Breaking the 'couch Pugtato' stereotype...

Pugs are eager to display their intelligence in a playful and energetic manner. They have been bred to be sensitive to humans which means that traditional agility training methods used with working dogs don't always suit the pug temperament. They are so much fun to train that it is easy to become addicted to both the breed and agility which can be frustrating, exhilarating and hilarious all at the same time. We asked a number of handlers about their experiences training their Pugs and Jugs.

When you think of Pugs, you may not think of agility. But think again, because Pugs can do agility. In fact, their owners say they can do pretty much anything any dog can do.

Miet Suelze, one of the pioneers of Pug agility in Belgium, says ‘Training pugs can be different to working with other dogs, but the cliché is probably true. Work motivated breeds like Border Collies, Aussies or Heelers or Border Collies are easier to train, just because that's what they were born to do.

The Flying Pug
Susannah Chalmers is proving that Pugs can do anything any other breed can do. Her aim is to show that anything is possible with a fit, healthy, active dog and that Pugs are clever, very trainable and biddable and actually relish working, given the chance.

In 2015 she adopted a rather chubby, unfit, but very cute 14 month old white pug from MuffinPug Rescue. Miss Marshamallow (Marsha for short) arrived at her home and was immediately put onto a strict diet and started on an exercise programme. They used to play on the children's play equipment in the village, and it was then that Susannah first noticed Marsha's love and ability to jump.

So Susannah decided to join a local agility club just for fun, fitness and to help with Marsha's socialisation. She picked everything up really quickly, and they both caught the agility bug!

Last year was their first year of Kennel Club competition. They started at Grade 1 and ended 2018 in Grade 3. This May they reached their goal for 2019 when they won out again into Grade 4.

In addition, Marsha obtained both her Bronze and Silver Agility Warrants, came top of the 2018 DARL League and qualified for the 2019 finals . She also won Bitz 'n Bobz Winter series 2018/19 in her division and came a close second in the Agilitynet Senior League - Gold Small and  fifth in SAMS League.

As well as agility, Marsha is trained in scentwork and in 2019 was part of the Dog Parkour UK display team which was proudly invited by the Kennel Club to Crufts. It was a first for Marsha and a first for Crufts as there had never been a white pug there before. Susannah was the proudest pug momma ever when we stepped out onto the famous green carpet!

There is a lot of negativity with regard to the capability of Pugs to compete at dog sports such as Agility or Parkour. Susannah's aim is to promote healthy, active pugs, and to inspire other pug owners to give agility a go through her fun PugAbility days where pugs and pug crosses can come, have a go, and help raise much needed funds for MuffinPug Rescue.

Marsha now has her own large social media following.

Susannah says, 'My goal this year is to hopefully get a grade higher (tick!), meet more lovely new friends, hopefully obtain our Gold agility warrant, continue to promote agility for pugs and make more special memories! Whatever we do, Marsha and I will be having FUN and enjoying the truly special, amazing relationship and bond that I have with a little white pug that can actually fly!

Rodney the whirling dervish
Chloe Hammond's
pug Rodney is five years old. Agility is his favourite thing ever to do! He gets so excited he screams at the start line! He spins round in circles and barks when agility is even mentioned!

They started agility when he was seven months old. It was really just running over poles but he loved it even then. They went to an agility club just for pugs (Pugility.) When their trainer left about a year ago, the members loved the club so much that they over the training and kept the club going.

  • Pros - Personality! They' re not known as clowns of the dog world for nothing! Rodney's so loving.

  • Cons - Typically they' re one person dogs so often will only run for one person. They are sometimes known as 'Velcro' dogs so may be reluctant to do distance.

Chloe admits that sometimes she finds it hard at shows because sometimes she feels like some people are laughing at them, but she's also had a few positive comments such as 'He's changed my mind about Pugs' and 'Rodney's good and you can tell he loves his agility.'

Sometimes Chloe worries about the heat at some shows, but always take his cooling coat and water and tries to find a shady place.

At the age of six months, Rodney was diagnosed with hip dysplasia and has been on Yumove supplements since then. Consequently they only ever do LHO Small which unfortunately means that they cannot enter some shows. The vets are happy with for them to continue doing agility and have said that the running has probably strengthened his muscles. When he had kennel cough and couldn't do agility and long walks in the park. She noticed that he seemed very stiff from not doing agility.

A grumble of Pugs
About 13 years ago, Miet Suelze fell in love with her very first Pug. Back then, the breed was very rare in Belgium. Today she has a 'grumble (pack) of Pugs' which are known for their positive approach and spirit. She trains according to the 'positive reward' method because what matters most is that the dog and handler have fun!

It all began when she adopted Mo and had difficulties bonding with him. To work on this issue, they started doing agility. Now, Mo is retired and her active agility pugs are Kaspar and Hugo. Kevin just passed the test to get permission to participate in competition.

She loves working and training with her Pugs. It creates an incredible bond. Training takes time, patience, trial and error. She firmly believe you need a click with your dog's personality to become a dream team.

Miet believes that the sooner one starts 'training', the more they'll learn and better remember. She got her three youngest pugs as a puppies (between 8-16 weeks, due to import restrictions in Europe), and she immediately started basic and very easy clicker training including things like sit, down, walking backwards and sideways, touch the hand, picking up a spoon, ringing a bell with a paw and turning around a cone. The point of all these little exercises are to make them learn to think for themselves and promote paw co-ordination, balance and the augmentation of their body awareness. A dog knows he has two paws - the front ones. You need to make them conscious about the back paws and the fact they can move all four separately. This will become the foundation of agility later.

 Other tips include:-

  • Personally I would never lure with food
  • Do very short sessions - Maximum 5-10 minutes and about three exercises per session
  • Be flexible - Sometimes you have an exercise in your head and you end up doing other stuff because the dog will be trying other things.
  • Always use positive reinforcement. I believe that Clicker Training is more effective than voice commands as you can react more quickly.

She has noticed that the weave poles can be more difficult for some Pugs, possibly linked to their short noses and flat faces. A Border Collie uses it's snout to push themselves in between the poles. Pugs can't do that. There are pictures of pugs doing the weave poles with their eyes closes because they have to push them with their face. Also the placement of the eyes makes it more difficult for them to estimate distance of the poles. It's not proven scientifically, but it's worth a thought.

A fun fact to know is that Pugs use their curly tail as a rudder to jump and co-ordinate. Kaspar normally has a double curly tail, but when jumping and running, he uncurls to steer.

Some pug owners have commented that Miet's dogs are  'underfed' and that she does stuff with them that they were not made for.

She replies, 'I feel I keep my pugs sporty. They are not overweight like so many other pugs and they are super intelligent. I am very proud of what they do. It's  a shame to have so many 'couch potato' Pugs out there who sleep from Monday to Friday, do nothing at all, all day.'

Jug dogs are a hybrid of the Pug and Jack Russell, blessed with the best traits of both parent breeds. On the whole, these little dogs are full of love and energy and make great family pets.

Michelle (Shell) Frankland has three Jugs all of which look different even though they all have a JRT Mum and Pug Dad. One looks like a Pug, another like a pure JRT and the third looks like a combination of both. With crossbreeds, you never know if they'll look like mum or dad.

Jug No.1 Teddy came along as a Christmas present for her daughter. Don't ask! They chose him as a puppy because he smiled and kept licking them. After passing his puppy course and KC Good Citizen, Shell  tried an agility 'just for fun' workshop with him. He seemed to enjoy it so they carried on with lessons. After a while, however, Teddy realised that he had more fun sleeping. Why would he want to jump over silly obstacles and run around!

Up stepped Jug No.2 Buddy who used to watch while Teddy played his 'just for fun' agility. Buddy is built differently to Teddy. He's smaller with stumpy legs but he looks like he works out at the gym. You could say he was shaped more like the Pug where teddy is Shaped more Jack Russell. He also has a habit of inverted sneezing, especially when he's excited or it's windy so Shell has to be careful of how much he could do.

Buddy had the time of his life. He loved everything about agility. He is small and built like a brick and he struggles to jump full height and, as he has what I call the hoppy leg, he only jumps Lower Height. He had his first independent competition and he had so much fun even thought we got eliminated on every run. After about a year of competing independent shows and KC and never going clear, she decided Buddy deserved more so they joined Whiteway Agility Training and basically had to relearn everything.

Or as Shell says, 'I had to be retrained is more like it. Bless little Buddy... He didn't care. He was just enjoying himself and would do anything I asked him to. Finally our first clear and 2nd place arrived. Buddy still didn't care. He was having time of his life. I, however, cried like a baby !'

Along came Jug No,3. At first, Shell wasn't going to do Agility with Bonnie as that was Buddy's thing. As Bonnie grew up, her legs got longer and longer and  she began to look like a Jack Russell with a pug tail. Eventually Shell decided to let Bonnie have a go at Foundation Agility. Oh, wow! She was awesome and fast.  So off she went to her first KC competition doing Anysize to see how she would react at shows as, although she's big and brave, she's also a nervous little soul. First show and first clear round.

'Shell insists, 'Jugs are so easy to train. They listen and are smart, and they pick things up so easily. I, however, am a different story!'

During her journey, she has met a few other Jugs that compete. At a competition over Easter, they met up with a couple and suddenly there were five Jugs running together in the exercise area.

Buddy (G4 with Jumping wins towards G5) struggles to keep up time-wise with the 'the big dogs' i.e. the spaniels in the Small classes , but he's a real trooper and gets so excited when he sees his agility collar go on.

Bonnie (G5) is so fast that Shell struggles to keep up with her so she doesn't always go clear but that's okay. As she's also quite nervous, sometime she struggles with larger shows so I never know what I' m going to get with her. We also had a moment on her second measure of going into Medium as she is so borderline but she managed to stay Small.

Teddy is still wondering why any dog would be silly enough to run and jump for no reason!

Shell says, 'I love my Jugs. They all have such different personalities and have to train them so differently. Teddy enjoys his Rally and sleeping and he will tell me when he's had enough. Buddy will do anything for me as long as he's enjoying himself, and Bonnie is so sensitive but wants to please and is really bright. If you want to take Agility seriously, I probably wouldn't recommend a Jug, but if you want to have fun and have a laugh, a Jug is for you.'

Pug X
Claire Firth took Minnie, her Pug x French Bulldog with some King Charles, along to agility training just before she was a year old. Don't worry. They didn't do jumps or contacts. Minnie clicked onto agility straight away. Nothing scared her.

Claire says, 'I am very pleased and proud of her because, though she not a Border Collie, she is still able to train and compete in agility. I do see comments from people about Pugs and Frenchies not being able to breath properly but, in my experience, this isn't true. Minnie is capable of doing anything a long nose dog can do. She a superstar!'

About the authors...

Susannah Chalmers (56) was born in the UK, but spent half of her life living in Africa until returning to the UK in 2010. In Zambia she ran an animal rescue shelter and organised mass rabies vaccination campaigns throughout central Africa.  She has a big horsey background. She did show jumping - hence her passion for agility - played Polo and Polocrosse at International level for Zambia. 

Susannah was given a tiny puppy from the only pug litter in Zambia in 2000 and thus the love affair with the breed began! When Lily sadly passed away in 2015, she adopted Marsha from MuffinPug Rescue, for whom she is an active volunteer. She now has her own 'grumble' - with two other rescue pugs - Poppy and Isaac who are also white pugs. Poppy is following in Marsha's pawprints and is currently in training.

Chloe Hammond lives in the East of England where she is a nurse. Rodney is her first dog.

Miet Suelze has owned pugs for the last 13 years and has adore the breed from the moment she first met one in the street. She only started agility training about six years ago. She currently at five pugs and every minute of her spare time is consumed by the pugs and she love every second of it.

Shell Frankland lives alone since daughter went off to Uni (super proud), with three dogs, two cats and two guinea pigs! She works as an estate agent and is lucky to be able to work from home most of the time, so she has lots of time to spend training whilst meant to be working!. If she does ever get time to herself, she likes  to go swimming but that rarely happens as she’d rather take the dogs out. 

Claire Firth was not a particularly confident before she joined East Yorkshire AC, but now she had found herself talking to more people at shows. She's learned that it's not just about competing but having fun with her dog and members of the club. This is the first time she has done any kind of sport with her dogs and is hoping to continue with her next dog, possibly a Boxer.

First published 28th May 2019


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