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While Waiting Until He Grows Up . . .

Posted on 10/13/09 35 Comments

To follow up on a post from last week, I want to clear up any misunderstandings, I am not suggesting you wait until your dog is three or four years old before you start trialing him in agility.  Of my last three dogs, two of them where in the ring at 18 months and the other at 20 months. They were in the ring and performing brilliantly. Each of my last three have won a regional event or “big tournament” before they turned 2 years old. But hey, I have been doing this a very l-o-n-g time. NONE of those dogs were running sequences until they were 14-16 months (therefore I did no sequencing or course running with bars on the ground!). In addition, not one of those dogs got on a full dog walk or weave poles until they were 13 months old or older. The bottom line is let the dog’s skills dictate when you move forward.

A lot of dogs that I have seen that were started on equipment young (too young IMO) sadly end up with soft tissue or other career-ending injuries early on in their career.  By spending time for the first year or so with “other” skills (aka foundation, foundation, foundation) you actually help to build muscles to support young developing joints and soft tissues, helping to protect these young dogs from serious injury.

Feature playing sit-stay games with distractions at 18 weeks.
Feature playing sit-stay games with distractions at 18 weeks of age.

I have a list I call the “Puppy Hundred” it has 100 things I teach my puppies that helps create a great family pet and lays down an amazing foundation for agility. I would say no more than 5 of these behaviours are on our “tricks” list this group came up with earlier in the year. What may shock you is that none of these skills involve any equipment or props related to agility (no plexi nose targets, no travel planks). I have yet another list of skills I will teach my puppy that are agility related but still do not involve any formal agility equipment (other than the table).  That list is now close to 50 skills.

If you have been counting along and have added up the puppy 100, the tricks and my agility foundation (without agility equipment) you realize I am talking about  is a list of over 250 behaviours you can teach a puppy or young dog– none of which involves any agility equipment (except a table).

See how many you guys can come up with. We get as many as 7,000 people a day visiting this blog so lets hear from all of your lurkers! All of you that secretly pop by this blog but don’t like to admit it:), lets hear from you as well. Collectively we can create the monster list of puppy and adolescent skills!

I will once again post the completed list here on the blog at some point in the future. It will be a great reference as our tricks list as proven to be.  I am hoping once we are done that I won’t have to see another youtube video with adolescent puppies on agility equipment!

So, lets hear it, if you don’t want to write publicly send me a private email

Eight month old Feature playing table games.
8 month old Feature playing table games.

at susan at clickerdogs dot com (written of course like a proper email address and not like this one which is written to protect me from spam).What can or do you teach your puppy or young dogs in order to lay down a great foundation without involving actual agility equipment?

Oh yeah and if you want to really get a taste of how to start your puppy right, we just posted our latest puppy camp (Dec 18-20) on the website. See you there!

Today I am grateful for everyone that drops by this blog with the generosity of heart to share their knowledge with others.


  1. Teresa Kämmerling says:
    Thursday, October 2, 2014 at 6:20pm

    Last year I got a feral puppy so things i would ordinarily have done i couldnt this time round. Such as i couldnt touch him without freaking him out. Started training anyway and soon had puppy that was fine on lead and could sit, down and do a little heelwork and short stays but still couldnt be touched. He has progressed marvelously over the last year and except for a few oddities is almost normal. Things i wish i could fix with him include bite inhibition, handling, grooming and tolerance of strangers, am working on it. I can now approach him and hug or pet him without worrying about it. He is a beautiful dog and he looks at home on the agility course.


  2. Rebecca Jerngan says:
    Tuesday, February 5, 2013 at 6:22pm

    Ok, so here’s my question to really any one. I got my first dog (aussie) and I want to do agility, we’ve been working basics forever and now I’m starting to entertain the idea of equipment, but before I really start training, I was worndering if anyone could talk to my about age/developmet so I don’t damage anything through regular training. I’m familliar with training horses to jump and when we start with them, but dogs… I’m still kind of unclear. When do you feel it is ok to physically be jumping full height say for maybe 30 min 3 times a week? Not over kill, but point made if you know what I mean. I know she can physically do it because when she was 4 months old I found the little twirp ontop of the spa (3 feet)playing with the toys I “hid,” so I know she really can jump, but still… When?BTW- She is almost 11 months old now.


  3. Dori says:
    Friday, October 30, 2009 at 5:01pm

    Not that we have these perfected….but here are some things we are working on….

    I have taught my pup to “do a little dance” up on her wobble discs (prances in one spot)
    Then we practice “freeze” when she is dancing (it is hard)
    Back up the stair
    sit stay, walk away, call to heel/side or break. Break she runs beyond
    4 on the floor (keep paws glued to floor despite excitement) (looks a bit like dance sometimes)
    Downs at distance
    Downs on recall
    Retrieves in lake (sit stay, break)
    We are practicing the Left and Right game from puppy camp, and stare ahead. Lots of fun
    Puppy yoga!!
    Weave walking
    heel for Figure 8 around other dogs
    recalls +


  4. Mary says:
    Thursday, October 29, 2009 at 4:47pm

    I have been trying for TWO years to get my two year old to stop whining (very loudly) when left in a crate or when, in the car, she thinks I am going to leave her. She does not whine when I leave the house. I have consulted trainers and tried all suggestions (with consistency), Nothing has worked. Any suggestions?


  5. Alison says:
    Thursday, October 29, 2009 at 10:43am

    Starting as 8 weeks old I started teaching my last puppy (now 7 1/2 years) to ignore the movement of fast moving devices. I started with lots of food and the local commuter bicycle path where the speeds were intense early in the morning, and more relaxed mid-day. My high-drive herding bred dog has since been totally cool about every thing from skate boards to monster trucks.


  6. Denice says:
    Tuesday, October 20, 2009 at 3:18pm

    I taught my pup to “hand stand” or “stand on your front to legs with your butt in the air”. I took a few months for me to figure out how to teach it and interesting to see her connect the dots and finally find her balance as she progressed.


  7. Mary Federici says:
    Sunday, October 18, 2009 at 11:54pm

    Great idea for getting a list of what ‘tricks’ to train for making a well rounded puppy into a great family pet. In looking forward & planning my next puppy I am overwhelmed by the huge number of things to teach him! Perhaps a part of this process could be to group together items to be trained at different age levels – ie 8 weeks to 16 weeks for basic items, 3-4 months for more difficult etc? So many things are important but what to start with and how to progress? Just a thought.


  8. Zoey Trenkle says:
    Saturday, October 17, 2009 at 3:57pm

    An addendum to my previous response about how to use shaping for this list that’s forming: I know free shaping is the way to go whenever possible. Food luring is definitely out. What about luring with a target stick or hand touches? When is that ok to use, when is it not ok? Maybe the list can have a set of basic instructions for (maybe just me?).


  9. Carol (Brazil) says:
    Friday, October 16, 2009 at 5:00pm

    My first dog is an agressive dog, toward other dogs and strange people. Working with him through positive reinforcement is quite a challenge but it works much much better than any other aproach tradicional trainers recommended me.

    I think that for my second dog my main goal is to socialize him! Meeting hundreds of kids and strangers and other dogs before he is four months old, lots of good experiences coming from weird and scary things.

    Don’t know how it works in Canada and US, but most people here in Brazil don’t even remember of socialization. Including me, before my little eight pounds furry ball started attacking everyone!


  10. Naomi den Hartog says:
    Friday, October 16, 2009 at 3:16pm

    I very much like a dog you can handle ie groom and touch anywhere. I like a puppy that is ‘happy’ on the vet’s table. Another ‘skill’ I appreciate in (male) dogs is being able to walk without having to pee over every lantarn pole or bush.
    – being able to relax/ wait (lying down) very usefull when talking to someone, getting something, tying shoe laces etc.
    – no rushing out of doors/exits (without being released).
    – chilling on/in a mat/crate near you while watching tv.
    And of course tricks for fun.


  11. Nelci says:
    Thursday, October 15, 2009 at 10:27am

    Very nice idea, and already a very nice list. My “list” has no specific behaviors, but maybe grouping of behaviors I have taught my youngest dog.

    I love all the self control behaviors (much needed so that I don’t create a second “brat” – on is enough). I work on these all the time. My favorite is the control positions when retrieving a toy (as in one of Susan’s blog’s)

    Rear awareness and body awareness. I also use the big “therapy” ball, dog on top and perform head moving to right/left hip, lifting paws, sit pretty on ball, and “walk” the ball backwards and forwards.


  12. Michelle Blumenthal says:
    Thursday, October 15, 2009 at 7:33am

    As for what makes a good family pet,I would add “getting along with others in the pack.” You expect that the adult dogs might resist, but for the pup it will be automatic. Wrong (especially with a territorial breed). Time should be spend rewarding tolerance and sharing in the house from the start, not just socializing with other dogs outside the pack. I picked up on the problem too late and now we are breaking up fights and trying to recondition. She wants to be my second in command and allocate all of the resources (including time spent with me and hubby) and she is quite the tyrant (which, unfortunately might be a relection of my leadership).


  13. Mimi says:
    Wednesday, October 14, 2009 at 6:14pm

    I like to teach body control to young dogs, especially how to use their back-end. Things like getting all four feet into a small bowl and other balancing stuff, teaching them to spin around themselves with front/back paws staying still, doing things backwards etc. I think it helps in a lot of things if the puppy is very aware of it’s body and how to use feet effectively and precisely.


  14. Ann Hopp says:
    Wednesday, October 14, 2009 at 5:56pm

    Teaching them to find sticks and small branches to drag to the burn pile, and then dropping it there. Also, teaching (shaping) to ‘help’ carry branches to the pile.


  15. Kristen says:
    Wednesday, October 14, 2009 at 4:06pm

    Two more to add are:

    Walking backwards in a pvc ladder
    Walking upstairs backwards

    I keep meaning to train the dogs to pick up clothing off the floor and then put it in the laundry basket. However my girlie seems to prefer taking laundry out of the basket and dragging through the house to her lair. Perhaps I ought to train “pick up your laundry” sooner rather than later.


  16. Jen says:
    Wednesday, October 14, 2009 at 3:24pm

    I walk my dogs on the city parkway (on flexi leads) and teaching the dogs to go around or unwrap themselves from the tree trunks is really handy. They are really pleased with themselves everytime they figure it out!


  17. Trudie says:
    Wednesday, October 14, 2009 at 2:44pm

    Outdoors I encourage my 2 dogs to run with each other without me for part of the time. The pyr shep “tags” the female lab who tries VERY hard to catch him. He loves to turn rapidly at the last minute and never gets caught. I love watching this marvellous coordination exercice. I think it’s great practice for agility later, when he has to attend to the handler and turn on quick notice.


  18. Julie says:
    Wednesday, October 14, 2009 at 2:13pm

    Riding in an elevator.
    Being able to eat and drink out of many different kinds of bowls.
    Being able to poop and pee on different surfaces.
    Sleeping in a motel quietly.


  19. Kathryn says:
    Wednesday, October 14, 2009 at 10:38am

    Big one for us: sit whenever a car approaches. Our fenced front yard is our main exercise area and my boy has an intense desire to chase cars. He puts himself on a sit most of the time to WATCH very carefully. As a driver, it makes me feel more comfortable to see animals and kids being still as I go by.


  20. Marilynn - TX says:
    Wednesday, October 14, 2009 at 9:51am

    #1 ongoing training activity revolves around the command, “with me”. Now that my BC boy is coming 2 years of age, we still have to work on self-control and focus constantly. He’s actually quite wonderful with it, but “with me” reminds him that as lovely as all the world is (especially those lucious agility “toys” in the ring) his mama should still be the center of his focus. We’ve worked on this since he was a wee young boy and it has paid off big time. Lots of ground work, both running and walking with front crosses, back crosses, lateral moves (pushes and pulls), but always keeping the guy mindful of where he needs to be relative to my position.


  21. Bethany says:
    Wednesday, October 14, 2009 at 9:03am

    I always take a clicker puppy class for socialization and fun.
    My main puppy games are:
    self control to obtain tug
    wait at doors
    beginning of stays
    basic obedience (sit, down, etc. using free-shaping)
    swing left/right
    circle games (can you run this without biting mom?)
    recall to tug (someone holding puppy)
    sit politely to greet (can you do this in an exciting place like petsmart?)


  22. Kathy says:
    Wednesday, October 14, 2009 at 8:33am

    Good family pet:

    goes to their bed, crate, or spot when told and stays there until released.
    doesn’t get on furniture unless it’s ok.
    doesn’t beg everytime you get a snack
    doesn’t get stuff out of the garbage or counter surf
    is quiet for the most part in the yard
    walks nicely on leash without pulling
    rides quietly in the car and stays put in the back seat
    you can take them places and they will still pay attention to you and do what you ask of them
    at the dog park they will play well with other dogs, or ignor them and play with the family
    retreive ball, or frissbee
    accept treats without nipping
    accept petting without mouthing or moving much
    no jumping up on people
    will wait for their food bowl to be put down and a release word to eat
    leave them briefly with another person holding leash without whining or barking
    leave them briefly tethered to something ”
    Crate trained for trips, or groomers, or vets.
    accept you holding paws and looking in ears
    use SynAlia System…name and explain point, touch, hold, move.

    Thanks for making me think about this…I have a lot to work on with new puppy this winter. When he is a year old on March 9th….next spring will be soon enough to teach contacts and weaves, jumping and handling.


  23. Sam says:
    Wednesday, October 14, 2009 at 8:29am

    Wow the list is growing and it is a great idea!. Uhm what do I teach my pups:
    done: means stop whatever you are doing
    car: get in it
    teaching manners in a restaurant: lie still, settle
    visiting people: be calm in new environment
    crate games 🙂
    self control games with food or toys (already mentioned)
    four feet on the floor in all manner of circumstances (though at the moment my pup is determined to evolve into a two legged creature, way to much fun)
    say hello politely and come back straight away
    teeth inspection
    visit to the vet
    standing on different surfaces
    dealing with traffic: cars , bikes, joggers, horses etc
    learning to deal with noises
    walking on leash during day and when dark
    going under stuff: table, chair, blanket, legs

    and way more I guess but most of that is mentioned above.
    Thanks Susan for your great blog. Wish I could come to puppy camp but from Holland not quite so do-able.


  24. Renee says:
    Tuesday, October 13, 2009 at 10:50pm

    Back feet on a stool/wall/prop
    Head Down
    Roll Over
    Speak/Woof/Tell Me
    Line Up (at left side)
    Guess you could teach the right also….but I don’t
    Nose touch to hand

    I am sure all of these are already listed but they are my favs!


  25. Eve says:
    Tuesday, October 13, 2009 at 9:13pm

    Load Up (get onto anything: bed, the top of walls, a truck or car)
    Pillows: dig into the pillows on the bed and hide
    Dance (walk on hind legs making little circles like a circus dog: eventually on an overturned water bucket for extra ponts)
    Wake up Jay (run upstairs and jump on sleeping person in the morning, come down and get a treat, repeat until followed by teenage boy)
    endless variations….


  26. Zoey Trenkle says:
    Tuesday, October 13, 2009 at 9:07pm

    I am really interested in teaching my dogs tricks that are not directly related to agility because I’m still learning how to train. That way, if I screw up trying to teach them to rollover or wave, it won’t screw up their target skills, for instance.

    I know about splitting the skills into “small pieces” (be a splitter not a lumper!). But when I think about a trick even as easy as rolling over, other than starting them in a down position, I can not even fathom how to shape the rest of it without luring. Yes, I’m really that clueless!

    So I’m wondering if maybe there could be a few notes attached to this awesome list that’s forming. Are there perhaps some common “small pieces” that many of these tricks include? And if so, maybe there are some helpful hints to shaping those pieces?

    So a couple of examples of helpful hints would be something like:
    — Many tricks involve the dog moving one of its front legs/paws in a certain way. A good way to shape that kind of movement is x, y or z.
    — Many tricks involve the dog moving its head in an unusual way. A good way to shape head movement is x, y, or z.

    Or maybe even hints that help us “learn” how to be creative like:
    — When you’re trying to figure out how to get the dog to move its head in an unusual way:
    ask yourself these questions:
    consider these guidelines:

    We are definitely seeing the cooler temperatures here. As we hunker down for winter, working on these types of things would be a fun way to spend the next…..several!….months here in Vermont.


  27. Kathy says:
    Tuesday, October 13, 2009 at 9:01pm

    sit, down, come, around all sorts of loose farm animals
    Always wait in the car/truck/gator until released
    walk on loose leash at schools and games with tons of kids around
    recall from a group of dogs playing
    ride in elevators
    potty on leash quickly
    behaving calmly while travelling.
    Crate games/ex-pem games in various locations


  28. Pat Steer (Gaelen) says:
    Tuesday, October 13, 2009 at 8:54pm

    Hmm. Besides the basics (sit, down, stand, stay in all of those positions, come, walk on a loose lead, quiet, eliminate on command and on lead), there are always these:

    go (move out away from me) which then becomes:
    go to your crate (in another room, from a distance)
    go home (go to the porch when we’re outside, coming back from a walk)
    come-and-go away
    where’s the car?
    get out (of whatever you’re into)
    find it (first with hidden food, then with other objects)
    take it/drop it
    watch (me)
    mark (take a line, look in the direction I’m pointing)
    up the stairs
    down the stairs (one at a time)
    leave it (the cat) alone – this is a dog-survival skill in my house!
    stand on the table for grooming (eventually un-noosed)
    lay down on the table and roll for grooming
    get into the tub
    shake (in the tub, or when soaked outdoors)
    crate games (my own version but I like yours, too)
    looooong downs (30 min. or more)
    for the breed ring –
    go (out away from me on a straight line)
    turn on command
    stop and be positioned into a stack
    stand for a full-body exam
    free-stack or free-bait
    feet (move or reset your feet)
    not for my breed, but I teach them anyway –
    ears (reset your ears, look alert, tilt your head)
    tail (raise or drop your tail, on command)
    hand, toe and knee touches
    switch (move to the other side)
    left side/right side
    around (move around me, or around the tree/post)

    and probably the first thing – ‘click’ and ‘good’ = food 😉


  29. Kathy says:
    Tuesday, October 13, 2009 at 8:10pm

    If they break position…don’t say anything and change the scenery a little and try again. You’re proofing the position and shaping them to stay there. You say super! excellent! atta girl! and treat when they are maintaining position. Remember to take relationship breaks, by playing tug, or chasing something, it builds the desire to work with you, and makes it more fun and exciting.


  30. Sara Reusche says:
    Tuesday, October 13, 2009 at 8:09pm

    Doggy Zen
    Crate Games!
    Go to Mat
    Take a Bow
    Back Up (independently and at heel)
    Left and Right Sided Heeling
    Leave it
    [Spit it] Out
    Lateral heeling
    Walking through a ladder
    Pivot hind end, front end stationary on book or other target
    Go through legs in a figure-8 (both directions)
    Targeting with various body parts (nose, front feet, hind feet, side)
    Wag your tail on command
    Hold tail still on command
    Head down on paws (lying down)
    Roll over, both directions
    Crawl forwards
    Crawl backwards


  31. Lori Kline says:
    Tuesday, October 13, 2009 at 8:01pm

    This is such a great topic! I rescue and don’t usually get to train a dog until it is about 9 months or over a year. Regardless of that fact, I think the same approach applies. I like to incorporate play into all my training so working on impulse control early through fetch sessions is a great way to do this.

    I actually just came in from outside with the frisbee. We worked on go on then sit, I throw the toy past the dog, then recall the dog in a formal front, release and have a ball (or frisbee!) with the toy. Just one of the many skills I was working on in the session. I was actually trying to be more creative and come up with other interesting things to ask of my dogs before releasing the to their toy. One was asking for a spin, or letting them run out then recall back to me, anther was wait, throw, then walk diagonal, call a here, then release to the toy. I could go on.


  32. Marco says:
    Tuesday, October 13, 2009 at 6:03pm

    I’d love to train those tricks (especially the agility ones) with my dog and with my forthcoming pup. Sadly for most of them I don’t even know how to start training them! I only know the tricks you’ve talked about in your articles and books. I know I might find some answers at one of your puppy camps but since I’m from Belgium it’s a bit far…

    Any help? It would be really kind of you!


  33. Sarah says:
    Tuesday, October 13, 2009 at 5:53pm

    Loose-lead walking, RECALL, say hi (to person or dog), park it (settle), stays with all manner of distractions, verbal discrimination between stationary cues (sit, down, stand), retrieving/tugging/other toy skills, impulse control up the wazoo (wait for food bowl, sit at thresholds, itsyerchoice, a game I call “say please,” the list goes on), look-at-that, I’m sure there’s plenty more!


  34. Emily says:
    Tuesday, October 13, 2009 at 5:43pm

    Hey Kathy~
    I’m new to positive training… If you put them in a sit/stay and do these things and the ‘break position’ what is then done? Just put them back in place and do it again?


  35. Kathy says:
    Tuesday, October 13, 2009 at 4:27pm

    Here’s a few working with sits:

    Handler walks forward gradually getting to 10 steps and back
    Handler walks to the side gradually getting to 10 steps and back
    handler walks behind the pup…gradually getting to 10 steps
    handler walks around pup, in wider and wider circles
    handler steps over pup
    handler touches pup
    handler throws toys
    handler goes out of sight
    handler runs doing all of the first 4 things
    handler bangs objects
    handler flaps pillowcases or towels
    handler opens chips bags
    handler eats chili in bowl…..which got me last weekend with my lab…she couldn’t resist the smell. hehe.

    I’m sure there is more for sits…anyone else?


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