The Three Crucial Keys to Agility Greatness

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

So you want to know what I view as the three most things in creating a great agility dog? Foundation, foundation, foundation. So few people find the joy in the little stuff. Everyone wants to jump in and do the sexy stuff so they sequence their 5 month old puppies between uprights with a bar on the ground or they  get working their running contacts or sending their wee puppy through a open row of weave poles. That’s the sexy stuff.  Meanwhile my dogs do Crate Games, Recalls, Body Awareness Exercises, Puppy Grids and Shadow Handling Games.  They do not see agility obstacles until they are close to a year old (with the exception of the table which I teach very early on–a low one, 4″ high). My dogs  don’t start sequencing jumps until they are 15 months or older. I don’t think holding off on the so-called fun-stuff has hurt me at all. Feature is now now the third dog in a row that I have owned that has won a big class over seasoned agility dogs within their first couple months of trialling. I am sure to someone watching, it would appear that my young  dog has been running courses from the time she was just a puppy.  To quote John Pinette, “oh, nay nay.”  The reason for my dogs early success has little to do with agility, and  a great deal to do with  foundation training. As I say over and over, I focus on raising a great family pet and the attributes that make a great family pet also lay the foundation for a phenomenal agility dog. With a solid foundation the rest of agility training (handling sequences, training weave poles or contacts) comes quickly and relatively easily. Without this proper foundation you will be frustratedly training and re-training, as you seek a level excellence that may elude you throughout your dog’s entire career. Find the joy in the training the small stuff or what I consider the “important stuff.”  Plan for more time on Crate Games and One Jump Exercises and less time trying to run full courses. Anyone can do it, it is all about focusing on the ground floor as you work your way up to the top floor.

Today I am grateful I can still yak to John on the phone when I am so far away teaching (. . . yeah, I am sure John is really grateful for this too:))


  1. I’m fascinated by the games you play with your pups. I had a lot of fun teaching my adolescent dog crate games and body awareness exercises. What are “puppy grids”? Maybe you could do an ebook on “puppy grids” and “shadow handling games”? 🙂

  2. What body awareness exercises do you do? And what are puppy grids?

    Hmmm, are more videos in the future?

  3. Thanks for this post. It gives me the encouragement I need. It helps me have confidence in my dog, (rather than thinking one has confidence in a shaky top floor as you so aptly put it).

  4. I was going to ask the same questions as the first two ladies. What are puppy grids and the body awareness exercises you do? I’m aware of the back up (though I have to say I’m having some trouble shaping this one with my older dogs), shaping to a short podium and circling around it for awareness – what other list items would you recommend? My new puppy comes in April! Lists I tell ya – we need lists! 🙂 (joking of course – only if you have desire/time).

  5. I think lots of dog sports people understand this…..I really think the problem is WHEN are you ready for the “Sexy” stuff??? Sometimes you think your dog/pup has it down pat and has a good foundation….how do you know??

    I did lots of foundation stuff with my young dog and I still don’t think shes “ready” for the sexy stuff……but it’s almost like I feel she NEVER will be ready. She isn’t 100% on all the foundation stuff…….is anything in dog training 100%??

    Maybe I will get my questions answered this weeked! See you in Wisconsin!

  6. To me, the ground work is the fun stuff – Don’t need equipment. I can do it anywhere – my favorite place is the living room 🙂 Part of it is, I’m more of a process person than product person. The journey is the most fun. Although, to get in the ring I eventually have to seek out equipment like A frames, teeters, etc. 🙂

  7. I love foundation. I am going back with my six year old and reteaching everything. And she is having a ball. I shape everyday and her desire to work has increased 100%. Doing too much sequencing was ruining her. When I thought outside the box, I realized as an obedience trainer I rarely did the entire routine, so why in agility would I do that!!

    I am watching the one jump video every morning, thank you for my lessons for the day. I dont know what I would do without your videos. (And I am thinking outside the box – thank you).

    I think we would all be grateful if you would write a book or make a new DVD on raising your future agility star.

    My six year old has her ACTCH so my regressing and reteaching is more for me than for her. I want to do a better job with my next dog. And I also owe it to Trudy for her to gain more confidence in what she is doing now. With confidence will bring the speed I am looking for. She is getting bolder everyday.

    I really would love to have a guide though for the next dog so I would feel confident that I am on the right track. A puppy camp is top of the list, but that is only for a few days, I think we all need something at home to follow and keep us on track.

    Please think about it. And come to Ottawa, we will send you home with new towels for your house 🙂 !! And that is a lot of towels!!

  8. I guess I agree with you 100 percent but the question that I keep having is how do you teach the blinding speed that your dogs have together with the focus and body skills that the foundation work produces? I used your one-jump and articles on my baby, and at 2 year old works better and a lot more consistently than the 4/5 year old, who is also working nicely. My dogs seem to get faster as they get older and understand what is wanted, but I still wonder how to keep the speed while teaching the skills.

  9. I can’t agree more Susan!!! I am seeing it first hand with my 11 month old Aussie boy–all we’ve done is foundation, foundation, foundation and I can see it all coming together incredibly well. He’s confident, self aware (both in body and mind), and a truly happy partner. I am so glad I am taking my time with him as I know it will pay off soon enough!! For me, it’s the only way to raise a pup!!

  10. Right on. My pup is 4 mos – I can see the difference it makes already. (Couldn’t resist trying out a tunnel though!:)

  11. I went back to crate games again as even though I have only competed in one trial with my young dog I can already see I need to work on his startline. I really feel the CG will help him. THanks again for that DVD.

  12. I just have one question, at what age do you start the 1-jump work. I know that the bar would be low for this, but not sure of the age to start. Another note, i love the crate games, so does my dog. My friend and I teach classes and we have incorporated it into the foundation class. Of couse some people don’t continue with it but those that do…… are aheard of the ones that don’t.

  13. So very true – I have deliberately sent my brand new set of 2×2 weavers on a vacation until my nearly 11 month old baby is a bit older because I found I couldn’t resist the temptation to have a go with her because they were there. Easier for me to have loaned them out to a friend so they just aren’t there for me to think about.

    I have gone back to working on circle work with her and shaping tricks and teaching her to walk backwards. I admit to having been in a hurry to get to the good stuff but have in the past fortnight realized its better to not be in so much of a rush.

    We have started at a pet dog training centre (no trial focused classes) but doing different things to your standard training. I am continually impressed with how she is happy to chill on her mat (one of the class requirements is you bring a mat) in between me asking her to do exercises. She remains bright, happy and attentive and quick to engage in a game when asked. My older girl at the same age would have been doing full novice obedience rounds week in week out and being bored to tears.

    I know when I come to start agility properly though that she will be a breeze to teach.

  14. This is great info, I’m grateful that you post it! I am planning on a new puppy, and working on a puppy training plan. I would so love to see idea’s and advice to add to my plan. I don’t have a firm deadline for when I’ll get my new pup, am taking my time, but am hopeful that it will be within a year. In the meanwhile I work on my plan.

    Thank you so much,

  15. Haha how true, I’m continually learning how important foundation training is!!! My BC Kyla is the first dog I have ever trained myself (I ran a friend’s dog in agility before I was able to have a dog). I did some foundation training (basic obed., solid recall, a little shadow handling, some clicker training, and some ‘self control’ work) with Kyla when I adopted her at 8 months old, AND THEN…I was swept up by the agility bug! It only took about 1 month to really realize what we were lacking!!! ack! 🙂
    Kyla is almost 3 yrs now and we are doing pretty well, but once and a while something weird happens and I discover a ‘hole’ in our training that really good foundation work would have solved. I love learning about the foundation stuff, both to improve my partnership with Kyla and to ‘store away’ for a couple years from now when I get a pup. Thank you so much for providing all of this great information!!!

    Also, what are puppy grids?? Please explain (please, pretty please):-)

    • OK Jessica and everyone else that has asked “puppy grids” are Susan Salo’s jump grids designed for puppies using “jump bumps.”

  16. And for anybody who wants to ask what the jump bumps are made out of they are made from 8″ or 6″ PVC. We ended up settling for 6 as we could get some for free.

  17. Ok, thank you! I’ve seen jump bumps being used in short video clips. Guess I’ll have to check out Susan Salo’s video! 🙂

  18. Hi, I fully agree, I’m also very much for foundation training. One realy needs a very solid foundation else everything falls apart later. Must say I read all you stuff and realy learn a lot.

  19. Like many other important things, it makes so much sense to build a home, community, family,etc. on a stable foundation.
    For me, the more I break things down, the more I appreciate the incremental improvements, and likewise, my appreciation for my dogs.
    I don’t remember the titles as much as the clean runs. I don’t remember the clean runs like I remember the contacts. I don’t remember the A-Frame like I remember the end behavior.

  20. Good afthernoon.
    If somebody can help me out, I realy want to learn/see/read more about shadow handling, puppy gritt and body awareness.
    The trouble is that I live in the Netherlands so it isn’t possible to hop over and do some training over there.
    So if there is some one out there who can help me, I really would apreciate it.


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