Agility is a fun sport for many dogs. Havanese are well suited to this activity as they are fast and agile. When you have a new Havanese puppy, you see a bundle of energy who races around the house like a banshee and who fearlessly jumps on and off furniture on a whim and immediately think of a future in agility. Curb your enthusiasm and let your little star grow up a bit before you sign him up for agility classes. If you really want a future in performance events, there are special precautions to keep in mind. For slow maturing Havanese puppies, this means NO jump training till at least 12 months of age or older after you have ensured the growth plates have closed. Otherwise you risk doing irreparable damage to growing bones and joints and bring to a screeching halt the special future you are dreaming of. It is to protect these young growing bodies that most agility organizations do not allow dogs to compete till 18 months of age.
There is so much you can do with your budding agility prospect to lay a strong foundation long before he is ready for formal instruction. Agility events are generally run outdoors in open rings; often in parks full of intriguing smells, tempting sights and distracting sounds. Basic obedience is essential to an agility dog. The most important will be off leash control and an excellent recall. A suggested guideline for your Havanese puppy is a session of puppy kindergarten followed by beginner obedience and perhaps intermediate obedience.
Confidence building is also important; for an agility puppy this means multi-sensory exposure as well as people and dog familiarization. Great outings for your Havanese includes garden centres, flower shops, hair salons, hardware stores, lumber stores, paint stores, street fairs, parking lots. Sporting events and playgrounds... wherever you can safely expose them to assorted sights, sounds and smells. Texture training is another important training opportunity for your Havanese puppy. In an agility event, dogs may encounter any variety of surfaces. Be creative in your early training and teach your Havanese puppy to walk, sit and lie down on as many surfaces you can think of. Cement, brick, gravel, grass, packed & loose dirt, sand, bark chips, wood floor, linoleum, ceramic tile, carpet, jute, rubber, towel, cardboard, bubble wrap and crumpled paper, wet & dry and warm & cool are just a few ideas. The more your Havanese sees and hears and does as a puppy, the better he will be able to handle new and/or unusual situations as an adult. There is so much you can do. Don’t rush formal agility training. Wait till your Havanese puppy is ready, then you will see how quickly he progresses because of the basics you’ve done.
Puppyhood is not the time for formal agility training but it IS the time for socializing and exposing your Havanese to varied sights, sounds, smells and experiences to help your puppy mature into a confident dog. Along with all the multi-sensory exposure you have planned, its also a good time to plan some games and playtime to further prepare your Havanese puppy for a future in agility.
Like the multi sensory exposure, these are simply supervised fun and games which help provide a basis for future formal training. Any interactive games are great as they help build the bond between you and your puppy and teach him that fun things happen when he is with you. Puppies love to play games of Peek-a-Boo and Hide-and-Seek. Most Havanese puppies are naturally curious. Its up to you to provide them with a stimulating environment where they can explore safely and learn at the same time. Many puppies really enjoy tunnels, so let them have fun. You can purchase inexpensive nylon play tunnels at Children's’ toy stores. These are usually about 6 feet long and 18 inches diameter which is perfect for a Havanese puppy to play. Or you can make your own play tunnels. Take a round plastic garbage can and cut out the bottom to make a tube to run through or take a sturdy square cardboard box and tape open the ends to make a small short square tunnel or you can tape two together into an L shape to make a corner. Or have one of each for variety to make things even more fun. Add an old pillow case draped over the end to make it more challenging as you go.
Small wash tubs and shallow plastic storage containers are great to teach your Havanese puppy to get on top or to climb inside. Hoola Hoops and Pool Noodles are wonderful learning toys. A few in a pile teach your puppy to pay attention to where he places his paws as he walks through, clambers around, jumps over or ducks underneath.
A plain 6 foot fence board can be used in so many creative ways. Place one end on a small cushion or pillow to make a gentle incline. Outdoors you can place one end on the bottom step of the porch. A puppy will quickly learn to run up and down the ramp to get a treat at the other end. Or place each end of your board on a cushion so the board is just a few inches off the floor and teach him to walk across the plank. Use your imagination to come up with as many games as you can that inspire fun and confidence. This allows your Havanese puppy to learn in play many basics which will be valuable when you start agility training later on. Real agility equipment will be sharper inclines, higher planks and longer tunnels but still be familiar enough that your Havanese will have no trouble at all learning them. And since you already have your basic obedience in place, you will be off and running. Have Fun !