Dog Agility is becoming increasingly popular. I, for one, love watching the handlers directing their pooches through a predetermined pattern of obstacles at Crufts, but I would have no idea how to get started with my own pups or even if they’d be any good at it.
With that in mind, we thought we would put together a handy guide for beginners in the sport; we’ll be looking at
- The benefits of dog agility
- What equipment you need
- How to find a training club
- Tips on dog agility training for beginners
Dog Agility – The Benefits
We often think of exercise and training as being great for helping your pup release some pent-up energy. However, it is also essential to know that your dog needs more than just physical stimulation. Mental stimulation is vital, too!
A dog who is not challenged mentally will quickly become bored and act out in various ways. Dog agility training is an excellent way of getting them to exercise and concentrate.
Exercise for Both Dog and Owner
Agility training can do wonders for your dogs’ physical health and for yours, too! You will have to trot alongside your dog and meet them in certain areas, keeping you moving at an easy pace for however long you like.
For those who do not enjoy dedicated exercise, agility training with a dog is an excellent way of working out without really even noticing.
Keeping your dog physically and mentally stimulated will naturally make them happier, which will, in turn, promote better behaviour. Of course, they will be tired after their training and will likely want to nap more than anything else, but agility training does more than that.
It is genuine training that your dog will benefit from education-wise. They will have to listen to you and learn things like heeling and staying.
Build a Bond
Spending time with your dogs is essential to help build a bond with them, but that’ll mean more than just sitting around in the same room occasionally! Agility training will provide you and your dog with dedicated time to focus on each other and any surrounding objects you choose.
You will have to listen and watch each other intently. This will naturally lead to you to building a stronger bond together.
Agility training provides an excellent way of improving your dog’s behaviour in social situations, too. Your dog will learn how to handle inevitable distractions and loud noises and to, above all else, listen to you.
They will make new friends at agility classes and this will get them used to other dogs.
What Equipment do you Need for Dog Agility Training?
Dog agility obstacles come in all shapes and sizes depending on your dog’s propensity for vigorous exercise. A great place to start is to look at top dog obstacle equipment
online – but if you’re really stuck on what to throw into that first agility trial or two, start training with the following picks:
A Basic Agility Course
Most basic agility courses have a few classic pieces, including weave poles, a dog walk, jumps, a pause bow, a tunnel, a tire jump, and a teeterboard. These things can be easily made with low-cost materials or bought as a kit on Amazon. Why not consider homemade obstacles if you’re super creative?
Jumping can be great fun, and use all of your dog’s joints to traverse. Puppies can start jumping at a young age, but you should undertake them as safely as possible! Do not let your puppy try them before they are at least 12 to 15 months old.
The best thing to do is to start your dog on the lowest jumps. Even if they seem tall enough to go higher, their bodies are still developing! Keep sessions short, between 5-10 minutes is sufficient for many dogs.
A tunnel is an exciting and essential part of any dog agility training course! Although it may seem like an easy obstacle, it can take some time to teach your dog how to use it. Your dog will not always see the other side when entering. They have to learn to run in at full blast and trust that you guide them to safety. Stuck on ideas? Learning how to build a dog agility tunnel will not take you very long!
A tricky part of an obstacle course, start with 2 people; one can hold the pup at the entrance to the tunnel while you encourage it through with a tasty tidbit.
In competitions, dogs are asked to mount a pause table; however, they can take up too much space for domestic purposes and are a lot more expensive than pause boxes! It’s hard for a dog to sit in the middle of all the excitement of a course, so this timed obstacle is an excellent way to test their obedience.
Start with a mat or cover a low wooden box with non-slip material and set a short time limit.
Weave poles are probably the easiest items for you to make yourself. Pool noodles or plastic tubes will do perfectly well for this part of the course. You must teach your dog to run in between each pole, not missing any on their way. They are usually set 60 cm apart and normally in dozens.
Training your dog to master the poles isn’t difficult; start with the poles far apart and then bring the poles closer as your pup follows you in between.
More Advanced equipment
If you are considering entering your dog in a dog show, or would simply like to challenge them further, then there are a few extra bits that you could consider making or buying. Listed below, you will find more advanced equipment to challenge your dog further, both physically and mentally.
The seesaw is quite a challenging piece of equipment for a dog, especially fitted into an entire course. Your dog will have to learn how to control its speed and, most importantly, its balance over this strange item. It is an excellent piece of training equipment for both big and small dogs.
Dogs must place at least one paw on the contact zone of the teeter board, so it pays to start with them doing this separately, not in the fast-paced environment of a complete course where they are desperate to tackle the next obstacle.
This frame on a dog agility course consists of two planks of wood that are propped up against one another to create an A-shape. The dog is supposed to run over the planks, requiring speed and control – especially for the descent.
Contact obstacles aren’t too difficult to conquer. Start with the frame flat and increase the height slowly once your pooch is completely confident each time working on the contact points.
Walkways are essential parts of any dog agility training course and are more challenging to master than one might think! The idea is for the dog to climb the ramp at one end, walk along the flat plank in the middle, and descend the other ramp at the end.
Start low and increase height with your pup’s confidence; make sure this equipment is extremely secure as you don’t want your best friend falling.
Long jumps are meant to train your dog to jump far and low instead of regular dog leaps, which test their jumping height. It is essential to have a long jump made up of soft blocks so that if your dog falls or does not complete the jump, they have something soft to land on.
Move the poles close together to make it easier when starting out.
Have You got a Champion Agility Dog?
Although all dogs can learn how to train on agility courses, it takes a few qualities to make a champion agility dog.
First of all, your dog needs to be the right weight for their breed and shape, and they need to be in good physical condition. Training a dog in a competitive sport who has difficulty moving or who is prone to joint pain would be a mistake and cruel to your dog.
Secondly, a good agility dog needs a certain amount of bravery. Although it may not seem like it to us humans, taking on some of the obstacles on those courses does take some nerve. For example, it takes a good amount of courage and trust to take on the tunnel, the seesaw, and the walking planks, as they cannot see the ends of them.
Above all, for a dog to compete well on an agility course, they need a reliable and trustworthy human to guide them!
Finding Dog Agility Training Classes
The best way to get involved in dog agility training is by joining local clubs and agility classes. Starting at home is great, but nothing beats learning from professionals and being able to see your dog train alongside other puppies in classes for dog agility!
Here in the UK, the best thing to do to find an agility class for dogs near you is to check out platforms such as AgilityNet.
Be sure to contact any agility groups you join before going in to make sure that you will be attending a class that best suits you and your dog’s level of training.
The next thing that you should consider before taking your pup is how they will be in the class. They need to be trained in simple commands like sit, stay etc. and be well socialised. You do not want to be the pair that are constantly disrupting the fellow students!
You may also need to check out different classes before finding the right dog trainer for you and your pup.
Competing in Dog Agility
To participate in dog agility competitions, you must:
- Register your dog with The UK Kennel Club.
- Read all the rules and regulations regarding Kennel Club competitions before signing up.
- Your dog must be at least 18 months old.
- If your dog is small or medium-sized, it must be officially measured and placed in the category that is best suited to them, as small breeds and large breeds do not compete in the same courses.
- You must purchase an agility record book. This will be used to note your dog’s official measurements and any competition that you and your pup have participated in.
If your dogs are 15 months or older, then why not start agility training?
Aside from teaching them basic obedience, dog owners find that it is an excellent way for their dogs to get some exercise and be mentally occupied, too. Find out which agility equipment for dogs is best before you start.
Creating agility obstacles does not have to be a considerable expense in your dog’s training! As you have seen, plenty of people do their backyard agility training using homemade obstacles, using an old picnic bench, a PVC pipe or tire jump.
Agility training dogs should be fun and safe for both you and your pet! And so, your best bet is to go to your local department store or check online for anything that you are not sure about making yourself.
Any dog owner wanting to compete in agility trials with his or her dog should start with low objects and hurdles before moving on to walkways and the teeter board. Learn how to build a dog agility course here.
Most dogs, especially working dogs, enjoy fast-paced fun – and you’ll know what your dog enjoys in particular, so take their needs into full account.
It’ll take time before dogs learn to walk backwards on command, navigate the tight turns and overcome the obstacles in the correct order but if your pup understands basic commands, is eager to please and full of energy, an entry-level agility event may be just the thing. Best of all, agility classes are a whole lot of fun.