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puppy kindergarten
week 6 homework

Enrichment - Confidence Courses

Just as the name suggests, confidence courses should be designed to facilitate the development of confidence through choice, body awareness, and environmental interaction! Get the family involved in this one – kids love setting up challenges like this for their pets.


  • Help your puppy develop awareness of how their body moves, where their limbs are, and how to adjust and shift their weight to compensate during physical challenge

  • Boost confidence through safe environmental interaction

  • Provide physical and mental challenge to pet dogs

  • Encourage dogs to interact with novel or weird things in their environment



  • Mostly, we're focused in Puppy Kindergarten on puppies, whose brains are forming resulting in improving coordination as the relevant brain areas mature, so exposing them to manageable and minor stressors that they can overcome is important to help them develop resilience.

  • But, shy and older dogs often find benefit in these courses, too! They are learning to interact with their environment, being exposed to novel stimuli and sensory experiences, and engaging their cognitive and sensory systems…the world can be challenging but you have skills to cope!



  • Take your time with this one and listen carefully to your pet.

  • Set up your confidence course without your dog; allow them to enter and investigate first, before you do anything else – they get to decide how much they interact or participate

  • I really recommend against luring your puppy into the course - just let them take their time and check it out. Using a lure can limit your dog's choices or have them making a choice they would not otherwise make if they weren't trying to get to the food you're offering. Luring isn't awful and can be used in cases where your puppy is needing some help figuring out what is next; but we don't want to inadvertently lure a puppy into a scary or startling situation.

  • Luring may not be the best choice, but you can use food to reward a puppy after performing or accomplishing a particular obstacle, etc.!

  • This is not a race – the goal here is to help the dog move slowly, gathering information, considering how they wish to proceed, how they place each foot, and compensate for different challenges.

  • Work with your dog on leash if it helps them slow down and move with more consideration.


Confidence courses can involve one or all of the following categories!

Category 1: Visual

  • Big things

  • Novel things – things that your dog hasn’t interacted with up-close

  • Familiar things, presented in a new way; for example, place something in a new location or position (setting a chair on its side)

  • Reflective things like mirrors or tin foil sheets

  • Illuminated things like toys that flash or sparkle (no laser lights or other things that cast shadows or reflections)

Category 2: Auditory

  • Crinkly things like paper bags, IKEA bags, newspaper, bubblewrap, plastic sheeting, tarpaulin

  • Lay a blanket or towel over crinkly things to change the sound and texture

  • Waterproof type bedding, human rain gear laid out

  • Keyboards, music, or sound making toys – things that the dog can turn on or off (must be about choosing exposure)

Category 3: Propioception & Balance

  • Wobbly things: wobble boards, balance discs, inflatable conditioning equipment

  • Lay a blanket over some cushions or pillows; lay a board over a cushion and top with a blanket; lay a plank over a length of PVC pipe for a see-saw

  • Add height with various things - steps and stairs, coffee tables, patio or other furniture

  • Get dogs ducking under chairs, tables, hedgerows

  • Lay a blanket or streamers over a chair or table for your dog to move under

  • Use a tunnel or other children’s play furniture

Category 4: Feeling & Texture

  • Choose nobbly or prickly things such as different doormats, fake grass

  • Put a towel or blanket into the fridge or on the radiator for 20 minutes

  • Areas that require walking on different substrates such as gravel, mud, sand, concrete, carpet, slick flooring

  • Add an inch or two of water to a shallow tray or plastic tub

  • Puddles are a nice introduction to water, and even just walking through shallow water encourages cognitive challenge.

Category 5: Scent

  • Food rewards

  • Sniffing the obstacles, especially if they’re novel items

  • Incorporating natural smellies such as branches, grasses, foliage

Category 6: Manipulation

  • Stuffables that require holding, lapping, chewing

  • Suspended stuffables which increase the challenge in using their mouth to manipulate

  • Teasers so that the dog must move something out of the way to get the goal

  • Snuffle mat or snuffle puzzle

  • Maybe it’s a toy they play with, hold, carry or tug – it all adds another dimension to the course.

Option 1: Homemade Confidence & Obstacle Courses

  • Begin small with one or two obstacles.

  • Start with familiar items and experiences, and add more novel items from different categories.

  • Construct confidence courses that incorporate as many different categories of challenge as available. Switch them around, add and subtract all to keep the experiences exciting and novel.

Option 2: Agility Courses

  • Keep in mind that you have young puppies and they should not be jumping very high or low, racing up and down stairs, or putting too much pressure on their growing joints for extended periods of time.

  • That said, an inexpensive agility course can give you a head start on some obstacles without the need for building the obstacles yourself or you can take it on the go!

  • I purchased the course you saw in class on Amazon!


Option 3: Agility Anywhere

  • Confidence courses don’t just have to be set up indoors, in controlled environments, and put together by you and your family!

  • Adventure Walks are especially beneficial for puppies, who are just learning about the world, but all dogs will benefit from appropriate exposure to sensory and physical challenge.

  • Let the dog explore and interact with their environment, without too much interference from the humans. Use food rewards sparingly and only once comfort has been established:

  • Think about places you can take your dog so that they can experience these categories of challenges as they naturally occur.

  • Wooded areas, parkland of different aspects and substrates, even urban and suburban areas offer lots of variety, from different sounds, smells and substrates, to physical and propioception challenges that require climbing, jumping, ducking and balancing.

Practice in short sessions of just a few minutes at a time. As you notice your dog becoming more clumsy, that’s a good indication that they are tiring, mentally and physically. The dog might knock things, might attempt to jump or rush obstacles, or might show reluctance to engage with the items.

Note: many of the ideas and information above can be credited to AniEd Ireland! The info was provided as part of the 100 Days of Enrichment challenge that I'm pretty fond of!

Socialization - Grooming

We touched on (no pun intended) body handling in Week 1 of class and focused largely on handling that occurs with your hands - inspecting, touching, and handling various parts of your puppy's body. This week, however, we incorporated various tools for the purposes of grooming - something that can be a little scary and / or challenging for some puppies!

Again, we practice all this stuff for a variety of reasons:

  1. It makes visits to the veterinarian a little less stressful. If you’re regularly practicing some of the things the vet does during annual examinations or might need to do during emergency visits, your dog will be less anxious and stressed about a strange vet doing those things.

  2. It makes grooming tasks, such as hair trimming and nail clipping, less stressful and anxious for your dog and for you.

  3. If you’re regularly doing a pretty good check of your dog’s body, you’re more likely to notice changes in your dog – lumps or bumps, scratches or scabs, and ticks, for example – and know approximately how new those changes are.

  4. It’s fun and relaxing – for both of you!


It can be helpful if you already know what "sticky spots" your puppy has - areas that your dog is not super comfortable being touched or explored. If you know of them or find any sticky spots, it's a good idea to put in extra practice with those areas or, at least, be extra cautious and heavy with the treats.


Additionally, consider which tools you might use with your puppy over their lifespan or that the groomer or vet may use:

  • Brush

  • Nail clippers

  • Towel for wiping feet or drying off the body

  • Stethoscope

  • Razor for trimming the body

  • Scissors for trimming face hair

  • Toothbrush

  • Bathing items - wipes, shampoos, showerhead, bucket, hose, bath tub or basin, etc.

  • Paw wax or boots

Below is a process you may follow to work on brushing with your puppy (and, perhaps teaching the puppy that the brush is not a toy):

  • Hold the brush up; when your puppy looks at it, take it away and place a treat in front of your puppy.

  • Move the brush toward your puppy a couple inches; when your puppy looks at it, remove the brush and place a treat in front of your puppy.

  • Lightly touch your puppy in a spot they may see (like the hindquarters) with the brush; take it away and place a treat in front of your puppy.​

  • Touch your puppy with the brush and pull it through the hair for a short stroke; take it away and place a treat in front of your puppy.

  • Etc.

We're breaking the process of brushing down into tiny pieces and making each of these pieces rewarding for your puppy, so that the entire process of getting brushed and touched by a brush is not scary or startling - it's actually really rewarding and worth sitting still for! Practice with any of the tools mentioned above and, every few sessions or so, “up the ante” a little and try for something just a bit further than you did in the last session; however, move at your dog’s pace. If it seems like they need a little more work at one level before moving on, then stay there for a couple more sessions and check back in!​

Pattern Games

Pattern games are a repetitive, predictable framework of cues and behaviors that helps a dog process the environment – patterns weave a safety net of predictability and expected behaviors into an unexpected, uncomfortable, or unpredictable situation.

Patterns are all of the following:

  • Safe

  • Predictable

  • Repetitive

  • A natural part of learning (patterns make learning easier and faster)

  • Normalizing – a dog can process the environment from the safety of the familiar pattern


(Note: These games were created by Leslie McDevitt as part of the Control Unleashed program.)


Ping-Pong Pattern Game

For those dogs that may prefer movement more to sitting still or staying in place, this pattern game is a good option (perhaps as an alternative to the Up and Down Pattern Game)!

  • As the name of the game implies, this game bounces your dog back and forth a bit.

  • While standing or sitting, roll a treat to the right; your dog should chase and eat it.

  • When your dog returns to you, click and roll a treat (or simply roll a treat) to the left.


The game can be played with a little bit of space, indoors, outdoors, etc. – possibilities are endless!

The goal is not to completely distract the dog, but to provide a predictable activity to join in on as an alternative to other behavior responses to something in their environment (a distraction or trigger).


Up and Down Pattern Game

This game is a good option for those situations when you’re waiting – to take turns, to find out what is going to happen, or are stuck in place – and your dog needs some extra structure to process what’s going on in the environment.

  • Sit or stand facing your dog and put a treat on the ground in front of yourself.

  • Your dog should, ideally, eat the treat, then look back up at you (“Can I have another one?”).

  • Click when your dog looks up or simply put another treat down on the ground.


Every time your dog looks back up at you, drop or place another treat on the ground in front of you!

Your dog is definitely allowed to acknowledge their surroundings – we’re not looking to distract the dog, but give a familiar framework to acknowledge the environment from!

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