Exploring the Basics of Dog Agility Training

Have you ever watched those competitions on tv where dogs effortlessly leap over a set of poles, turn sharply and race through a tunnel? Then, the dog sprints up a teeter-totter, carefully touching the colored area on both sides and rushes back to their handler at the finish line for a treat? That’s a dog agility event! There are lots of breeds of dogs that like to be challenged and feel like they have a job to do. Agility training is one way to exercise your dog and keep them engaged mentally. In this blog, we will learn a bit about this sport, the types of obstacles involved, and ideas to make a fun and simple DIY obstacle for your pet at home.

Dog agility is an activity in which the dog is led through a series of obstacles that test performance of different canine abilities, such as jumping and full-body maneuvering. Agility competitions, or trials, have grown in popularity over the years and into an official sport. There are even clubs and schools dedicated to agility training.

As with most types of dog training, starting early helps them learn to focus their attention, determine what you are asking of them and sets your dog up for success as your companion. Your dog will look to you for guidance and this relationship is important for agility work, as you direct them through the layout and obstacles. Once your dog has been socialized and has completed at least some basic training, it is then time to begin to gauge their interest in agility games. If you dog is older and lacks training, it might be best to first work on teaching tricks, increasing attention span and handling exercises that encourage movement in specific directions at your command.

Typical obstacles in dog agility courses include weave poles, tunnels, hoops, a-frames, teeter-totters, water jumps and dog walks. Hours of training can go into preparing for agility competitions, but if you are looking for a fun way to challenge your dog and get in some extra quality time together, you can work on agility techniques at home in your own backyard or living room.

Is my dog suited for Agility training? Popular Agility Dog Breeds include, but are not limited to:

  • Labrador Retriever
  • Border Collie
  • Sheltie
  • Papillon
  • Australian Shepherd
  • German Shepherd
  • Pembroke Welsh Corgi
  • Jack Russell Terrier

We are not saying that your English bulldog couldn’t compete, but they’d be more likely to plow through an obstacle than anything else. In a competitive setting, agility courses are set up based on the dog’s height class, competition level and include a variety of obstacles that the dog must navigate quickly and correctly (without faults, like missing a touchpoint) to earn the highest score they can (out of 100). In addition to reductions for faults, scoring is also influenced by the dog’s time to get through the course.

More experienced dogs will have a different course than novice runners with more obstacles and a different layout order. Dog at the highest level of competition can earn an additional “send bonus” points, which includes the additional challenge of the dog being sent to an area of the course to complete obstacles, but where the handler is not allowed. This means that the dog does the work alone.

While your pup might not ever be ready for a TV debut, you can still create a simple course at home that will be fun for you both. One obstacle you can create is a simple jump. Make two stacks of books and put a broomstick across the gap in the stacks. See if your dog is willing to jump over the broomstick. If they do jump, try making the book stacks progressively higher to increase the skill level over time. To make a hoop obstacle, simply hold a hula-hoop and encourage them to walk through. Raising the hoop slightly and be sure to use a command when they jump through and reward with small treats. There are tutorials online that show you how to build obstacles from PVC pipe as well. Those are basic obstacles that are fun to use, but you could always purchase beginner kits online if you really want to pursue more serious training.

For more information, please see this guide from the American Kennel Club.

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