Dogs love to exercise and play, and giving your dog opportunities to expend some energy is one of the best ways to keep them fit and healthy. While most dogs are fine with simple walks around the block, some dogs would prefer something more intensive for their play sessions. Agility training is a good fit for these types of dogs, and can be both beneficial and a lot of fun.
Sometimes, getting involved with agility training can be intimidating – it’s normal to wonder whether you as a dog owner have what it takes to train your dog to make it through the whole course. However, with some patience and hard work, most dogs can reap the benefits of this sport and have a great time doing it. From smaller dogs like Moodles to big working breeds like German Shepherds, agility training has helped owners and dogs bond together. If you’re interested in getting started, read on.
What is Agility Training for Dogs?
Agility training is a canine sport that tests a dog’s ability to navigate obstacles in an obstacle course. It requires speed, physical fitness, strength and, most importantly, teamwork between the handler and the dog. Agility training has become an increasingly popular sport among both experienced and novice dog owners and handlers alike.
The standard course consists of a number of obstacles, including:
- Weave Poles
- Standard jumps
- Pause table
- Tire jump
Several of the original obstacles, such as the brush jump and window jump, are no longer used in the modern standard course.
Origins of Agility Training
The history of modern dog agility dates back to 1977 when John Varley asked Peter Meanwell to design a dog jumping competition for the Crufts Dog Show in England. It was originally meant to fill time in between other events of the show, but quickly became a fan favourite. The sport returned as a competitive event to the Crufts Dog Show in 1979 and took off running from there.
In 1988, the first agility event was held under U.K. Kennel Club regulations, solidifying the sport’s place in future dog shows. Today, agility competitions are held worldwide with more than 80 countries participating in international events each year.
Benefits of Participating In Agility Training
Agility training is a great way for dogs mentally stimulate themselves while having fun at the same time. It also strengthens their bond with their handlers as they learn how to work together effectively on different obstacles.
It’s also a great way to give your dog much-needed exercise, as the high-intensity nature of the course rewards dogs who approach it with a lot of energy and enthusiasm.
It’s important to note that you do not have to compete in agility training competitions to experience the benefits of the sport. It can simply be a way to exercise your dog on your own time, and many dogs go their whole lives without ever entering the show ring.
You may want to attend some agility training classes to familiarise yourself with the various obstacles, especially since buying them can be a big upfront investment. However, it’s also possible to construct your own obstacles at home if you’re prepared to go the DIY route – there are hundreds of guides on the internet that show you how to do it.
Before you get started on training your dog for agility, there are a few things you should consider beforehand:
- Age – Puppies as young as 8 weeks old can begin agility training, but it’s best to wait until they’re fully grown before they can tackle the complete standard course. Flatwork such as tunnels can be done earlier, but jumps and other obstacles that involve heights will need to wait. Smaller breeds may be able to start earlier than larger breeds due to their smaller size and lighter weight.
- Health – Make sure your dog is in good health before starting any new activity or exercise regimen. Have them checked by a veterinarian, and ensure they are not at risk of developing IVDD or other overuse-related injuries.
- Safety – As with any physical activity, safety comes first! Make sure you have the proper equipment such as an agility harness or leash, and treats with which to reward your puppy.
Tips for Success
The key to success in dog agility is practice. Start by teaching your pup basic obedience commands such as sit, stay, come and heel. You can then move on to more advanced commands like weave poles or tunnels once they have mastered the basics.
Make sure you reward your pup for good behaviour during training sessions; positive reinforcement goes a long way towards making learning fun for both you and your dog.
Familiarise yourself with all the different types of equipment and obstacles used in agility courses so that you can better teach your dog how to interact with it safely. This will also help prevent any injuries from occurring during your training sessions.
Once you feel like your pup has gotten comfortable with basic obedience commands, it’s time to introduce some basic pieces of agility equipment into their training sessions. Start by introducing something simple like a tunnel so that they can become accustomed to manoeuvring around obstacles without feeling overwhelmed. Once they have mastered this piece of equipment then you can start adding additional obstacles while still keeping things slow paced until they become more comfortable.