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Introducing a New Puppy to Your Agility Pack

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Room for one more...

Saluki X Lurcher pup, fostered by Ian Dobison & Claire StaintonAgility folk love their dogs - all of them from the weeny puppy to the ageing geriatric on pain pills. Why so many dogs?  Because they love their agility, too. If you want to keep competing in agility, stay up-to-date with the latest training techniques and remain in touch with all your like-minded friends, your pack will most likely keep growing. Mary Ann Nester has some suggestions for introducing a new puppy to your agility pack.

Agility people are special folk. How many people do you know that have three or more dogs, are content to be always washing vets beds and are happy to spend most of their time standing in queues whatever the weather? 

You won't love the old boys any less and your heart is big enough for a new baby. But it does present problems. It may have been easy to get your hubby to agreed to another puppy but convincing your existing pooches that more competition for your time and cuddles is a good thing may be harder. Unlike your very first dog, your new pup won't be able to think all the cookies in life are his. He will not only have to learn to bring your hubby his slippers, fetch the kids toys and do agility for you but he will have to make a study of all your canine pack's idiosyncrasies. To fit in, he's got a lot to do to belong and earn his t-shirt..

Yummy owned by Heidi LawrenceBe Prepared
So do as much as you can to get ready in advance. Find a space for your puppy pen. Make sure it is somewhere easily accessible but not in the way. Buy in puppy food. Make an appointment at your vet for a health check. If you are anything like me, you'll want to start with a new bowl, collar and lead and toys rather than recycling old ones. More importantly, prep your pack for your puppy's arrival.

  • Play time:  If your dogs are used to picking up and putting down toys as and when they feel like it, it's time for a new routine. Bones, chews and tennis balls can all inflammatory objects if just left lying around, especially when there is a wee puppy pottering about. Get your dogs use to a limited playtime when balls and bones come out of the box and then go back in an hours or so later.

  • Obedience: It is a good idea to review your basic sit, down, come and stays with your adult dogs. I know they can do all this stuff, but a youngster in the house is a dreadful distraction. You don't want them to think, 'Great!  We can do what we want while she struggles to get a lead on Junior'.

  • Havens of Tranquillity: And like your pup, your adult dogs should all have somewhere they can retire to when they can't stand any more baby talk. This may well be their cages or beds. A room upstairs is great as the little guy will take a while to learn steps! 

Violet owned by Susan TurnbullIntroductions
Time to make the introductions. Don't assume that because they are all dogs that they will automatically like each other. Choose somewhere neutral with you acting as referee. A friend's back garden or a quiet corner of the park if your pup is already vaccinated. Otherwise, your own back garden will have to do.

Start with a single dog. When they are bored of sniffing each other, put your adult away and bring out the next one until everyone has had a chance to inspect each other. If the meeting and greeting gets too boisterous, walk away. Odds are that your older dog will follow you, so attach his lead and take him back into the house. When everyone has  had the opportunity to shake paws, give your pup a quick rest and start the whole rigmarole over again in the house.

Me or the Pack?
our pup needs to feel safe and secure to develop into an individual and well balanced dog. He belongs to you, but he also belongs to the rest of your household - human and canine. The interplay is important for his general well-being and inner self. A dog that is obsessed with Mummy may not have the canine social skills to cope with your pack when he's left in your caravan garden or let loose on the exercise field. And a dog that prefers canine company, will probably leave the ring to party with his four legged chums. Can your pup form a bond with both - you and your pack?

The Boss
I think so. Be the Boss. It is your job to manage feeding time, play time, free time, pack time ... in fact, every one of your pup's waking minutes. Get the balance right and your pup will grown into a well adjusted individual that can hold his own in your home. Be especially vigilant when he is young, impressionable and squashy. Watch and listen so you can spot if your baby is pooped, alert, hungry or belligerent and intervene or ignore as you thinking necessary. No one said this would be easy! 

Thor the Rat Terrier owned by Jerg BergThe Pack
Let's leave significant others and children out of the equation for now - I've too much experience of one and none of the other - and concentrate on the dogs. Make your pack feel valued and let them do their jobs, including teaching the little upstart that he needs to watch where he is going and mustn't shove past them.

Keep to the same routines. Dogs love the status quo. If Turbo has always had dinner from a bowl by the stove, don't move it somewhere else especially as he's getting a bit senile. If you have always gone training on a Tuesday, don't stop. If you regularly walk everyone in the morning, keep to the same plan. Don't change things unless you have a very good reason to do so. Your pack has a role in your pup's up bringing. Are you going to demonstrate how to sniff anal glands?  I really hope not.

The Pup Pack Candidate:
Slot him into your life as discretely as possible. He will make enough noise to get himself noticed without you adding to the hullabaloo. There is space and time for him. It is just a question of finding it.

Don't minus time from your older dogs to spend it with Junior. Give up an hour of television, eat your dinner faster or get out of bed at six instead of seven. We all have to make sacrifices. Try and remember that it won't always be like this, but the extra effort you make now bonding with your new puppy will pay dividends later. And remember.

Quality time alone with you is not you cleaning out the van while your pup plays solitaire. You need to interact with the little blighter. Most pups would love to be involved in unearthing treasure from deep within your van. Include him and make it a game. 'Wow! I found an old tennis ball go get it!'  or 'Fantastic! A biscuit that fell out of the pack can you sit?'

Dougal owned by Jill FranksTime Together
It is important that you and your pup spend quality time together. And with your pack. Give your puppy the chance to integrate with his own kind but supervise him. He won't have the presence or strength of an adult dog so watch him carefully.

Pack time can be going on a walk together, a game of chase in the garden, or everyone having a snooze while you watch television. By controlling pack time you will be reinforcing your role as the Boss! It can be a very passive role that delegates authority and allows Butch to tell Junior off for stepping on his tail. Or it can be a very active one; for example if you think things are getting out of hand, pick up all the toys and send everyone to their beds or kennels.

Be confident in your managerial skills. Agility folk are in charge of more dogs than the average household at home, at training or on holiday and it needn't be a nightmare. But it is important that you get things right from the start, especially if the goal is a dog that wants to please you as well as fit in with your pack. With a little forward thinking and time management, it is possible.

Good luck and please, please, please let me cuddle your puppy!

Mary Ann & DazAbout the author...
Mary Ann Nester
was born in the USA and came to Britain in 1972 as a student. In 1997 she set up Aslan Dog Training Club, named after her Lurcher and first agility dog. 

Mary Ann's most successful agility dogs have been miniature poodles. Both Brillo Pad and Daz have both been finalists at Olympia and Crufts and have competed at international level. Brillo represented Great Britain at the World Agility Championships in Portugal 2001 and Daz in Germany 2002 and France 2003.

When not training other people's dogs or chasing her own, Mary Ann splits her time between being the Clinic Administrator for Vets Now Out of Hours Emergency Service and writing.  She is the author of Agility Dog Training, published by Interpet in 2007 (Agility Warehouse) and looks forward to seeing Dancing With Dogs: The Complete How to and Troubleshooting Guide to Canine Freestyle and Six Smart Tricks for Dogs in the book shops later this year.