Dipping our toes in the agility waters... how to get ready?
So the crazy BC-mix girlie and I are signed up to take an introduction to agility course starting next month. The course has very litte work on (teeny-weeny) obstacles, it's mainly focused on handling skills. CrazyDog has some decent obedience work down (she'll be taking her CGC test shortly before the agility class starts) - but I'd like to start working with her on some things that will help her be a happy agility partner.
What sorts of things can I do with her at home to work towards this? We've got a plethora of playground equipment in the backyard and we've already had fun playing with that, just to get the idea of different things under her feet and being asked to do "weird" stuff. She'll happily climb the plastic toddler slide and slide down on her butt, jump over a plastic kiddie pool, "tunnel" under the little arch of the kids' plastic playhouse... but I'm sure there are more formal things I could be working with her on to get her brain thinking in the right direction!
Congratulations! Bet you two are going to have lots of fun. Sounds like you're actually already well prepared.
Things to do with her:
Make sure she has a solid recall.
You could practice working her on both sides - in other words, walking on your left side and your right side since Agility dogs work on both sides. So get her comfortable moving on both sides of you, and also on switching sides, so that you can walk along with her on your left, you do an about face turning towards her and she's now on your right and you keep going. And vice versa. Usually the handlers need the footwork practice more than the dogs (lol).
Another thing taught in some Foundation classes is targeting. For instance, you can use a plastic lid from a butter tub or dog food can cover. If you use a clicker, click when she touches the target (you can put a little treat on it first if you want, though often dogs will see something on the ground and go right to it to sniff it), gradually increasing the distance from you to the target.
Getting back in place in heel position on your left and your right. Dogs aren't heeling in Agility, of course, but it's nice to have them take their place in training. You can say "heel" which means heel position on my left side, and "place" or whatever word you choose, means take the heel position but on my right side.
Really, though, I wouldn't worry too much, since you don't want her to have to unlearn things if your instructor does things differently. You can go in to class with a clean slate.
the most important thing about agility is focus and does the dog WANT to run around and play with you even in the face of distractions? work on teaching the dog many silly tricks, and getting the dog to want to play fetch, tug, and fast-running-heel-work with you (both sides), and a good recall and a good send away. The playground equipment is an awesome idea too but you've already got that covered.
Teaching the actual obstacles to the dog is actually the easiest part of agility. What most people struggle with is the weave poles, the contact behavior, and their own awful handling skills.
You could start now teaching your contact behavior- first you'll want to select the one you want to use, but most start out by teaching the dog a targeting behavior of some kind- either a nose target or a foot target- and use a simple board on the ground plus the target to get the dog to reliably perform the contact behavior. So you could use a mouse pad as a foot-target and teach the dog to run and smoothly step on the mouse pad in stride, very useful for both sending work and for teaching a running contact behavior. Most of the stopped contacts you teach the dog to run to a target like a plastic container lid and stop and touch it with its nose and wait at the target until released.
you could also start teaching the dog rights-lefts, which is a very useful skill. I use trees to teach this. It also teaches a send- you send the dog out and around the tree, either to the right or left on your verbal command, and throw a toy as a reward.
And a good stay is always useful.
Is there a class running now? Auditing one or two of them may give you some direction for what would be good to work on prior to starting.
For me and my classes--I took two with my dog, one was really basic, the other was a more serious foundation class--having really strong targeting would have really put us ahead. Both trainers used plastic lids and wanted the dogs looking for the target and driving strongly (running! eager!!) to the target.