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:
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.
- 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.
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.
Read other articles
To Articles Page