take the top of the table, have your dog get on the table and tug with him.  If he gets off the table, stop tugging.  Make the table the funnest thing on the planet.  Then run with him to the table, tug, ask him to stay, run away, and release.  Next you can work on the lie down on the table.  Tangle has an immediate lie down, then I run away, release and we tug.
  9. Proof stays!  Have the pup sit/stay, run away and release.  Gradually front cross, rear cross, run around him etc..
  10. Distance from handler while still driving ahead - the level of the hand should indicate to the dog how far away from the handler they need to be.  For example, an arm down at your side should indicate to the dog to be close (ie, lack of pressure on the dog).
In general I thought a lot about all the building blocks that it takes for each obstacle or skill in agility.  Anything that I could figure out how to break down so that it was physically safe for a puppy I did.  I was amazed when I went to train the actual skill how easy it was for the pup to learn!

I added these in just recently. I am doing these with Tangle who is now almost 2.  I will incorporate these into puppy training the next time around.

1. It's Your Choice (real life) - This is IYC but beyond holding out your hand with cookies in it.  We started in the driveway (on leash), put down a pile of yummy cookies.  Tangle had to walk past the cookies and make the choice to ignore them and stay focused on me.  At the end, he could walk over the pile and completely ignore them.  Make sure the rewards from you are always greater than the treat on the ground.  I tug with him about every 30 seconds.  Progress up to something that your dogs really, really goes for.  Like, my dog can't watch a soccer game without lunging on the leash.  Perfect to build up to that real life IYC.

2. Focused release - this builds value for "you" and the dog coming to you.  The dog needs to want to come to you on the agility field (as well as obstacles).  It is NOT a recall.  Put your dog in a sit/down, walk out a bit, hide a toy behind your back, release the dog (not recall) with whatever you would use on a startline.  The dog should come directly to you and with speed.  Tug, tug, tug as a reward.  Up the anti.  Can your dog release and come to you ignoring the 10 tennis balls in their path?  How about a group of people calling your dogs name?

3. Heating up your dog - will your dog tug with you anywhere?  Grocery store parking lot, inside Home Depot, beside the agility ring, at the start line?  This builds an understanding that when you say it is time to play, it is that time.  Tangle would get stressed at trials and on the start line, he wouldn't play.  This got him going, gave us faster course times (getting him excited to run), and better focus on me while waiting at the start line.

Skills for the younger (1.5 yrs) dog:
1. Jump chutes.  Placing a line of jumps so the dog has to bounce jump.  Helps the dog learn to lengthen the stride.  They gain confidence in scoping, approaches, and turns with a longer stride.  Gradually lengthen the distance so that it is only one stride.  Can put the chute in a circle or figure eight.

**I am not presenting these ideas with all the baby steps that it takes to work up to them.  If you are curious about those, just email me. 2x2 weaves - Mary Ellen Barry Article