For as long as I can remember, puppies came along few and far between. With handlers getting new additions at a very slow and steady pace.
The last two or three years however, has seen a baby boom in the Agility World like never before. Where ever you look you see puppies and young dogs of all ages, colours, builds and breeds. Old handlers with new dogs are streaming in at an exponential rate (not considering new handlers with new dogs). With this comes different training principles, methods and rates. Nothing wrong with that. Whatever floats your boat, rocks your world, creams your Tinkie and all of that. After all in Agility there are many rights, but there are also many wrongs.
With my increased exposure to young dogs at their first competitions, two things have become very clear. Definitions of 'show ready' and 'meeting criteria' differ vastly across the board.
So many handlers are okay with 'just getting it right' and not 'really getting it right'. They are happy if their dogs can negotiate the weave poles, miraculously with each pole on the correct side. Dogs sauntering along in 2nd gear, with no real confidence or clarity as to their task. Horrid, unsure, untrained jumping styles or just purely crashing every bar with no consequence. Creeping or leaping contacts. Dogs that I am pretty sure has never seen a tyre jump and has to be stopped dead (normally achieved by panicked handler leaping in their dog's path causing a head-leg collision) and pointed through the tyre. Some handlers go so far as to enter and run past the multitude of obstacles they cannot do (this almost always includes the weaving poles and often the see saw).
And surely if you are competitive, common sense should have kicked in somewhere between only being able to do the weave poles on the left and your screams of 'wait, wait' on the contact obstacles right before watching Fido take a leap of faith that would scare the saints. If you intend on being on being competitive you should be much more concerned with the big picture than the 'golden date', that date that Fluffy magically goes from being referred to as a puppy to being called 'that stupid dog', The Date, the date that they can start competing. If you intend to achieve some titles, then that date should be meaningless. Your criteria is much more important.
By this I am not implying that if you are properly prepared before you start competing, clear rounds will start raining from the skies and cause floods on your record books. What I am saying is that competing is hard enough. Forming a partnership with your dog is hard enough. Travelling and new environments are hard enough. So we, as handlers better be sure that we have given all our dogs the correct tools and skills and support and information that they might need to have fun doing Agility.
For those that have that wonderful skill of interpreting anything they way they want to see it (instead of accepting the actual intent), I would like to clearly state that by writing this I am NOT under any circumstances saying that you can start training your 13 week old puppy 12 closed weave poles so you can be properly prepared by the 'golden date'. If you are stupid enough to be doing full contacts and weave poles by the time your poor Rover is 7 months old, make no mistake I WILL be judging you. Knowing myself I might probably even run my mouth off at you.
I am ALSO not saying that it is impossible to have your dog wonderfully and properly prepared by the time they can start officially competing. I have seen many a good, responsible trainer and handler have their clever pups ready and going and happy and skilled.
In fact I have been inspired by many young dogs and their old handlers lately. I am not talking about the results on paper, but just about some fantastic moments, some wonderful skills and budding partnerships.
This is a very personal matter and people tend to take very serious offence if you mention anything in the realm of this subject, so unless you really go over the top (that would idiots dragging 5 month old puppies over contact equipment on lead), unless asked, I will keep my mouth shut and try to control my eyebrows and judgemental scowls. All I can do is hope that we all do the best we can by our dogs. That I can also have the common sense that my all my future dogs are ready AND steady before I go.
Now I have saved the BEST news to last. Chaos has been cleared to JUMP. We officially started 25cm straight lines yesterday... both myself and Spaz were dancing! Watch out world, in a few weeks Chaos will be hitting the Agility rings hard again!