You may be asking, “When can I start agility training with my new puppy?” Puppies are always learning, so every time you are with your pup you can be playing and socializing with agility in mind. Always remember, if you can control your puppies environment, you can teach and train the behaviors you want, left on their own, even in a fenced yard, puppies will learn and develop behaviors that later we may want or need to extinguish.
One of the first behaviors we teach our pups is “Table” or “Box”. This behavior transfers to the agility pause table. But more than that, the table is the center and control point of our puppy training. We introduce pups and older dogs to the table set at a 12 inch height. If you have a very small pup you could use an 8 inch table, but even with bigger dogs we use the 12 inch table and not higher. To begin, lure pup up on a low pause table, treat him for getting on the table. Once the pup is comfortable getting up on the table, then lure the pup up to a sit. You can also lure to a down.
Next you want to work on distance to the table. If you have a person to help you you can use a white target plate on the table, take the pup and step back from the table about 3 feet. Have your helper make a noise to get the pup’s attention, and place a treat on the table. Release your pup to, “Go table.” The pup gets his reward only when getting up on the table. If you don’t have a helper, than place your treat in a covered container that will be recognized as a treat box for your pup. Leave the treat container on the table, step away from the table about 3 feet, face the table and say, “Go Table”.
If your pup is very young, you can hold him as you lift him off the table and move away from the table. If your pup is too big for you to hold then use a flatbuckle collar and light dragline for your pup.
Now introduce your jumps to your pup. But you are not going to use the jump bars yet. First you want your pup to go through or between the jump uprights. Set a jump about 4 feet away from your table. Take your pup to the other side of the jump. So you are lined up pup, jump, then table. You want to get your pups attention to the treat on the table, either with a helper or a treat container, release your pup to the table, “Go Table”. Let the pup run ahead of you, but go meet him at the table so that he can get his treat, praise him then offer him another treat for sitting on the table.
Progress with adding one extra jump at a time. Spacing the jumps about 3 feet apart. You are developing a jump chute that will lead the pup to the table. Remember your goal is to build the command, “Go” and “Table”. You are also teaching the pup to move out ahead of you, working away from you and getting comfortable working around tables and jumps. Your pup is getting familiar running through the jump uprights, but you are not focusing on having your pup jump.
With all your puppy training, have fun with your pup. Use all your puppies motivators, praise, toys, and food. It is up to you to be more interesting to your pup than all the other distractions out in the yard.