Most dogs love agility – they get to run, jump, crawl through and dash over things. Still, not all dogs are physically designed for many agility tasks so do keep that in mind. Your dog’s safety and comfort must come first!
It is no surprise that most of the top agility dogs are from the herding group along with a good number of sporting breeds as well. Shetland Sheepdogs and Border Collies seem to dominate at the big international competitions. These dogs, as a group, tend to be fast, athletic and have a desire both to work and to please their owners. Still, individual dogs of virtually any breed plus many mixed breeds can compete successfully in agility.
For starting a puppy, you want simple tasks that will not stress their growing bodies or blow their confidence. The confidence factor is also important if you have just adopted an adult dog or have a dog who is a bit fearful. You want tasks that are fun, safe and will make your dog or puppy aware of their body.
Tunnels are a fabulous confidence builder and very safe. A giant breed dog may not enjoy them as even the puppies often have to duck, but most puppies can simply run through. A tunnel can be scrunched up to make it very small at first, then gradually extended to full length. Eventually the tunnels can be bent to create turns. Stick to straight ahead until you are sure your dog is comfortable with them.
A light colored tunnel is best to start as a dark tunnel may seem foreboding. If you have another dog or can borrow a friend’s dog who likes puppies to lead the way, puppies often pick up doing tunnels simply by following the other dog in a wild game of chase. The same is true for older dogs who lack confidence.
Other methods include tossing a ball or toy through the tunnel or a piece of a treat. One person can hold the puppy at one end while the other one goes to the end of the tunnel and calls the dogs through. Be sure to reward them for bravery!
We are fortunate in upstate NY in that we have NTI Global with all of their wonderful tunnel options close by. They offer an amazing palette of beautiful colors – so you could even color code to match your house! Check frequently for sales on the tunnels. A tunnel would make a great birthday or Christmas gift for most dog lovers.
For small dogs, childrnen’s play tunnels may work. These are not as sturdy but with care will hold up for some training. Check garage sales for used ones in decent condition. Tunnels should not be left outside due to sun and weather damage.
Another simple first step is to lie a ladder flat on the ground and encourage your puppy or newbie dog to walk across it. Stepping over the rungs will help your dog learn where their feet are. That will be important when you start working on teeters and dogwalks.
A wobble board or tippy board is also a simple piece of equipment to help your puppy feel comfortable on things that move. You can make one by taking a small piece of plywood (judging for size by your puppy’s size, plus add some for growth) and attaching a ball underneath in the middle. A tennis ball often works well. You can even leave this out in the yard, ideally along a path your dog often takes, so he has to go over it. the first time or two, he may need coaxing or the incentive of a treat.