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How young is too young to start (agility)?

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Just wanting a bit of advice or research links to possibly show a lady at my agility club who has a 16week old pup that myself and other trainers believe she is doing too much with too soon. The pup is a BC x JR. She is currently running it across contacts, through tunnels, chutes and channel weaves and working on jump wraps and sending around the back (pole on ground).

She has a large property with all her own equipment, so this is not being done on club gear (we have a minimum age limit of 12months).

Many club members and trainers have tried to politely tell her to focus on foundation work - toy and food drive, tricks and generally having fun with the pup (letting it be a pup first and foremost!) but she seems intent on turning it in to an agility champion by the time it is 2. Is their any research or literature that we could show her about the dangers of doing too much too soon? Or is this considered the norm these days to start them so early while their minds are like sponges?

Thanks in advance

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Unfortunately (or not, depending on your POV) all of that sounds like stuff people consider acceptable on some level with pups. As long as there are no stopped contacts, raised equipment, weaving action, or jumping, there's not much out there that discourages it.

 

You might find something about forced exercise in general since at that age it's still a concern, but the motions and actions themselves are likely not issues. Physically.


Me, I've learned a thing or three from Molly and trying to push her to learn and do too much too soon, and about how much maturity matters. EMOTIONAL maturity and mental maturity and ability to cope with the environment. No way would I be doing this, at least not much than maybe the tunnels. Sadly, there's not much out there that deals with those aspects.

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My first question is: how long and how often are the training sessions?

 

If the jump poles are on the ground, if the contact board is on the ground and if the channel weaves are far enough apart that her dog is not having to bend her body, I consider that part of foundation work. [i don't know why she is working the chute since AKC, USDAA and NADAC have basically removed it from their courses.]

 

If she is keeping the sessions very short (2 or 3 or 4 minutes) and happy, I don't see any reason why this should be harmful.

 

I think CptJack makes a good point about the mental maturity and confidence of the dog.

 

Based on your description, it is very hard to tell how much and how intensely she is working the dog. I think that toy/food drive would be easily incorporated into her handling games. They can be a separate activity (depending on the dog), but they don't have to be.

 

I don't know if it is the norm since I don't hang with top-tier agility competitors. My local agility friends started some on-line puppy agility classes with their ~ 9 month old pups. Myself, I would throw Kiefer into the tunnel a couple times a week when he was a wee pup (starting about 4 months old), but it was more about fun than any handling/foundation work.

 

Hmmm, maybe not the answer you were hoping for???

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The mental/emotional maturity is something I ran into a wall with and I've seen other people have trouble with, too. Especially and mostly in first time BC owners. (Mostly, admittedly, on line)


Frankly, some dogs are fine. The handler and dog's temperament (together and separately) come together in a way that it's just all play and fun and life is good and short foundation sessions aren't bad. They're a game. It's play. Same as training tricks.


Then there are those of us with dogs who are a little overly serious and try too hard, who are also inclined to perfectionism or anxiety, and pressure gets applied. Usually unintentionally. The typical symptoms of 'I can't hack this' aren't clear (to me anyway). It's not stress signals and avoidance behaviors, it's stressing high, getting frantic, developing or worsening reactivity, disengagement but being 'hyper' (running to other people, trying to play with dogs, zoomies, etc), using their mouths, just very high arousal type stuff. Not great.

 

Also not great when they respond as if it's a training issue separate from stress and 'try harder', thus putting on more pressure.


And the poor dog just MELTS.

 

That is, by the way, the voice of experience. Yes, my dog also has some unrelated anxiety issues, but I helped NOTHING with that nonsense and it is a pattern of behavior I've seen in others. One that's danged hard to recognize when you're in the thick of it.


But short physical sessions of no jumping or raised contacts or weaving with bending? Probably fine on that level.

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Thanks for those replies. This is her second agility dog (the first being a Parsons Jack Russell which she trained (and still does) 7x a week (agility training) often for an hour or more at a time - this is why myself and others are worried for the new puppy. She says she is doing 10-15min sessions with the puppy and I imagine the intensity is very high as she is very competitive and loving the drive the new pup is giving (the bc coming out in it). She is training 2020 contacts on a half sized and full sized DW. As for the chute, well I guess it is because she has one still.

CptJack I totally agree with the mental/emotional maturity aspect and that I think is my biggest concern (having had 3 bc's myself and knowing that just because they can do and seem to love the high intensity work, doesn't mean they are ready for it!).

I guess my main concern is not wanting to see this puppy pushed beyond its limits too soon, just because at the moment it's enthusiastic to do it all. Also knowing how competitive this women is and how much pressure her older dog gets (and has slowed down considerably or goes loopy in the ring as a result).

I also realise that it's not my dog and I am purely a bystander and although competitive myself, I prefer to train for longevity, confidence and my dog enjoying it, rather than making it in to a champion by 2!

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Hope she can afford the vet bills to fix her dogs when she's broken them.

 

No need to go anywhere near equipment at that age.

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I think that training the sorts of behaviors that you described in your first post as games or tricks is fine, if done so with tact. Nor do I have a problem with running a puppy over a mini-dog walk that is 6 inches off the ground, but full size or half size contacts, no way.

 

As one goes through their agility career, one will see others doing things that they don't like or approve of. In my experience, criticism, even if done tactfully, is almost never taken well by the recipient, so I think that it is best to MYOB and just stay true to oneself. I do think that it is fine to place age limits on entry into classes, use of facilities, etc, as long as the rules are consistently applied to all.

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I think that training the sorts of behaviors that you described in your first post as games or tricks is fine, if done so with tact. Nor do I have a problem with running a puppy over a mini-dog walk that is 6 inches off the ground, but full size or half size contacts, no way.

 

As one goes through their agility career, one will see others doing things that they don't like or approve of. In my experience, criticism, even if done tactfully, is almost never taken well by the recipient, so I think that it is best to MYOB and just stay true to oneself. I do think that it is fine to place age limits on entry into classes, use of facilities, etc, as long as the rules are consistently applied to all.

 

This is good advice.

 

I don't see anything fundamentally wrong with what you're describing, assuming it's done carefully and in moderation. Many top tier handlers start their pups off like that. Many top tier handlers opt to wait to put foundations on their green dogs. Both seem to have equally happy, healthy and talented dogs.

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Having spoken to another trainer from our club today, we have decided to do/say nothing. The women has been offered advice about foundations but chooses not to take it (which is absolutely fine). My friend likened the situation to a Russsian or Chinese gymnastics academy (which my friend has worked in!) - they start the children in 5day a week training camps from 4 or 5yrs old. Some carry on and have great success at Olympic level by the age of 14 or 15, and some are burnt out by the age of 10. I guess it is the same with agility dogs - some have the emotional and mental stability to handle training from a young age, others don't.

I only hope this lady has learnt from the mistakes made with her previous dog and keeps sessions short and fun

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Regarding what's normal among top competitors, I have two current examples. I have been taking Slyvia Trkmans puppy class, and planning on taking the foundation class when it opens next month. Dogs have to be 6 months to take the foundation class. The puppy class has lots to learn, it is trick based but some many of the behaviours are the foundation of agility, learning to control noise, controlling moving objects, body awareness. But she is all about puppies being puppies, playing with you playing with dogs just having fun. I also signed up to Daisy Peels puppy blog her dog is about 2 weeks younger than mine and I thought for $14.95 it would interesting to follow along. She is very like Slyvia, lots of tricks, lots of play, she has started to introduce some basic handling in her facility but most of it has been well away from equipment.

Your analogy to the Russian gymnasts as I was talking to a friend about one of the Russian handlers at the EO, and he was telling me that the Russians do train their dogs in the same way as they did their gymnasts, they don't have long careers.

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