Dog agility training for puppies: Essential tips and exercises

March 26, 2024
agility training for puppies

Starting agility training for puppies isn’t about teaching them cool tricks on agility equipment. It’s about having fun together while building a high level of communication and connection. It’s where the joy of playing together meets the satisfaction of learning something new.

But where do you begin? We can’t all attend lessons in fancy facilities! Especially before we even know if this game will be right for us. We’re here to tell you that you can actually start right in your own backyard, without needing any specialized equipment! The OneMind Dogs approach takes this adventure a step further by emphasizing training from your dog’s perspective.

Our Foundation for Agility program is the perfect starting point, emphasizing that agility training can begin at any stage of a dog’s life, including puppies. Below, we share essential tips and fun exercises to kick-start your team’s agility training journey the right way.

The philosophy behind OneMind Dogs agility training

The essence of the OneMind Dogs method is a profound yet simple truth: To connect with and effectively train our dogs, you must learn to see the world through the dog’s eyes. This principle is at the heart of every lesson we teach, aiming to bridge the communication gap between humans and their dogs.

Our approach is not about teaching tricks or navigating courses with learned verbal commands; it’s about fostering a deep, intuitive understanding between you and your dog. The inspiration behind our unique methodology comes from an unexpected source—a deaf Border Collie named Tekla.

When Tekla lost her hearing, it forced her owner, our founder Janita Leinonen, to explore new avenues of communicating with her best friend. When studying Tekla and hundreds of other dogs, Janita discovered that dogs have a universal language, a way of communicating with body language that transcends human speech. She concluded that humans should learn this language to connect better with dogs.

Janita’s discovery has since shaped our agility training approach.the mantra ‘A deaf dog taught us how to listen’ encapsulates our ethos. Our agility training program is unique. Focusing not just on navigating obstacles but also on understanding agility from your dog’s viewpoint. This approach transforms training into a shared adventure, strengthening the bond between you and your dog.

How old should your puppy be to start agility training?

The ideal time to begin agility training for your puppy is soon after they come home with you. Starting training at this stage doesn’t mean diving straight into complex commands or agility obstacles. After all, puppies have soft bones and open growth plates, vulnerable to permanent or severe damage.

At this age, the focus should be on laying the groundwork with basic foundation skills and socialization. Establishing a positive learning environment, and strengthening the connection between you and your puppy. Simple skills like stay, come and pay attention are very important at the start. On top of that, foundation agility skills like toy play, following handling and forward focus will lay the perfect groundwork for a successful agility career. These skills and many more are covered in our popular Foundation for Agility online course.

Gentle, positive introductions to different people, environments, noises and other animals fare essential for a well-adjusted, confident dog. Socialization is crucial for all dogs, not just future agility stars! Carefully control these situations so your dog doesn’t have any scary experiences. It’s better to teach your dog to ignore distractions in the environment and focus on you, rather than greet every dog and human it sees.

How puppies learn: insights from OneMind Dogs

Understanding how puppies learn is crucial to developing a strong, positive relationship with your new addition. At OneMind Dogs, we’ve discovered that puppies learn best when we keep these things in mind:

  • Short and sweet: 5-minute training sessions are more than enough!
  • Keep it fun: Your attitude is everything, be upbeat and celebrate loudly. If you’re not in a fun mood, don’t train
  • Time it carefully: Train your puppy when they are hungry or in a playful mood, don’t drag them off the couch when they are having a nap
  • Keep it challenging: Dogs like to learn, if they succeed twice, make it harder! Failed twice? Make it easier.
  • Use valuable rewards: Reward your puppy with whatever they like most in the world, toys or treats or even a sock!
  • Set them up for success: Make it obvious what you want to achieve and help your puppy when you can to prevent frustration.

Your puppy’s motivation to learn is driven by rewards they find irresistible. The rewards could range from the joy of a smelly treat, a favorite toy, or the warmth of your cuddles. Discovering this personal motivator is like finding a golden key to unlocking effortless training sessions, agility adventures included. Here’s an example:

The importance of choosing the right reward

The real magic in agility training lies in positive reinforcement. This approach builds your dog’s confidence in you and themselves, ensuring every lesson is a step towards a stronger connection. Force and intimidation might sometimes seem to work, but they also damage trust and hinder learning. The idea of your dog doing something just “because you told them to” is an outdated and ineffective approach.

Imagine training where your dog thinks, “Wow, getting it right means I hit the jackpot!” That’s the sweet spot of positive reinforcement. It builds a foundation of trust so solid that your dog can’t help but engage eagerly in learning new things.

Preparing your puppy for agility training the OneMind Dogs way

At OneMind Dogs, we emphasize starting agility training for puppies from the ground up. We focus on the fun and bonding aspects of the process rather than jumping straight into obstacles! Here’s an example:

Focus on playing and fun, play is the natural way puppies learn and bond. Effective play lays the foundation for great agility training. It’s also essential to establish basic skills and trust. This means working on a strong recall and teaching your puppy to focus on you, even with distractions around. Here’s a great way to work on that:

These foundational skills are crucial because they signify your puppy’s readiness for more advanced training. When it’s time to introduce obstacles and sequencing agility with your dog, you will already have all the foundation skills! Which will make everything else feel like a breeze.

Focus on training agility from the dog’s perspective, guiding your dog using cues they naturally understand. For example, body language is much easier for your dog to follow than a verbal command. Training from your dog’s perspective ensures a high level of confidence and enjoyment for you both.

Basic skills every agility puppy should learn

Kicking off agility training with your puppy means focusing on a few key skills. Laying the groundwork is important for all the exciting challenges ahead. Here’s a guide to the essential skills every agility pup should learn:

  • Attention and focus: One cornerstone of agility training is your puppy’s ability to focus on you amidst distractions. Use their favorite treats to encourage them to look at you when you say their name as shown in the video above. A prompt “yes” and a treat reward when they make eye contact solidify this fundamental skill. Build distractions slowly.
  • Send around an object: Encouraging your puppy to go around an object builds confidence and introduces the concept of independence, which is crucial for navigating courses later on.
  • Offering a “jump“: This skill is vital for agility, teaching your puppy to use their brain to problem solve. It will also help your dog approach and navigate obstacles with initiative and independence later on.
  • Forward focus: On the agility course, your dog should be able to confidently pass you and take the obstacles in front of them, rather than just running your speed. This comes from teaching them strong forward-focus skills in the foundation stages.

Equipment needed with agility training for puppies

Kicking off agility training for your puppy doesn’t mean breaking the bank on fancy equipment. You may not realise it, but your home is full of agility tools waiting to be discovered!

A simple step stool can become the perfect object for teaching your puppy to offer obstacles independently. Look around—traffic cones, pool noodles, or even a tree can serve as makeshift agility equipment. In these early phases, your dog needs to build confidence and independence. That’s easily achieved with everyday objects as shown in the videos above. Puppies shouldn’t jump, weave or climb contact obstacles until their growth plates have closed anyway. So there’s no need to rush out and buy “real” agility equipment. If your dog is already older, there are also many great DIY agility options as seen in this blog post.

Other skills such as balance and confidence-building are easily added into your puppy’s routine. You can use a low retaining wall or a sturdy fallen log for example. These natural elements are excellent for introducing your puppy to different surfaces and elevations. Remember to focus on safety and make sure your puppy is comfortable in the environment first.

The goal is to make agility training a rewarding adventure for your puppy, emphasizing safety, fun, and the joy of learning together.

Tips for progressing in training safety and well-being in agility training

Here are some tips to keep your puppy’s agility training on the right track:

Recognize your puppy’s limits and ensure safe practice

Always be mindful of your puppy’s physical and mental limits. Start with low-impact exercises and gradually increase the difficulty to prevent injuries. If you’re unsure of your dog’s ability or fitness, speak to your vet.

Remember, puppies have growing bodies. It’s important to keep sessions short, sweet, and fun. Incorporate plenty of breaks and use soft, stable and grippy surfaces for practice to protect those developing joints.

Go slow to prevent injuries and focus on fun

Agility training isn’t a race. Prioritize your puppy’s safety by gradually introducing new exercises and closely monitoring their response. Keeping the atmosphere light and playful ensures they always look forward to training sessions.

Join agility classes and online courses

If local agility clubs feel out of reach or too daunting, online courses are a fantastic alternative. Our Agility Foundation online course offers a library of agility training videos and lessons you can dive start from home. You’ll enjoy the same level of expert guidance, with coaches ready to offer feedback and fun exercises.

Connect with other agility enthusiasts

There’s a whole community of agility lovers out there! Engaging with fellow enthusiasts can provide valuable support, inspiration, and motivation. Connecting with others on the same journey through online forums or social media enriches the experience for you and your puppy.

Get Started on Agility Training for Puppies

Joining the addictive world of dog agility with your puppy is an exciting path! We strongly believe that there’s no better place to start than with OneMind Dogs. Our online platform is crafted by expert agility coaches who are passionate about making training accessible and enjoyable.

With programs that transcend geographical boundaries, your location won’t stop you from accessing our wealth of over 70 lessons. Complete with step-by-step guidance from seasoned professionals! The best part? You can kickstart your adventure without specialized equipment—just your enthusiasm and a playful pup.

If you’re ready to dive into agility training for puppies, OneMind Dogs offers the perfect starting point. Download our free Ultimate Dog Agility Starter Kit designed to get you and your puppy moving.

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