If your puppy's an active one, you and the bounding beauty may build a better bond by training for the sport of canine agility. In agility, you'll direct your dog through an obstacle course in a race for time and accuracy. Keeping him fit with agility will mitigate risk of the puppy developing behavioral problems, and it'll be good for your health, too.
Any breed of dog can be an agility champion, but some breeds are more suited to agility than others. Bulldogs, for instance, are not exactly athletic and have trouble breathing upon exertion, so they're generally not suited for agility. But some bulldog somewhere is probably out there winning trials right now. For the most part, a naturally athletic breed will be a better agility prospect. Any dog from the AKC sporting group, terrier group or working group would be a good candidate. The intelligent breeds, such as poodles and Australian shepherds, are good choices. Then again, the good old American mixed-breed can be the most personally rewarding champion in the agility ring. Each dog is unique; individual dogs even of the sporting group may not like agility.
What to Look for in a Puppy
Lindsey Smith is a veteran agility trainer with a south Florida agility club. She and her wire-haired fox terrier, Buttons, have been involved in agility for more than 10 years. She has some advice for anyone who may be looking at a litter of puppies and wondering which one might make the best agility contender: "Look for the puppy that has drive and spunk. Take a hard look at any puppy that comes to you, looking for attention, and clearly eager to please. Put him through a few simple intelligence tests to see how smart he is," Smith says. "The smarter and more motivated the dog, the better his chances at doing well in agility."
Several simple impromptu tests will tell you a little about how smart the puppy is, which will give you an idea of how quickly he will catch on to the skills you'll teach him. One of the easier tests requires placing a small towel over the dog's head and seeing how long it takes him to shake free of the towel. A smart dog will lower his head, place his paw on the towel, pressing it against the floor, and lift his head out of the towel. He could simply shake it free. The point is, he will get the towel off his head in short order. Another simple test is to hide a treat under a plastic cup within his view and see how long he figures out how to tip the cup over and get the treat. Smarter dogs are not always the best agility dogs, but intelligence does help.
Look for a puppy who is active and energetic but not overly boisterous. Also, look for a puppy who makes eye contact with you -- that puppy will be more attentive and easier to train. Introduce something new into the puppy's environment, such as a bouncing ball or some kind of noisemaker. The puppy should be curious, not nervous or frightened of new things. Bring along someone who is familiar with agility or dog training in general for a second opinion. It never hurts to have someone with a little expertise helping you make this important decision.
Michelle A. Rivera is the author of many books and articles. She attended the University of Missouri Animal Cruelty School and is certified with the Florida Animal Control Association. She is the executive director of her own nonprofit, Animals 101, Inc. Rivera is an animal-assisted therapist, humane educator, former shelter manager, rescue volunteer coordinator, dog trainer and veterinary technician.