Dog Agility Training - The Sport Dogs Love
Agility training is a popular sport where you direct your dog off-leash using voice and body language commands around an obstacle course. The sport is very exciting to watch and participate in! Many different types of agility equipment are available. Obstacles include A-frames, horizontal bar jumps, see-saws, elevated dog walks, tunnels, tires, hurdles, weave poles, pause tables, and more. Many owners use dog agility training for fun and exercise, with no intention of competing. Before starting, have your veterinarian perform a physical exam to make sure your dog is in good physical condition.
Dog agility provides a challenge and excitement, physical conditioning, and increases the bond between your dog and you. There are agility kits that provide all the equipment you need to begin an agility training program.
In competition, you or a handler run beside your dog and direct him through an obstacle course, with precision and speed, within a set period of time. Missed obstacles and going over the maximum time allotted are faults.
- Weave poles are a series of upright poles spaced out along a straight line. The dog must enter to the right of the first pole and weave through the others without missing a pole.
- Jumps are made of a bar between 2 stands. The dog must leap over the bar without knocking it down.
- Seesaws or teeters are shaped like a teeter-totter at the playground. The dog runs up the side touching the ground then goes to the other side.
- Tunnels are long tubes the dog must run through.
- The dog walk is a ramp. The dog enters at an end on an incline, runs along a narrow, level plank, and then takes the decline back to the ground.
- The pause table is where the dog runs and leaps onto the table. The dog must stop and rest for a very short period of time (5 seconds) and is commanded to "sit" or "down". The dog waits for the next command from the handler and then responds.
Make Your Own Agility Course
You can begin dog agility training at home without spending a lot of money, by using household items to build your own agility course. With all the obstacles, start with the lowest possible position. Lead your dog quickly to the obstacle. Move fast as you approach the obstacle and offer a treat and a command ("tunnel"), and gently coax your dog onto the obstacle. Keep things positive and train for a short period of time. Be patient and praise a lot! It can take several weeks for your dog to learn how to run through the obstacles.
- Agility Ladder: Place a ladder flat on the ground. Teach your dog to pick up his feet as he walks over each rung.
- Jump Obstacle: Balance a broomstick, or curtain rod across cinder blocks on top of each other. This setup allows the stick to fall off if your dog runs into it and keeps your pup from getting hurt.
- Tunnel: Cut the ends off of a large cardboard box to make a tunnel, or drape a blanket over a couple of kitchen chairs. Or, even better purchase a child tunnel.
- Weave Poles: Put garden stakes in the ground in a straight line, with each stake 24 inches from the next. Insert them in the ground with a hammer or mallet.
- Tire Jump: If you have a sturdy tree, hang an old tire through a hefty tree branch. (This is good for smaller dogs that can fit through the opening in the tire).
- Pause Table: Take an old coffee table, cut the legs to a height your dog can jump off and off easily. Train your dog to jump onto the table, sit, and then jump off to continue on the course.
In agility competition, there are several winners, because dogs are grouped into similar sizes and experiences. You will see all shapes and sizes of dogs doing agility. In agility classes and trials tiny dogs have lowered jumps, a lower table, and will be competing against other dogs his size. All agility organizations divide dogs into smaller groups in size and experience.
Dogs are measured in height at the top of their withers (shoulders) and divided into height groups. Dogs are also divided into experience levels, and some organizations divide dogs into additional categories for older dogs.
Also, some organizations divide handlers into categories, such as junior handlers (usually under age 18), handicapped handlers, or senior handlers.
Dogs are not separated by breed in agility competitions. Some organizations require that dogs entering competitions be purebred, but many organizations allow any healthy dog, whether purebred or mixed breed. Except for the AKC, many organizations permit deaf dogs to compete. Blind dogs and dogs with disabilities are not eligible for the dog's own safety.
It's very important to have your dog warm-up before beginning agility work and cool down immediately after agility work.
Have your dog do several minutes of fast walking, then move up to jogging. Let the dog gallop and stretch all muscles before agility work. The aim is to exercise all muscles that the dog uses during the routine. Also, go for a quick walk around the equipment and play fetch a few times. Stretch all his legs individually as the veterinarian does during a check-up. Then stretch his back by having him stand on his back legs and put his front legs up on you.
Cool Down Routine
Cool down after agility can include 5-10 minutes loose lead walking or gentle off-lead exercise to let his muscles cool down. You are trying to have your dog wind down, so no games that involve speed. Massage and stretch all major muscle groups, holding each stretch for 15 seconds.
Any dog, no matter what age, size, or breed can learn dog dancing. It's called Canine Freestyle, Dog Dancing, or Heelwork to Music. It is a very popular dog sport, and a great way to strengthen your bond with your pup! Along with agility and obedience training, dog dancing is a fun activity to do. The music can be anything that you enjoy with a strong beat.
First, your dog should know basic obedience training - sit, stay, down, wait, and recall. Then using clicker training or food rewards, you train your dog to do a series of tricks and moves and perform it in time to music where you dance together. Cues are given with your hands, legs, or the way your body moves.
Praise a lot and keep sessions short. Never punish your dog for not being able to do a routine. Start over at a time when you are in a good mood and most of all be patient.
- weaving through your legs
- walking on back legs
- jump through hoop
- jump over a cane
- circle, spin clockwise, or counter clockwise
- roll over on floor
- lift front paws
- jump over your arms or legs
- take a bow
Always check with your veterinarian if you have any questions about certain moves.
Canine Freestyle competition required moves include: Heeling, Frontwork, Changes of Pace, Backing and Lateral Work, Turns and Pivots, Circles, Serpentines or Spirals, and Distance Work.
Dog Agility Training Tips
- Consult with your veterinarian about agility training. Make his safety a top priority.
- 15-minute practice sessions are long enough. You might try several sessions a day, but keep the sessions short or your dog will lose focus or lose interest. If you're signing up for classes that last an hour, be sure to ask if there are regular breaks.
- Be careful with jumps, as landing too hard can damage soft joints.
- Use a leash, in the beginning, to show your dog what you want him to do and help you maintain control.
- Tell your dog what you do want him to do, not what you don't want him to do.
- When you introduce your dog for the very first time to an obstacle don't give it a name. When your dog is successful with an obstacle greet him on the other end with treats and ecstatic praise naming the obstacle.
- Classes and clubs are popular for learning skills. They give you and your dog a realistic training scenario involving an actual agility course, and the presence of other people and dogs.
- Competitions can be great learning tools, even if you and your dog are doing agility mainly for fun and exercise. Consider entering a few competitions in the beginning to gain experience.
- Warm-up before beginning a practice session to help your dog be physically and mentally prepared to work. Take your dog for a 15-minute walk immediately before agility, and toss a toy or something that will give him the opportunity to gallop and run free.
- Cool-down when agility training ends, take your dog for a short walk to lower the heart rate to its normal speed. Then offer your dog a treat or have him stand on his hind legs to stretch out the muscles.
- Offer water so your dog is hydrated after agility training.
- Separate obedience exercises from agility work. They're both necessary, but shouldn't be mixed in the same session
- Keep agility lighthearted and fun. Remember, it's not your dog's fault if he doesn't understand something. It's only an opportunity to try again.
Learning the sport of agility can be a fun and exciting adventure for both you and your dog. No other sport requires such teamwork between dog and owner. You will be amazed at the bond of trust you'll find developing between both of you as you work and progress together. Although it requires dedication, study, and a lot of hard work - the fun and satisfaction is very rewarding.