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  • Betsy Peets
    Betsy Peets

    If I wanted a push button dog...

    ... Training agility to a Cairn Terrier

    In 2005 I got my first Cairn Terrier, Cairngorm Shot in the Dark (aka Happy). I’d never had a terrier except for a Beagle/Fox Terrier my parents and I ended up with when I was in high school.  In my humble opinion Cairns learn differently than all the other dog group and even differently than other terriers.  Whatever the task, it has to make sense and there must be something in it for them whether it be food, toys, love, whatever they cherish the most AND if it is “their” idea it’s even better!  Don’t underestimate your Cairn, you’re probably wrong.  Happy taught me well. 

    First of all you must “Trust your dog”.  I dislike intensely when someone says “oh, I don’t think they can do that”.   I never, ever thought my dog could not do something I wanted to train until I tried it several times.  Don’t make that decision for them, if YOU don’t want to do it that’s a different story.  If they weren’t getting it, it was either my fault or they weren’t interested.  Go get some advice before you make the decision that it cannot be trained.  All 3 of my Cairns have different skill sets.  Happy would never weave between my legs but Oz and Mario have no problem, Oz would never go on stage, Mario and Happy live(d) for the attention.  Never go into something thinking “oh, I don’t think they can” because then they will decide they can’t and you’re sunk.  Positive thoughts along with Positive reinforcement works. 

    Don’t be in a hurry, agility is a high impact, high energy, high stress sport in competition.  Let them grow up and get strong before you submit them to the hard stuff.  Contact obstacles (teeter, A-frame, dog walk) take a skill, brain and physical set that young dogs need to develop.  If you start them too early (like I did with Happy & the teeter) you end up with things you need to fix later and that isn’t ever easy.  Even going over a jump is hard for a young dog, those growth “plates” need to close properly and their muscles need to form well.  Find a “Intro” class, sometimes called “foundation”, these are made for dogs to slowly go into the world of agility.

    Work on some obedience while they’re young.  Sit (yes, show dogs are smart enough to know the difference between “stack” and “sit”), down (we call it “splat” in my house) and maybe some heeling. This will be sooo helpful later, a start line stay is a God-send in the agility ring!  Take them out to other places and work on things.  Any dog friendly business, a park or even just a walk down a busy sidewalk.  Teach your pup to ignore other dogs, especially the loud barky ones.  I cannot tell you how grateful I am for the 2 big growly/barky dogs we passed on our walks when Mario was little.  Now if we pass any on a walk he just looks at them and smiles. 

    Don’t over do it.  Like the saying goes, “leave them wanting more”!  Do short sessions of  5 – 10 minutes, maybe later you can add time but keep it short and easy for them.  If they show signs of being bored or tired you’ve gone too long.

    We are very fortunate to have fun, independent, and smart dogs but remember that “independent” when you are training and competing.  When I was training horses an old timer told me “never train out the fire, just work with it until you have something that works for both of you.”, he was so right.  I don’t want a push button dog, if I did I would have gotten a Golden Retriever.  I want the fire, the sass, the cute head tilt I get when they don’t get it.  Start young, 8 – 12 weeks is great but earlier is good too.  They don’t forget, if they tell you they forgot, they are lying.  If you are a breeder tell your clients too, they will benefit by having a well behaved Cairn Terrier dog in the long run. 



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