Training Your Whippet In Agility

From time to time I get an email asking how to start a whippet in agility. I always answer the best I can, but I thought “Wouldn’t it be great if they could get an answer not just from me, but from several different trainers”? So I asked a few friends to help me out and they wrote down what they think are the most important things a newbie should know and whether they think that training a whippet is different than training other (non-sighthound) breeds. Today is part 1. Enjoy ๐Ÿ™‚

Louise Hoelscher

Louise is a Canadian breeder and owner of Poeta Whippets. Whippets of her breeding have been extremely successful in flyball, so much so that they deserve their own blog post. Let’s just say that they dominate U-FLI flyball. She also trains and competes with her whippets in agility with great success.

From Louise:
Keep it short, keep it fun, use a reward the dog really wants. I think the most important thing to remember is that whippets do not like to make mistakes, so don’t mark the mistakes, ignore them and simply start over. If a whippet does it correctly the first time, don’t repeat it because a whippet will think it did it wrong and then will offer to do it a different way. They are VERY smart and seem to process what they learn long after a training session is over. They are latent learners.

When should I start?
As soon as you have your dog. If it’s an 8 week old puppy, start with relationship building and teaching tricks. Tricks will teach a whippet to think and to work with you, it can teach them balance, coordination, rear end awareness, flexibility, and will build a good working relationship between dog and trainer.

What should I avoid?
Long training sessions and repetition.

How much should I train?
That really depends on the individual dog. Learn to read your dog.

How does training whippets differ from other breeds (or doesn’t differ)?
I’ve only ever trained Greyhounds and whippets so I can’t really say.

Louise & Frisco:

A list by Yours Truly ๐Ÿ™‚

I tried to make it short, but I just couldn’t stop typing!

  • Build confidence in different environments, confidence with sounds, sights and smells. A dog who is worried cannot learn and perform well. Take him to as many different environments as you can think of, including agility trials.
  • You're calling me crazy?!

    You’re calling me crazy?!

    Find what they LOVE to do. Some prefer chasing toys, others prefer food. (Rewards might not always be conventional. I once trained a Spanish Galgo whose favorite reward was to run with me to the sofa and cuddle.) Use favorite rewards when training in distracting environment, but don’t forget about building up the less exciting reinforcer as well. It is very useful in agility to have a choice of rewarding with either toy or food, whatever works best for the situation. Figure out how to get the crazy expression on their face. Then you’ll know you found something they really really love. The most important foundation for agility is that your whippet enjoys playing with you (you can play with food, too!) and will play with you in variety of environments: forrest, near childern playing, on a walk with other dogs passing by, at a busy agility trial.
  • There is no substitute for enthusiasm – use your very best rewards for agility. Make them run as fast as they can (usually by throwing a toy). Then use this in agility to get them really enthusiastic about tunnels and jumps.
  • Some trainers never want a dog to take a tunnel if they don’t say “tunnel”. It will work well with a border collie, but don’t do that with a whippet, because you will only teach them not to work ahead of you. Instead, first teach them that running as fast as they can through a tunnel is fun, and only then start teaching them to watch your handling about whether they should take the tunnel. Introduce them to tunnels as soon as you can, even to a small puppy. If you do them once or twice per week for two minutes your pup will be crazy about tunnels by the time they’re 1 year old and this will add to their overall speed on course.
  • Mix up straight lines and turns (cik & cap if you’re going to do European courses) from the very beginning. Do not neglect turns, but also don’t do all of the training on twisty turny courses like a typical European border collie. Java’s mix currently is 90% straight lines, 10% turns. With time as she gains more confidence in my handling there will be more and more turns.
  • Train as little as needed to build enthusiasm. Some dogs can train on equipment multiple times per week, others show most enthusiasm for agility if they see equipment once per week. That’s OK, there are many agility behaviors you can teach away from equipment. If you keep your trainings to the amount which still gives you full enthusiasm, your whippets love for agility will grow and you will be able to train more often.

Andreja & Ruby:

If you liked this you can read part 2 here.

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9 thoughts on “Training Your Whippet In Agility

  1. Its nice to read about another breed other than collies for a change (apologies to my collie! ๐Ÿ˜› ). A lot of what you’re saying seems to relate to my crossbreed also. Short fun sessions are key ๐Ÿ™‚

    • I’m sure these are things that apply to many non-working breeds. And I do like collies, too! But like you I miss more other-breed perspective on the net ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. Pingback: Training Your Whippet In Agility – Part 2 | Ruby The Whippet

  3. Penny

    And I could watch Ruby doing agility ALL DAY! ALL DAY ok?

  4. I have 2 whippets Molly and Meg we are very novice and just starting trialling Molly got her 1st certificate novice last week I love your videos and tips and I agree wholeheartedly whipps are a special breed.

    • Hi Glenda, nice to hear from you! Congratulations on Molly’s certificate, you must be so proud! ๐Ÿ™‚ In which organization do you compete?

  5. Hilary Cross

    Lovely site. I am just beginnning Agility Foundations with Silvia. with Torrin my 11 month old whippet ( we are both beginners) , adn look forward to reading all your posts for tips and advice from a whippet point of view. Its trying to work out how to be more exciting than the rabbit which may well be lurking in my field hedge!

    • Hi Hilary, thanks for leaving such a nice comment ๐Ÿ™‚ I’m sorry I haven’t been posting lately, my life has been just crazy. As soon as I get it more under control I will start posting again.
      That’s so exciting that you’re starting agility training with Torrin! Silvia is an amazing trainer and instructor, you will learn a lot! The only thing that I would do differently from her is how she progresses through exercises. She heavily emphasizes cik&cap and I have found that it makes agility less fun for whippets in the beginning than it could have been. There are breeds that typically like going around the cone, but whippets usually don’t see the point of it for a long time. They will do it, but will either lack the speed or sends because it’s just not as much fun for them as it is for a typical BC. The other problem is that once they like Cik&Cap and the handler has been diligently practicing Cik&Cap – only sequences, they will have too little value for straight jumps and might avoid them when the bar is lifted. With my next dog I will do both Cik&Cap and straight lines from the very beginning.
      I’m looking forward to seeing Torrin’s videos ๐Ÿ™‚

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