Small Garden Equipment

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Once you get addicted to agility you may well look at your garden in a completely different way.  Instead of the usual garden furniture you'll start wondering what size equipment you can fit in and how many jumps you should make or buy. 

Shown right is my garden sized Dog Walk and a couple of jumps.  The Dog Walk is only 28" high and the ramps are 6 feet long.  The central section is 4 feet long, but I have also made an extended central section that is 8 feet long. It's all home made and with the exception of the 8 foot part of the dog walk it can be stored in a garden shed. 

My shed is 6ft by 4ft and there's still room for loads of other bits and pieces.  We also have a storage box for other bits and pieces like the pipe tunnel.

The thing that most people want to know is whether garden sized equipment will be any good for training and does it matter if you train a six pole weave rather than a twelve pole weave?   Hopefully this page will provide some answers.

 

 

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Weaves

After speaking to people, and from the posts I've read on various forums over the years, many people train successfully at home with a six pole pole weave.  However, it's important that the dog gets some practice going through twelve poles.  For most dogs this doesn't mean that they need to do twelve poles all the time and a six pole weave will be fine for training entries or getting up speed.  If you do train with six poles and your dog subsequently finds it difficult to do the full weave through then you may need to think again.  Also you may sometimes meet weaves with an odd number of poles such as 5 or 9.  A thorough grounding in weave training on both six pole and twelve pole weaves as well as the occasional odd numbered weave will stand you in good stead for the show ring.  The faults on weaves in the ring are nearly always on the entry but some dogs have a habit of popping the last poles.

Contacts

Agility has become so popular now that garden sized contact equipment can be purchased fairly cheaply but is it worth it?  For me, training contacts at home is essential and I don't think we could manage without some garden sized equipment.  I've found a small dog walk to be very valuable but even this takes up a fair amount of room if you only have a small garden.  I have used a small A-frame for training and this has worked very well and not caused any problems.  Other people have varying degrees of success but the one thing I would advise is that before buying equipment you ask someone who has bought that equipment to tell you how good it is.  Agility forums are good for this kind of research and also ask at your training classes.  Remember that dogs need to land on something that's really solid.  Cheap and/or light equipment can so easily get knocked over.  Small dog walks are sometimes available on ebay. 

A plank is an excellent tool for teaching contacts.  I made a six foot plank from a couple of bits of sawn timber held together with batten.  It may not sound much use but believe me it helped us no end.   During a long wet winter I got Sasha and Jamie to run along the plank on the flat.  When they'd learned to do this I put the plank on a bit of a slope and did some contact training on this.  By the time the ground had dried out sufficiently to resume classes they'd improved their contacts no end.  Here's a dog walk ramp being used in this way.  I have to put something in front of the plank for Jamie to focus otherwise he would just look back at me.  I used a small jump and toys. With Jilly I have trained her to do the end position first with two feet on the plank and two on the ground. Once she understood that simply being in the right position on the end of the plank got her a reward we worked backwards from there.

Jamie was always careful on the contacts. Jilly's not in the right position but she's only eleven weeks and she wanted to be like Sasha and go on the plank.

One thing I'd always hesitated about is a see-saw.  It can be a bit off putting to a dog when they get used to the feel of one particular see-saw and then meet something different in competition.  If a plank tips very easily and then they go onto a see-saw with a heavy plank it could encourage a dog to jump off the end.  If they do this before before it's touched the ground they get faulted.  After speaking to a lot of people many of them, including our trainers recommended using a low see-saw to start with and to build confidence.  A garden version could be ideal for this and for training a new dog to get used to the plank moving under them.    

Jumps

These are essential if you want to train at home.  They are quick and cheap to make or you can buy them from ebay or somewhere similar.  Garden jumps are often the sort that stick in the ground and they don't have wings.  This is useful if you're really tight for space but it can be tempting to put the jumps too close together.   One thing I didn't really bother with at first was a long jump but it was only because it hadn't given us a problem.  The first time Sasha saw a long jump was in competition and she just jumped it because it was there. However, the day came when she failed to recognise it in the ring as we hadn't practised at home or in training.  I put together a full sized version for a bit of practice and we've had no problems since then.

I have made a tyre jump but we don't use it a lot.  It was useful at first when Sasha didn't know what she had to do and it has been useful for occasional training.  It's something that needs to be full sized for training.

Dogs really don't notice if your jump poles are not the regulation length.  A few centimetres is neither here nor there to a dog but I wouldn't have them much smaller though as it alters the spacings too much.  If you don't have a large garden you can manage with slightly shorter jump poles and jumps without wings but watch your spacings.

Tunnels

For some reason dogs find tunnels enormous fun.   You can buy a smaller pipe tunnel which most dogs love but if you only have a three metre tunnel I wouldn't bend it into a U shape. A straight tunnel or a banana is great. Do be careful that the tunnel you buy is suitable for your size of dog.  The regs specify a minimum diameter of 24 inches but if you have a Jack Russell you can obviously get away with something smaller.   One thing I bought but quickly stopped using was a cheap flexible tunnel.  A dog like Sasha can be like lightning through this but they can so easily get caught in the flimsy material that it can be dangerous and can throw a dog onto it's back and cause serious injury.

What should you get to start with?

Initially I would buy or make some jumps but dogs love to have a bit of variety.  If you have the money I would buy or make as much equipment as you can reasonably afford.  It may sound ridiculous if you're training in a garden but you don't have to use all of it all at once.  The variety will keep you and your dog occupied and ensure that training is always fun. 

What I do if we're having a longer training session is to devise some exercises that will use the equipment in turn.  We might start with a layout of jumps that lets us practice front crosses and back crosses or perhaps some snakes and pull throughs.  Then we'll put away a couple of jumps and have a go at the weave.  We'll practice weave entries from funny angles or  a jump and then a weave entry with Sasha way ahead of me.  When we're fed up with that we'll put away something else and set up the dog walk so that we can do some jumps and contacts or maybe a six pole weave and contacts.  The beauty of this system is that you have to give your dog a rest whilst you move the equipment round.  It's important not to tire a dog too much when you're training and this can easily happen if you have a big bit of land with everything set up so that you move from piece to piece without a break.

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