So what skills does a "performance puppy" really need? Of course, a performance puppy is still a puppy so all of the regular puppy stuff is the first priority. House-training and house rules, management to prevent the development of problem behaviors while the preferred behaviors are being installed, basic obedience, impulse control and of course, lot's of positive socialization. But beyond those things...what?
Being somewhat of an obsessive person, I have made list upon list of skills and behaviors to teach a performance puppy. With that being said, I can pretty much summarize my long, long list into 3 most important things:
- Attention Work
- Toy & Game Playing
- Trick Training
Attention Work starts with clicking any offered attention and paying up for it! I never nag or pester my pup for her attention, instead I wait patiently for it. For example, we get out of the car to head into the training building. But before we move away from the car, I stand perfectly still, keeping the leash short enough that she can't find entertainment "out there" and wait. Eventually she looks up at me. Click/Treat! Now we can explore the area and head into the building. She learns that she gets all the things she wants by looking to me. After repeating this same scenario every place we go, it becomes automatic...a default behavior. Regardless of what excitement is going on around us, we never progress anywhere until pup gives me attention.
Toy & Game Playing is obvious in importance to all of us dog sport fanatics. Toy play and chase games bring out the prey drive in our pups and typically speeds them up. Toy play is great for teaching impulse control and rules for play, such as get it, drop it and teeth on skin ends the game. Toy play can also get the pup so aroused that it's difficult for her to keep her "thinking cap" on. This is useful information and something we can work on! Tugging, chase me, fetch, etc. all make playing with mom super fun and super exciting. This has been one of the more difficult lessons for Izzie. She will tug like a maniac, chase and fetch BUT if treats are around, toys are dead to her. This is still a work in progress. While there is nothing wrong with rewarding her with food, she is a "foodie" after all, I do want to be able to have the option of using toys as a motivator or reward for her, as well. Little by little she's getting it!
Body awareness, balance and strengthening tricks include pivoting on a disk, getting all four feet inside a small bowl, sitting pretty, backing up, balancing on discs, wobble boards, and hopping on and off planks. Stretching (or "take a bow"), paw raises and my favorite rear leg lift trick "What do boy's do?" are all great for body awareness, as well as a few laughs!
Agility-specific skills such as sending to objects, circling objects, going through and under objects are also shaped as tricks. After shaping pup to get on an object, I then shape 2 on 2 off contact behavior by waiting to click as she exits the object and her front paws hit the ground. There is really no limit to what skills can be taught by way of tricks. And most importantly...it's fun!
While initially I thought that we were behind in our agility training, I've been amazed at how quickly it is all coming together thanks to our solid foundation!
So beyond the puppy basics, what skills do you teach your performance pups?