Agility Activities for Small Training Spaces – Part 2
In the first part of this three-part series, I shared with you some of the challenges and frustrations of having only small spaces in which to train. I also talked about how I made the most of living in small one bedroom apartment in New York City—everything from space to distraction training. In part two of this series, I will share with you some of the activities I focused on to support playing the game of agility.
A very important part of agility training has nothing to do with equipment or running courses. This part of the game takes place out of the ring. Just as a marathon runner spends the prior year training for the big race—everything from running distances of various lengths, to strength training, to stretching, to having rest days—a dog also needs to prepare his or her body to be able to play agility. As their handlers, trainers, and teammates, it is our job to get our agility partners in shape. Having the support and guidance of professionals helps too!
The great thing about body conditioning is that you don’t need a lot of space to do many of the strength and core training exercises. I practiced many of these exercises with my dogs in the living room while watching television. Perfect exercises for any size apartment!
Dyna Discs, Peanuts, and Yoga Balls…oh my!
As I shared in part one of this series, most of these items were easily stored under my bed and above the cabinets in my kitchen. Several times per week, my dogs ate their dinner by practicing various core and strength training activities. Even Charlotte, who was 9 years old at the time and is retired from agility, played the games. Having a strong core is good for every dog, including dogs that are no longer playing a sport. It helps to prevent injuries by supporting the body in being agile.
Some of the exercises included balancing on two Dyna Discs laying flat on the ground a few inches apart, front paws on one disc and the back paws on the other disc. They also practice Doggie Push-Ups on the discs, going from a down to a standing position, and then back to a down. Standing with all four feet on a Peanut is another balance and core strengthening exercise they practice. For more information on what exercises to practice, visit the Clean Run store for DVDs and books.
Doggie Wind Sprints
Carl Schurz Park was only a block from my apartment building. I spent a lot of time walking the dogs through the park and along the East River. I also took advantage of some of its quieter areas for training and conditioning. There was a short, steep hill in the middle of the park near the water where I let the dogs off leash. This is where they did ‘wind sprints’ running up the hill to fetch their balls. For dogs that enjoy fetching, this is an excellent type of exercise and doesn’t require a lot from you—you get to stand still! Since my dog Tricky dive bombs while fetching I required her to hold a sit-stay while I threw her ball. After the ball landed, I would release her to retrieve it. This helped keep her safe and was also an excellent opportunity to practice impulse control and work her startline stay!
In agility, it is important for the handler to be in good shape for the same reasons as the dog: for better athleticism and injury prevention. I always enjoy certain experiences more when I have my dogs with me. My dogs became my running buddies. Three days per week, we walked to Central Park and ran around the Great Lawn, totaling about 2-3 miles. I ran an easy pace because my dogs liked to visit with the many other dogs that were off leash (Dogs are allowed off-leash there between the hours of 6am and 9am). This kind of distance running provides a different kind of conditioning than just sprinting and makes a difference, for example, for the dog when they need to repeat a sequence multiple times as the handler tries to work out a maneuver at a seminar.
It is important to warm up and cool down the dog after any activity. Walking to and from the parks provided that for my dogs, and me.
Agility is all About Play
Being silly with your dog doesn’t require a lot of space. And it doesn’t require a lot of time. Marvel, who is only 7.5 lbs., has learned to jump on my back and perch on my shoulder like a parrot. Not only does this put a smile on my face, he is also practicing balance.
Tricks are for More Than Just Treats!
The great thing about trick training is that you don’t need a lot of space to do it. And tricks can be mobile—you can teach and practice tricks anywhere! When I was recovering from the flu a couple of years ago, I became so bored I decided to teach my dogs some new tricks. I thought about tricks that made sense for agility, specifically tricks that taught body awareness, could be used for warming up, and that lead to other behaviors needed to perform in the ring. I also taught goofy tricks just to play with my dogs. Any kind of play builds upon the relationship you have with a dog and through that relationship, teamwork develops.
Some of the tricks I taught my dogs were Spiderman (where they put their back legs up onto an elevated surface), Moonwalk (where they walked backwards), Superman (where they stretched out their body so that their legs extended out behind them), Rollover, Yoga (where they stretch into a Downward Dog position), and Hand Target Up Above (where they reach up and stand on their back my legs to touch their nose to my hand). These are fun, interactive, and engaging. They not only get the juices going in the body, they also get the dog focused and connected on you. Not to mention, some of them are just downright silly and great for a laugh! And working with my dogs was a whole lot better than watching hours of daytime television!
Every handling move can be broken down to games that can be played away from equipment. Even though my New York City apartment was tiny, I was still able to play these games. This worked because I was building value for drive, rewarding my dog after just a few feet of running to me. In the park, I was able to build distance and work in focus in the face of distractions (read more about distraction training in New York City in part 1 of this series). There are countless fantastic articles already written on various flatwork games so I am going to share the ones I played in my apartment and at the local parks.
Here are some of the games I taught and practiced with my dogs in my apartment: Toy Races, Drive to Side, Inner and Outer Circles, Drive to the Hand (which lead to maneuvers such as the Lap Turn and Tandem Turn), Blind Cross training and Pivoting. All I used were my dog’s favorite toys and treats. I love these games not just for building understanding for following the body, but also as a mental and physical warm up for my dogs. I will often use a couple of these games before training and competitions. In part 3 of this series, I will share about how I incorporated one and two jumps to take these flatwork games to the next level.
Living Large in Small Spaces
Even though a competition ring can be as large as 100 x 100 feet, you can teach your dog so much within the confines of your apartment. With some planning and thinking ahead, you can expand those skills when you have access to larger spaces. All of what you do with your dogs counts—all of it is building towards something; regardless of the amount of space you have to work in with your dog on a daily basis.
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