Poodles are the second most intelligent breed on the planet. They may seem sissified sometimes, but poodles are very good at agility training for dog shows. You can find a good agility trainer through your local American Kennel Club if you want an experienced professional to help train your poodle.
However, if you want to have the experience of working with your poodle yourself, you must consider not only agility training and the equipment necessary to complete the training, but at what age should you start the training (most professionals will recommend at least 12-14 months old as training can interfere with a puppy’s growth plates).
What Is Agility Training?
How many times have you stumbled across a dog show during the agility phase? You’ve probably seen the pups run up and down the stairs, through tunnels, and around poles, their trainers nudging them along to get the best time possible. If you think it looks fun, you’d be right. As far as canine sports go, agility is the fastest growing one in the world.
You can certainly check around your area for agility classes, but you can also start training at home! There are dozens of options you can start at home to ready your dog for agility training. Start small so you can determine your interest as well as your pup’s enjoyment of the activity.
Starting at Home
Even though your pup may have done some obedience training, agility training is strictly for fun. The dog will learn at its own pace, and you shouldn’t lose patience if he or she doesn’t get a new trick right away. Keep your expectations reasonable, and don’t suck the fun out of it! Keep training times short or until your dog starts to lose interest. Use treats for positive reinforcement and focus, this is about the fun.
If you want to enter smaller, local agility competitions, you must remember that agility requires a dog and a handler. Without the handler, a dog will get distracted, lose its place, and just start running around willy-nilly. An agility dog is focused on you and not easily distracted by other people or surroundings.
When you teach your poodle tricks, you improve your own training techniques such as timing and appropriate rewarding. Tricks also improve your dog’s confidence and coordination, which will, in turn, improve his or her agility. Teach your pup to touch his nose to a moving target, to walk backward, and how to jump through a hoop. All of these tricks will help prepare your dog for the agility ring.
You should also teach tricks that improve a pup’s flexibility. Spinning helps your dog stretch his sides. Bowing is a fantastic trick to stretch your poodle’s back. You can also teach your dog to weave in and out of your legs while you walk to prepare him for the weaving poles.
Training is not all about the dog. What happens in the ring always depends on how well the handler leads the dog. Your dog must understand commands to move ahead, come back, stand to your left, stand to your right, sit, run, walk, and more. Hand out treats in the direction you want the dog to go. If it’s to the side, toss a treat in that direction to help him get the idea.
You should also teach your dog how to wrap around an object (a tight turn). This gives your dog the necessary foundation for turning tightly on the course. Use a barrel, cone, or garbage can and show your dog how to move around the item. Always offer rewards for success to encourage the dog to repeat the action.
One issue at home training can address is body awareness. They rely on their front paws to take them where they need to go, and the rest of the body just follows along. But there will be an obstacle in the ring where your dog will need to know the exact position of his every paw. One good option is teaching him how to perch on a box or plastic bin. Teach him to get his front paws on it, jump on it, sit on it, and jump down. Then, flip the item over and have him walk inside – this helps him understand the depth, height, and width of his own body.
One of the biggest challenges for your dog in the ring is the teeter-totter or seesaw.
This obstacle moves in a way the dog absolutely does not expect. Begin slowly by using low, moving objects, and get your dog used to the ground shifting under him. A skateboard is a terrific option for this exercise. Eventually, the dog will get used to the movement and be able to balance on his own.
When it comes time to work on tunnels, some dogs are perfectly fine, and others are troubled by the perceived darkness inside the tunnel. Teach your dog gradually that tunnels can be fun. You can set up tunnels at home with chairs and blankets, large cardboard boxes, or other furniture and bedding. Start by going through the tunnel yourself and encouraging him to follow. Give him a treat for entering the tunnel, staying in the tunnel, and exiting the tunnel. Give high praise when he walks through on his own.
Training to Jump
Though most dogs jump naturally for any number of reasons, in the agility ring, jumping is a critical skill. You can hold a broomstick or rod or pole low to the ground and encourage your dog to jump over. Be very careful with this aspect of training as it is quite easy for your pup to injure himself. Do not raise the bar or rod above the dog’s chest.
Weaving is one of the most difficult skills to teach an agility dog. Most handlers will need the help of a professional trainer to help their dog master this skill. But that doesn’t mean you can’t try at home! You can use tomato stakes or vining poles and create a weaving path. Make sure they are 24 inches apart and have your dog start from the left side.
Mastering these skills at home is a great way to begin training an agility dog. You can check with your local American Kennel Club or dog groups to find out when and where you could begin having your dog participate in agility competitions. Be aware that these competitions can become costly, and there are expectations for both the dogs and the handlers.
Once you are ready to invest in agility training, the equipment can be purchased at any number of places, including online. Do a simple Google search to find the best prices for the equipment you will need.
Dogs run full speed into tunnels, approaching from various angles. This flexible, 17ft long tunnel, with a 24-inch width, is the perfect way to introduce your dog to tunnels.
This regulation size tunnel (24-inch opening, 18 feet long) is made of durable material and comes with its own carrying case.
With 8 agility cones and 4 rods (five feet in length), you can train your Poodle to jump the hurdles, gradually increasing the difficulty.
This four jump set comes with its own carrying case and is made in the USA from high-quality PVC.
These Weave Poles by Lord Anson comes with 6 regulation-sized poles made of sturdy material. The metal base allows you to adjust the weave pattern.
This seesaw is great as a training tool or just for your dog’s enjoyment! It is made of pinewood with a non-slick coating and can hold up to 50kg.
This mini-teeter is 6 feet long with colorful paint that is deemed no-skid. It can be adjusted for heights of 6 or 12 inches.
Agility training, whether for the fun of enjoying time with your dog or preparing to compete, is a great way to keep your poodle healthy, happy, and mentally engaged.