Agility Training for Dogs: Ultimate Beginners Guide for 2023

Dog agility is becoming increasingly popular. Who doesn’t love watching the handlers directing their pooches through a pre-determined pattern of obstacles at Crufts?

However, I need to figure out how to get started with my pups or if they’d be any good at an agility trial.

With that in mind, we put together a handy guide on teaching your dog agility training exercises for beginners in the sport. This article will give tips on agility training for dogs, getting started, what equipment you’ll need and which dogs are best suited to tackling the obstacle course.  

What is Dog Agility Training?

Featured image for agility training dogs

Meaning “quickness and ease combined” in French, agility training focuses on developing balance and your dog’s coordination from one movement to another. Your dog runs an obstacle course that includes jumps, curved tunnels, a pause table and weave poles.

Ideal for Dogs with Endless Energy

Perfect for high-energy dogs, agility courses can be built in the back garden, or you can check out the USDAA (United States Dog Agility Association) British or American Kennel Club to find an agility class or local clubs. 

Dog training isn’t hard. For some small dogs or older dogs, agility courses can put pressure on your dog’s bones, joints and heart, so it’s essential to discuss with your vet before embarking on any strenuous exercise routine or joining agility groups. 

Your pup must get on with other dogs and understand basic obedience commands. Any dog can compete in local trials, but the best dogs are usually working breeds like Collies and Spaniels. 

Remember to keep training sessions short, to begin with, and you never know. You may have a future agility course champion! 

How Do I Start My Dog in Agility?

The following beginner dog agility routines are good ones to start with because most dogs will get the hang of them quickly. They are a terrific way to improve your dog’s focus, increase body awareness and learn basic skills. 
Dog owners can practice these quickly as they require little equipment, you don’t need to join dog agility clubs, and they need very few instructions:

What are some agility exercises for dogs?

1) The Tunnel

dog coming through a tube

This agility obstacle you can make at home. Use an open-ended cardboard box or a pop-up laundry basket with the bottom removed. One way to train your dog to be comfortable with this is to have someone wait at the other end with a treat. 

Puppies may find this obstacle tricky at first, but with some encouragement and tossing treats inside, they will soon get the hang of it. 

See what we thought were ideal dog tunnels for agility, as we have a list on this page.

1) Dog Push-Ups

The dog push-up is a basic command you can practice at the local park or on dog walks that teaches a dog to lie down and then stand up. 

It is done by holding your hand low, at your dog’s shoulders level. Your other hand should be above your dog’s head as if you’re going to give him a high five, but it will serve as a platform for the dog to use as leverage.

Start the exercise with your dog in a standing position. Tell your dog “dog push-up,” and gently put pressure on his shoulders so he’ll lie down. 

Once he’s lying down, withdraw your hand from his shoulder so he’ll return to standing. Give him praise and reward him with a treat or other reward for the effort.

3) Sit To Stand 

This training for dog agility combines three skills: Set the jumps and place your dog between two of them, so they have a clear path from one side to the other. The first command, “sit”, should be followed by “stand” as soon as the dog’s bottom touches the ground. 

This signals to the dogs that they must jump as soon as both feet are on the ground. Once they do, reward them with a treat.

For the next few reps, help with their timing by calling “sit” and “stand” in quick succession. Once the dog is reliably overcoming the hurdles on command with no assistance from you, only say ‘stand’ for a split second before you say ‘jump’, followed immediately by ‘good’. 

If your dog doesn’t jump straight away, give them another moment or two before releasing them with positive reinforcement.

Practice this agility training exercise with young dogs every day until *both* commands can be sent successfully without input on when to stand or jump. You can introduce them to more elaborate hurdles like a hula hoop, tyre or even a water jump. 

4) Tug Of War Games

dog grabbing a toy

Tug of War Games is a great way to practice agility for your dog. Tug of War is a game where you and your puppy take turns pulling on a rope until one or both can’t hold it anymore. 

The idea is that your dog learns to balance himself as he pulls the rope, which will improve his agility skills. Most of the agility toys on this list are great for this.

It also improves your dog’s impulse control, which is beneficial when teaching your dog agility.

Top Tip Teach your puppy the command “leave” before playing tugging games. That way, you are always in control

5) Teach Your Dog To Stay On A Mat

dog sitting patiently on a rug

One of the most common training exercises at home when you first start agility is “stay on a mat.” This exercise is straightforward and can be done with puppies. 

Place your dog on a mat and give the command “Stay”, then reward with treats and praise if they remain where they should

At first, you may need to help guide them back to their mat after each time they go away from it, but soon your dog will begin to understand the routine and will learn to stay on their mat for an extended period.

6) Teach Your Dog To Go Under Something

This trick that dog owners can do at home is called “go under something.” This one should be introduced just like “stay on a mat,” but instead of putting them in front of an object, put them behind one.

As with staying on the mat, teach precisely where they need to go by placing their food dish or treats on the ground directly under the chosen object. When they get used to going under the thing, extend the time you put them there by small increments until they can stay for 15 minutes or more without needing to be released.

7) Teach Your Dog To Back Up

Another canine agility training exercise they can learn quickly is “backing up.” This one is simple in theory, but it takes some time for dogs to understand what you are asking of them entirely. 

Place yourself directly in front of your dog and slowly back away from them while going through the verbal command of backing up until they begin following your movement with their body (without getting up). Once this happens, give them lots of praise! 

How long does it take to train a dog for agility?

dog running through weave poles

It will take 12-24 months for someone to train their dog to master an agility course. This depends on the experience of the handler or dog trainer and the ability of the dog. 

What Dog Agility Commands are Used?

Dog agility combines advanced off-leash obedience, directional commands, and overcoming obstacles. During agility training, dogs must understand body language and any verbal cue you give them.

The four most essential commands when you start training are:

  • Come
  • Sit
  • Stay
  • Down

The “Heel” command isn’t required when teaching your dog agility, as you will work with your pup on different sides, not just the left side. 

Equipment

There are a few! dog agility obstacles come in all shapes and sizes, from contact obstacles and tire jumps, depending on your dog’s confidence and propensity for vigorous exercise. 

A timed obstacle course will have a few classic pieces, including:

These kits can be easily made with low-cost materials or bought as a kit on Amazon. Why not consider building homemade obstacles if you’re super creative?

What is the most agile dog breed?

GSD jumping hurdles

Although all dogs can learn, making a champion agility dog takes a few qualities. 

First, your dog needs to be the right weight for its breed and shape and 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 trusts to take on the walking planks, as they cannot see the ends of them. 

Above all, for a dog to compete well in agility events, they need a reliable and trustworthy human to guide them!

Your canine companion can be something other than a purebred dog to compete, but they must be registered with the organisation on the breed or activity register. 

The following dogs tend to make superb agility sports candidates 

  • Border Collies
  • Cocker Spaniels
  • Golden Retrievers
  • Belgian Malinois
  • Jack Russell Terrier
  • Poodles
  • German Shepherds
  • Papillons
  • Springer Spaniels
  • Miniature Schnauzer 

How old does your dog need to be to compete

In the USA, dogs need to be 15 months of age to enter competitions, whilst in the UK, this minimum age is slightly higher at 18 months. 

This is to minimise the risk of injury to a growing pup. 

The grades 

Dogs and their owners can advance from grades 1-7 in the UK, with grade 1 being the lowest and grade 7 being the highest. There are two ways to progress to a higher stage: by the number of wins you gain or the number of points you achieve. 

FAQ’s

When should a dog start agility training?

As you’ve seen above, you can do exercises from a very young age that will benefit essential agility. However, proper training shouldn’t begin until your dog is fully grown and the breed determines this.

Is agility hard on dogs?

From mastering the weave poles to having at least one paw in the contact zone, dog agility requires balance, strength, speed, coordination and endurance; it puts pressure on the bones, joints and heart. 

That’s why it’s essential to discuss with your vet whether your pup has the physical condition and fitness to compete. 

What should dogs wear for agility?

Dogs must wear a flat collar when doing agility, as with any other form of restraint. For example, harnesses are banned in official competitions. 

Last Word 

Why not start agility training if your dogs are 15 months or older? 

Aside from teaching them basic obedience, dog owners find that it is an excellent workout for dogs and a way for them to get some exercise and be mentally occupied, too. 

a dog smiling with a trophy in its mouth

Creating agility obstacles can be a manageable expense in your dog’s training! As you have seen, many people do their backyard agility training using homemade blocks, an old picnic bench, a PVC pipe or a tire jump. 

Agility training dogs should be fun and safe for you and your pet! And so, your best bet is to go to your local pet store or check online for anything you are unsure about making yourself.

Any dog owner wanting to compete in agility trials with their dog should start with basic agility skills like jumps and weave poles before moving on to contact obstacles such as walkways, the down ramp and the teeterboard.

Many dogs, especially working breeds, enjoy fast-paced fun and find agility provides excellent physical and mental stimulation.

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 next obstacle 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 fast, furious and fun.

John Devlin

Blogger and owner of George and Henry. Two gorgeous goldens that couldn’t be more different. One is a dream loving and caring, and his sibling is as naughty as can be. When I am not blogging about dogs, I love watching sport and travelling with the family.
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