Interesting thread. I am also new to agility, and has just last month started to compete as my toy poodle was over 18 months. I started agility training – mostly jumps and tunnel work – when Cassi was 10 months. I was also concerned about the growth plates that need to close. For smaller breeds it is usually between 6 – 13 months. I spoke to my vet before I started jumping; he said that my dog’s weight has been constant since 8 months (3.9kg = 8.5lbs) and that it safe to start.
My poodle is very eager to train and has a great focus!! He can already do most of the obstacles, still need some work on the long jump, floppy tunnel and see saw, he performs them, but with caution. From my experience, when training a new obstacle, is to take it slow, as one bad experience can mess it up. Cassi was very good with the see saw, but he had a bad experience when he jumped off it too soon, and the bang scared him. He would still go on it, but not enough to tip it. I worked at it, positive reinforcing by use of clicker – as well as him doing the walk down, before up and down part together. At my recent trial, he surprised me with running all the way to the tip – I was so surprised, I just told him to “wait” so that it will touch the ground and away we go!! And we got a clear round!!
Regarding weave pole training, I used what’s called the channel method. I think someone mentioned it earlier. It really works great if your dog has speed. Cassi is very fast, and the traditional in-out method that my trainer suggested, was just not working, Cassi got frustrated and ended up barking at me! So I did some research and trained at home. After a month, he was doing 12 weave poles perfectly; I am only practicing my weave pole entries now – there a nice document covering that on clean run.
Contacts, is the two-on two-off method. Works good, but I find that Cassi slows down a lot on it, and barks at me. So I have changed my tactics from giving him the touch command on the contacts, and when he gets to contact area, I hold him there for a split second before I release him. Any comments?
Two great books that helped me a lot are “The Beginner's Guide to Dog Agility” and “The Intermediate's Guide to Dog Agility” by Laurie Leach. They are fantastic and available on Amazon.