Puppy Contact Training
While most will agree that puppies should not be on contact equipment until 12 months, there are many lessons you can teach your puppy to help prep them for that big day. Things like body awareness and control can never be over done as well as exposing your puppy to as many different ground surfaces as you can. And while you should never put your puppy on contact equipment at any height, you can place boards on the ground and work from there.
I think the most important thing to remember about your puppy is that they are a puppy. Keep your lessons short, starting and ending with play time. Some believe that puppies’ minds learn better and faster when you get them into play mode. And most important, keep corrections out of your dog agility training. You should be shaping desired responses and keeping things upbeat and fun.
Specifically, how do you teach a puppy proper contacts? One of the most popular methods is teaching your puppy to target. To start with all you need is the lid from a tube of chips or cookies, your puppy, a clicker and lots of treats. Be sure to make the treats small. You don’t want your puppy to get full and lose interest, you just need to whet their appetite.
You will want to “load” your clicker before you start training your puppy. This is rather simple you just click then give your dog a treat until they look to you every time they hear the click. Once they understand that the clicker means they get a reward you are ready to start using it in your training.
One game you can play with your puppy is the Peck and Go Hold game. You take the lid in your hand and use your command “touch,” “target” or whatever you decide. Wait for your puppy to touch the lid with their nose and immediately click and treat. When your puppy is consistent with touching the lid in your hand, slowly lower the target to the ground and continue to click and treat when every time your puppy gives it a nose touch when cued.
Practice “pecking” in different places such as the kitchen, yard, parking lot (on leash) and at puppy agility class. You want your pup to run to the lid and peck it when you give the command. This shows they understand and are eager to do your bidding, or at least get a yummy treat. Then start running with your puppy to the target to acclimate them to you running with them. Be sure to run on the left and right with your puppy to the target. Next try running ahead of your puppy and encourage them to catch up with you. Now for the pop quiz. Put the lid in your pocket, give the command and see if your dog truly understands. They should go ahead and peck the ground and when they do give them a click and jackpot treat. If they don’t understand, continue practicing with the lid on the ground.
So that got your puppy executing the Peck portion of the game. Now, we are going to teach them the Hold portion. To do this you will have your puppy lie down and then place the lid between their front legs. In this position it is almost impossible for them to touch it with their nose and will touch their chin instead. Click and treat the moment they touch the lid with their chin. You will get a longer chin touch by withholding the click and reward. Be sure you increase the time slowly so you don’t discourage your pup. Instead of an instant click and treat wait a second, then two and so on. If they remove their chin, and they will, just wait until they place it back on the lid then give an immediate click and treat. You will also want to introduce the cue as well as a release command as soon as your puppy starts playing.
For the hold you can use a command like “Head” or “Chin” and use a release command such as “ok.” You want your puppy to to hold the position until she hears a release word. When your puppy is consistent with both the command as well as the release you are ready to start proofing. As before start moving around her while she is holding that position until you can run on either side or ahead. When proofing remember to either increase the time or the distraction, don’t do both. When your puppy will maintain position with you running past you can start fading the lid. Give your puppy the command without the lid and see if they will execute it. If so, super! If not then keep practicing.
You can start adding a board to your training by placing it on the ground and placing your pup in the 2 on 2 off position and ask for either the Peck or the Hold. You can then start adding distance on the board and then some speed. Remember, puppies under one year should not be on contact equipment with height! Take this time to get your commands solid and make agility fun!