There is a reason our sport is titled Agility, it’s because our dogs need to possess a level of agility to get around a course fast, accurate, and safe. Our dogs need to know where their feet and bodies are at all times while running, jumping, and climbing the equipment. Sliding off the side of a narrow dog-walk or tumbling down an a-frame is something we never want to witness first hand, but know they are very real possibilities. We have all seen, in person or on video, accidents when fast dogs take a mis-step and cringe at the though of our dogs doing the same thing.
So what is to be done to keep your dog as safe as possible without losing drive and speed on course? Foundation work! Teaching your dog body awareness is paramount to keeping them safe on course. Agility ladders are wonderful training tools used to teach your dog foot placement and help them stay on the straight and narrow, so to speak!
If you are just starting out, you want to lay your ladder flat on the ground and start by shaping your dog to walk through it. Our ladder allows you to start your dog with a few steps and build them up to the full length. When your dog can trot through the ladder without stepping out you are ready to add some height. If it has legs you can flip it up onto its legs. If you are using a human ladder you can prop it up on bricks or 2x4s. Just be sure your dog will not hurt their feet on the edges as they go through the ladder. You don’t want to raise it above your dog’s knees or they will not be able to go through with proper cadence.
As a side note, not only does ladder work teach foot placement and hind-end awareness, it also builds muscle. Keep this in mind as you raise your ladder as you can sore your dog by doing too many repetitions at a new height and never drill your dog on the ladder or any piece of training equipment. Several short sessions over the day are far more productive than one long session.