One area of agility training that has received a lot of notice in the last couple of years has been the so called 'rear end awareness'. This basically means teaching a dog it actually as 2 legs behind the front ones, as most dogs are inclined to only know about the front ones- after all the rear ones simply follow where the front legs go! There are a wide range of exercises designed to help increase the dog's understanding of this; with the idea being that it helps the dog be more self-aware in general, and definitely helps with teaching obstacle performance- particularly the contact obstacles.
The exercises I found useful with puppy Secret were as follows:
1) working with a box. Using a solid low box and a clicker, rewarding any interacting with her legs and the box. Initially I rewarded any contact with the box at all, later I only rewarded climbing on the box, back legs on the box and so on. Quite quickly she started offering 2 back feet on the box in quite a stretched out position which I rewarded and actually formed the basis of her contact work.
2) moving on the box- her placing 2 feet on the middle of the box and walking clockwise/anticlockwise round the box with her hind feet
3) teaching a proper left about turn and a 'get in' similar to the obedience move to heel position. It always surprises me how many people don't teach this to their agility dog- this move allows the dog to be accurately lined up at the start line as well as teaching hind end awareness. I taught it as a follow on to the moving on the box- once she was doing that well I inserted myself into the picture and moved away from her around the box, encouraging her to move with me. Because the box was there she couldn't move her front legs which led to a good left about turn/get in.
4) Work on the balance ball. This is all the craze in America at the moment, and I did find it quite useful for teaching her about balancing. I put her on the ball and initially just treated for being on the ball, later asking for a sit, down, stand and also wobbling the ball to encourage her muscles to work to support her. She actually quite enjoyed her ball work and got fairly proficient at balancing while I wobbled it around.
5) Ladder work- walking then trotting through a ladder lying down going through each rung with each foot
6) backing up- in a straight line, easiest taught in a corridor by throwing food between your legs and clicking when the dog backs out and away.
I repeated these exercises many times and I could see Secret's body confidence increase through the weeks and it definitely made a big difference in the introduction of the obstacles.