One of my daughter’s goals for Faithful, our English Shepherd puppy, is to train her in obedience, showmanship and agility for 4-H. We’ve set up a little puppy playground using things we’ve found around the property and the children have really enjoyed training our dogs to run the course.
Faithful is a tad distracted during this session, but the chickens are out free ranging. My daughter does a nice job redirecting her and Faithful does a nice job not doing more than keeping an eye on those pesky birds.
None of the “equipment” the children have come up with are regulation AKC agility equipment, but that’s OK. Mouse’s main goals are to begin teaching Faithful the basic commands she’ll need for agility and to be comfortable running on different surfaces. Also, all training, when kept positive, strengthens the relationship between the dog and handler. As Faithful learns to trust Mouse, she’ll be increasingly willingly to work for her.
Bear and Bug have enjoyed training Pepper and Hunter on the course as well. It is a bit low for our big dogs, especially since they are both in good physical condition and more than capable of handling a more challenging course. But this height is very manageable for my smaller children, and they really enjoy the “playground” aspect.
These are the obstacles we’ve been using in case you would like to try to set up your own course. Once you get started, you will start seeing all sorts of possibilities for small obstacles and the children and dogs all seem to really enjoy the play time. Just remember to keep it low for puppies and beginning dogs. Also be sure that anything you make is sturdy. If a surface gives way, it may take your training a step backwards as the dog will be wary and less willing to trust you.
- A small baby playground with a step and slide to build climbing skills and comfort with a slippery surface.
- A dog walk to help build confidence running across a raised surface. This is a wide board on two concrete blocks.
- Two jumps made of old wooden posts that are about elbow height.
- A child’s tunnel. Faithful has no problem jumping in, but then she likes to roll around inside. Working on getting her to run through.
- A sort of teeter board as a puppy precursor to the teeter totter. It is a flat board on a rock that shifts as she goes over. This is just to get her used to surfaces that move under her.
- A child’s slide, again for climbing and comfort with a slippery surface.
- Sometimes we also include a ladder laying down which helps teach a dog to pay attention to what his hind legs are doing. This is supposed to be helpful for the “real” jumps later.
I firmly believe that teaching children how to train a dog is a wonderful way to encourage a healthy relationship between children and animals, build leadership skills in your children and end up with a more well-behaved and pleasant pet in the process.
Besides all that, it’s just plain fun!