If you asked me what the most important aspect of training a dog for agility is, I would tell you without hesatation, foundation and teamwork.
But what does that mean exactly?
When I ask handlers if their dog has a solid foundation most will say “yep!”, when I ask “what is their foundation?” They will usually respond with the list of obstacles their dog can do, a start line stay, moving wait, targeting, etc, etc.
When I ask a handler how their teamwork is with their dog the usual reply I get is ” he loves doing agility with me” or ” he runs out to the car and can’t wait to get to class” and I will also hear ” he loves to snuggle with me”
When I think of foundation and teamwork I think of a “working relationship” , my dog and I understand how the other learns, reacts, moves, and plays.
This is the base to all of my agility training, not equipment, not directional commands, just me and my dog knowing each other.
So how do I do that?
I play so many games with my dogs, long before I ever consider putting them on a piece of equipment or trying to teach them a distance or directional command, they learn games.
The TEAM ( Teaching Engaged thinking and Motivation) Training program I use covers most of the games I play with my dogs, teaching them how to engage their brain and also building a working relationship between me and them.
I got my older dog Try when she was 8 weeks old, for the first year of her life all I did was foundation skills and games, she learned targeting and clicker work, which paves the way for her agility career but it was never “training”.
Try is currently the number one Bonus and Purple Bonus dog in the country, and I lay all my credit for the stable, engaged and most amazing teammate she is, all to the games we played during the first year of her life.
Her and I “get” each other because we both understand how the other one operates, and we figured that out through low stress exercises and games.
I feel that when equipment and “training” is added right off the bat it doesn’t allow the dog and handler to figure each other out, equipment can muddy the water and it can hinder that learning phase between dog and handler as a working team.
When I played these games with Try I watched how she learned, how did she react if she didn’t pick the cup with the treat? ( The Cup Game) how did she feel about toys vs food? Did she need to “sleep on it” or picked up a game right away?
All of this tells me what kind of dog she will be to train, it tells me the way she needs to be trained, clicker? Or no clicker? Targeting? Toys? All of the games give me answers to the questions I will have when I start her training.
I love games and I love letting my dog be a dog during their first year, we get to know each other and have fun along the way!
( my favorite run with Try, this will always mean so much to me and I still get emotional whenever I watch it.)