Resources


A great agility resource is the magazine devoted to the sport, Clean Run

 
 
 

 




Agility! Getting Started

 

The sport of agility made its debut in England at the Crufts Dog Show in 1978. Exciting for spectators, handlers and dogs, the sport has many enthusiastic supporters.

Patterned after horse show jumping, agility courses are made up of obstacles the dog and handler negotiate together. Winning and placing in competition, as well as earning agility titles, depends both on correct execution of the obstacles and on the time it takes to complete the course.

The obstacles include tunnels, weave poles, dog walk, A-frame, seesaw (also called teeter), pause table, and several types of jumps. Though the sport is relatively new, the skills involved have long been used in training, conditioning, and confidence-building for dogs. Obstacles used for agility aid in training police dogs, military dogs and search and rescue dogs. Obedience trials include basic jumps because the ability and willingness to negotiate obstacles in the way the handler specifies is part of the definition of a trained dog. Astute puppy breeders and puppy kindergarten instructors incorporate puppy-level obstacles in their programs in order to mentally and physically condition confident puppies. Later in life this early conditioning can be extremely important to your dog when facing new situations that look different and require walking on unusual surfaces.

Getting Ready for Agility

Training that prepares you and your dog to begin agility class needs your dog to do the following things reliably:

  • Come when called. Agility courses are run off-leash, and dogs get very excited. Dogs on the sidelines get excited, too, and all the dogs need to be under control as well as easily returned to control if they forget themselves momentarily. Some practice settings may be unfenced.

  • Sit and down on cue, and stay in either position until you give the release cue. These exercises are used to "anchor" your dog as well as establish you as your dog's leader in a nonconfrontational manner. You need both this control and this relationship for agility.

  • Peaceably tolerate other dogs and people, even in a highly exciting atmosphere. The perfect place to work on this ability is in basic training class. There you will receive instruction on how to teach your dog the control skills, and have a controlled environment to practice with skilled instructors and assistants watching. Dogs learn their work first in a controlled situation, and then you gradually increase the excitement level until finally your dog is able to respond reliably in agility.

  • Training/conditioning to eliminate in a designated area on cue. The exercise and excitement of running the course can cause an untrained dog to "anoint" the obstacles inappropriately and soil the pathways. No one wants to run around in a dog bathroom. Teach your dog to relieve before and after working periods in an accepted area. You'll need to get used to your dog's body schedule to learn the best times to eliminate.

Many other basic training skills will help the new agility competitor, but these will get you started. The joints of young dogs are not mature enough for the stress of jumping, so puppyhood and adolescence are perfect times to spend working on basic skills in classes that also acclimate your dog to the atmosphere of dog events.

Agility training requires obstacles for practice and instructors to help and advise you. Find opportunities for training with your dog. American Kennel Club agility events are one option. The rules, the titles, the jump heights and other factors differ from one organization to another. Find the ones in your area with the rules that best fit your dog.

Consult your veterinarian about your dog's age, health, and conditioning for the agility activities you want to pursue. Agility can be a fun activity for you and your dog on a casual level, noncompetitively, with jumps set to easy heights for your dog. Agility at the serious competition levels can strain a dog's body, and it's important to make sure your dog is suited for it. Your dog's welfare will always be your top priority. Make sure your agility class instructor knows what your goals are.

The Best Parts

Agility encourages people to train with their dogs. The basic skills needed to control your dog before you start agility training are the same skills for handling your dog in public places. This means you and your dog will be able to go more places together, which creates a wonderful bond between you.

Dogs feel that the leader of the expedition-an expedition being any trip beyond the house and fenced yard-is awesome! Taking your dog places raises your dog's opinion of you; that is, as long as you use the good training and handling skills the two of you learn together in class. If you behave in such a way that your dog feels safe to be out with you, your relationship is sure to become deeper and more rewarding.

Running and jumping are fun for dogs and people who can do so comfortably. The breed or combinations of breeds in your dog's genetics will influence the dog's enjoyment of agility. Jumping calls for having the dog in well-muscled, slim condition. Handlers run the course, too, so agility motivates humans to get into shape! People with disabilities can participate in agility, though, as is also the case in other dog sports.

The dog training developed by agility competitors is truly astonishing. Because they combine accuracy with speed, creative agility enthusiasts constantly develop innovative new ways to teach dogs to take direction.

As has happened with dog training of all kinds, ideas developed in the sport of agility are advancing work for other purposes, too. Even therapy dogs and assistance dogs make use of directional signals and verbal cues like those used in agility to maneuver in everyday settings.

We continue to learn more things dogs are capable of, and how to communicate these tasks to our dogs. In the process, we increase the ways in which dogs enhance human lives. Make no mistake about it: dogs love being deeply involved in our lives, helping us, and knowing they are important to us.

Agility is a fun form of exercise for people and dogs. It gives you a reason to get out and train with your dog, on your own as well as in enjoyable group settings with other dog lovers. In the process, you and your dog become a great team.

Kathy Diamond Davis is the author of the book Therapy Dogs: Training Your Dog to Reach Others.

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