So much of agility isn’t about the obstacles, it’s about what happens in between–your handling. I think developing your puppy’s understanding of handling takes longer then anything. The good news is that it’s something you can start from when you very first bring them home. Circle work (as outlined by Greg Derrett), is a heck of a lot easier when you have an 8 week old puppy that you are faster than.

For those who may not know, the basics are this. Starting in small circles, move with your puppy on the outside. They should not cut behind you to the inside, they should continue to drive around that outside shoulder as your circles get bigger and bigger. You can use your tug toy to reward–every couple of steps at first, then less frequently. You are teaching your dog to follow your shoulders–a pretty basic handling concept. You also work these with the dog on the inside–you want to be able to push into your dog without them flicking away. This foundation work helps your eventual introduction of rear crosses, where you will be driving into the dog’s path to cue the turn, and don’t want the dog to “flick” off the jump.

Once your dog understands how to run the circle, you can add a front cross. Run in the circle, front cross into your dog, and reward with the opposite hand. Again, your dog should not cut behind you.

The other corollary of circle work is the straight line. When you run in a straight line, you want your dog to drive ahead of you. This is the basics of your dog understanding acceleration–if I run straight ahead, you run past me and keep going as long as I’m heading in that direction. You can start this as a separate exercise–put the toy out ahead 10-15′, get your dog excited, and run towards the toy. When you get there, play. At first, they’ll probably be looking at you, but as they start to understand the game, they should start running past you to the toy. Set the toy farther out, until your dog really blasts past you. As I’ve been repeatedly reminded, don’t slow down until your dog reaches the toy.

Once your dog understands these two exercises, you can mix them together. Run in a circle, do a front cross, and accelerate on a straight line, throwing your toy as your dog forges ahead of you.

These exercises are outlined more clearly in Greg Derrett’s DVDs, but these are the fundamentals as I understand it.

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