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 🙂
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.
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 🙂
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.
- 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.