The 4 easy agility tricks you can teach your pooch in your own back garden
We all wish our dogs were a little more obedient and could do a few more entertaining tricks. Did you watch Crufts and have dreams of entering your pooch? Dr Emma Scales-Theobald, PhD (dog behaviourist) has shared her top tips for training your pooch some new Crufts-worthy agility tricks from the comfort of your own garden.
Whilst your dog might not be quite Crufts ready, agility tricks are not only great for their health, but they are a great mental stimulant and will keep your pup both happy and healthy.
Things to know before your training
Dr Emma says “Before jumping straight into training, there are a few things you, as the owner, need to check and make sure you have in order for your training to run smoothly and for both you and your dog to get the most out of it.”
Training isn’t always easy, and more often than not, it is very repetitive, so patience is crucial. As much as we wish we could, we can’t communicate with our dogs, so they aren’t going to understand or pick things up straight away, which of course, can be frustrating, but like you, they are doing their best. Maintaining a level of patience throughout training will make it a more positive experience for both you and your dog.
Unfortunately, most dogs won't perform without some kind of incentive, so you’re going to need some tasty high value treats to give them something to work for. Choose something you know they love but don’t have every day - cooked chicken or cheese are often good options!
A safe space
Safety is always key when training your dog, as there is always potential for accidents or falls. So, make sure you have plenty of space, and you move any objects that could cause injuries if your dog was to run or fall into them.
Consistency is key. Nailing down your commands and hand gestures before you get started will save your dog from getting confused and help them learn the tricks much quicker.
Now you're prepped, you're ready to begin, here are Dr Emma's easy and fun training tricks.
Jumping over a hurdle
This is a trick that requires patience as you will have to go about it in stages.
- Firstly, you want to start with a hurdle low enough for your dog to step over and your dog on a lead.
- Begin simply walking your dog over the bar, marking it with a ‘yes’ and rewarding them with a treat every time they step over it. This will help them gain confidence around the hurdle, as well as getting over it.
- Once your dog has this nailed, you can slightly raise the bar and have your dog sit on one side whilst you are on the other. Try calling your dog over the hurdle, making sure they have a good view of their treat. Use the lead to guide them over if they are struggling.
- Once the dog reaches the other side, mark and reward.
- Again, once your dog is confident with this, you can start introducing the name of the command. This should be something such as ‘jump’ or ‘over’. Call your dog over the hurdle, and once their feet are off the ground, say your command and then mark and reward again once they get to you.
- You can then start increasing the height of the hurdle as your dog's confidence grows.
Weaving through obstacles
- Start by placing cones (if you don't have cones, placing plastic cups upside down is an easy alternative) in a straight line spaced evenly apart. To begin, make the gaps between each cone quite spacious. Once your dog is getting the hang of weaving, you can move the cones closer together to make it a little more challenging.
- Before encouraging your dog to weave through the cones, you want to get them familiar with following a treat. To do this, make it known to your pooch that you have a treat in your hand and work on getting them to follow your hand, marking with a ‘yes’ and the treat when they have followed your hand successfully.
- Once they are getting good at this, you can move to guide them through the cones, again with a treat in hand. Keep the treat close to your dog's snout and weave them through the cones.
- Once your dog reaches the end, mark and reward.
- Repeat this a few more times until your dog is following you confidently.
- Once they are, you can start introducing the command ‘weave’. Guide your dog again as they make their way through the cones, say ‘weave’ and once they complete the course, mark and reward.
- Continue practising this until your dog is confident.
- Once they are familiar with the command, you can move to start saying the command without having to guide your dog through the cones, marking and rewarding once they reach the end.
- If they struggle, that’s fine. Jump back a step and guide them through again.
Running through a tunnel
If you have children, you might have a play tunnel lying around. If not, you can make one by opening up the bottoms of some large cardboard boxes and placing them together.
- Firstly you need to get your dog familiar with the tunnel, let your dog sniff and get close to it, and reward any positive behaviour towards the tunnel with a ‘yes’ and a tasty treat.
- Once you are happy that your dog doesn’t fear the tunnel, lay out a trail of treats through the tunnel to entice your dog to manoeuvre through it. Ideally, you will have one person holding your dog at one end and another person on the other to call and encourage the dog.
- When your dog reaches the end, give them lots of praise and extra treats and repeat this process until your dog is confidently moving through the tunnel.
- Now, repeat the last step without the treats in the tunnel, and save them for the end reward. Have one person call and encourage your dog to come through, and when they do, mark it with a ‘yes’ and a big reward.
- Repeat this until your dog is running through confidently every time, then move on to introducing the command.
- Once your dog steps into the tunnel, say a command such as ‘through’ to mark the action, and as normal, mark with a ‘yes’ and reward once they reach you on the other side.
- Repeat this as many times as you need to until your dog runs through the tunnel upon hearing the command without needing a treat on the other side.
Spin on the spot
Teaching your dog to spin takes a lot of practice as it is a little trickier to master, but with plenty of patience and rewards, you and your dog will master it in no time.
- Start with a treat held closely to your dog's snout and begin by luring them round to one side, as they start to turn, mark and reward with the treat.
- Repeat this a few times, ensuring you always lure them the same way until they get used to the motion of turning.
- Once your dog is confident with that, you want to start luring them in a full circle with the treat close to their snout. Your pooch won’t get this every time, so it is important to be patient and just go back to your starting point and try again, marking it with a ‘yes’ and rewarding once they have completed the full circle.
- Again, when your dog is confidently following your hand in a full circle motion, you can move on to incorporating the command, ‘spin’. Lure your dog round and as they start the movement, say the command, and when they finish, mark and reward.
- Continue repeating this until your dog gets it right every time.
- Only then can you start to try getting them to spin without luring them with a treat. You should get to a point where you can simply say ‘spin’, and your dog will know exactly what to do!
Additional things to note
Spending quality time with your dog on the above can be very rewarding.
It both mentally stimulates them as well as physically and can often strengthen the bond between you both.
It's worth noting though to only practice these in short bursts as your dog will become very tired quickly. It is recommended 5 to 10 minutes on each exercise is enough per session and will help to keep it fun without your dog losing interest.
About Dr Emma Scales-Theobald, PhD
Emma is a research Fellow with vHive at University of Surrey, researching Quality of Life (HRQoL) in canine and feline osteoarthritis and other canine osteoarthritis research.
Her qualifications include;
Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)Veterinary Medicine and Science
Master’s DegreeMSc Animal Behaviour
BSc (Hons)Psychology with Human Biology