Introducing a dog to tight turns can be a lengthy process because we have to make sure they are built up and prepared for it both physically and mentally. In my experience, the sharper the turn the slower my non-motivated dogs went, so I had to create a value for them to see it as a positive thing. Likewise, slightly nutty dogs with natural motivation may lack concentration and respect on the sharper turns. However, I use the same methods forboth types of dog – but for different reasons.
It makes me really sad to see and read posts about dogs that have been pushed too far too soon (especially from those who should know better). After all there’s enough information on every training topic across the agility world. It’s a shame that training dogs is not a regulated career however I do understand the issues around governance. It would be very difficult for relevant checks to be made to ensure all training clubs are fully insured, have appropriate skills in their understanding of dogs and so on. In other service industries we have OFGEM for energy control, OFCOM for telecoms and OFSTED for education so it would be great to have an OFDOG! Sadly the powers that be can’t even stop dog fighting which is actually illegal, let alone regulate dog trainers.
I don’t doubt that owners have the best of intentions but just because a dog is able to do something, it doesn’t mean we should let it, necessarily. For example, my Working Cockers are quite able to eat socks and love doing so, but just because they can it doesn’t mean I let them chomp away!
Using long chaser toys I get the dogs as motivated to work as possible from day one. Most of the issues we have on agility courses are handling-based and you don’t need equipment for that. This initial no-impact training is invaluable foundation work.
A popular topic of conversation is whether or not puppies are asked to do too much, too soon, especially when they have more growing to do. However, it’s my opinion that the same goes for any dog, no matter the age at which they start out. They should all spend several months building up muscle strength and flexibility so that they are strong enough to cope with the impact of landing from height, turning and flexing at speed and being agile enough to cope with the course and ground requirements.
In Your Own Time
In my training, there is no schedule for achievements. All dogs work at their own speed and I’d hate to promise that a set amount of objectives would be achieved within a certain timeframe. That just puts people under too much pressure, and dogs pick that up. Is it the fault of the trainer or the handler if the dog failed to achieve the promised level? Or was the dog just not ready?
Training should be an ongoing experience and both dog and handler should learn, or be exposed to, at least one brand new skill each lesson, combined with a number of activities to maintain performance.
Once I’m pretty sure that my dogs have the natural will to work and embrace the fun elements of agility, only then do I start to build in turns. Once again I start by asking my dog to turn with no kit.
Nothing but the Scoop manoeuvre I told you about in my last article. Cones. Barrels. Jump wing.
Each successful turn is rewarded so there is more celebration time than work time.
The best time to progress a youngster from soft turns to harder and more severe turns is a difficult question because it is dog and handler dependent, but if the dog is fit and the handler is knowledgeable about training turns they should start to introduce that level between 15 and 20 months. There’s so much to be getting on with before turning and it’s not a skill you should regularly encounter at the beginner level at competition either, so don’t be afraid to take your time and enjoy building your partnership
At first the ratio between turning and straight running is 1:4 and I slowly build this up to 50:50. At this point the dog will be about 18 months old and we will be mixing between all levels of turning requirements:
- Straight (no turn)
- Left or right bend (acute)
- Left or right loose turn
- Left or right 360 turn
- Left or right sharp turn (back on self, severe wing wrap chaser)
- Left or right against grain turns* (away from the natural line)
*An off grain turn is when a dog turns away from its natural line. It’s probably the most difficult turn, especially when it has to turn away from its handler.
If at any point my dog uses their shoulder to land on or shows any signs of not jumping correctly such as:
- Taking off too early
- Taking off too late
- Taking too long in the air jumping the jump
- Unable to judge jumps properly (spreads or angles)
- Knocking poles
- Measuring before take off
I go back a few steps to make sure they are fit and fully equipped to deal with everything that may be asked of them on an agility course.
At the same time we work on building fitness games, e.g., reversing, balance boards and circuit training activities.
So after all that in answer to your question it can be anytime between 15-20 months if worked on from pup stage, however from day one they are preparing for their agility future, because it’s about so much more than agility, it’s a proper partnership.
Video Example 1
This is starting to teach the dog to go and seek simple routes independently and turn efficiently at the same time! For example, we don’t want to see the dog landing on the shoulder to turn and we want to see a nice flow across the jumps, we want the handler to understand their dogs for the good and bad and be able to help them where necessary but not baby them over every obstacle. There’s a lot going on!
Video Example 2
This is an example of how to train basics of a front cross, making sure they totally understand their job on flat work before moving the requirements to the equipment.