Our Guide to Dog Agility Training
Looking for a sport that both you and your dog can enjoy? Check out dog agility.
“Agility” is an obstacle course made up of tunnels, walkways, and jumps. A dog and their handler work together as a team, navigate obstacles in a specific order. What makes dog agility unique is that pet owners and their dogs can either participate for fun and exercise, or really commit to it and enroll in competition to test their skills against other teams.
Best of all, it’s a great teamwork sport and a wonderful opportunity for you and your dog to bond and spend quality time together. Since your dog depends on you to tell them how to take each obstacle, you will develop trust, better communication, and a deeper bond. Your dog will enjoy the exercise and the feeling of having a job or purpose. It will also help to keep your dog’s body fit and their mind sharp.
What Is Dog Agility?
Dog agility is a timed event. The dog and handler with the fastest time on a course (without errors or penalties) are crowned the winner. A typical agility course will feature 12 – 18 obstacles. Obstacles can consist of tunnels, jumps, hurdles, weave poles, or ramps. The goal of the course is to force teams to encounter a variety of obstacles and test different forms of agility.
Unlike dock diving or treibball, where the handler is largely stationary, the handler moves around quite a bit in agility competition, since they need to quickly lead their dog through the course in order to secure a competitive score.
Who Can Participate in Dog Agility?
Agility can be practiced with any breed of dog, no matter the size. The obstacles on a course are adjusted to fit the size of the dog. A dog and handler only need to be healthy enough to run through the course. If you’re interested in getting into dog agility, a good way to start is to contact your local agility club or an experienced coach, who can help you start your new hobby safely. Also, the age of the dog does not bar them from participating in agility. This game can be enjoyed by puppies and older dogs alike!
How to Practice Agility Training with Your Dog
To get started, begin basic skills training. You can purchase agility equipment online or start by working with homemade obstacles, like using a hula hoop for a tire jump or a large open box for a tunnel. You can also create weave poles by sticking PVC pipes into the ground, use a broomstick balanced on books as a low jump, or throw a blanket over two chairs to create a tunnel.
There are plenty of books and videos on dog agility training that can walk you through the process or you can learn the basics by joining a local agility class.
Your dog will be working off-leash, which means that they are free to run wherever they choose. You can’t touch your dog during agility training, but you can use cues and body language to direct them to where they need to go. Clear communication is key in dog agility. Your dog should be focused and keep their eyes on you as much as possible.
Don’t worry if your dog doesn’t catch on quickly. Some dogs are ready to move past the basics in just a few weeks, while other pups need more time and patience. Just remember to use a lot of praise and encouragement. Start by keeping your early home training sessions nice and short – they shouldn’t be any longer than five or ten minutes. The goal is to keep it fun and to stop before your dog loses interest.
Here’s a brief overview of training exercises for common obstacles:
When practicing jumps, you should lower the bar so it is only a few inches off the ground. Before going for a jump, let your dog explore the equipment. Let them walk near it and take some sniffs to feel more comfortable with an unfamiliar object. When your dog becomes familiar, take them over the bar on a short lead and praise them when they clear it. Repeat this process slowly, raising the bar over time, but never to a height where they can knock the bar. With enough practice, they’ll get to the point where they can clear it on their own.
Chutes and Tunnels
Despite being two separate obstacles on a dog agility course, you can train for chutes and tunnels in the same way. First, fold the chute so that it is shorter in length, making it an easier challenge for your dog. Place a long lead on your dog’s leash that feeds through the chute and get them to sit at one end. Head to the other side and verbally encourage your pup to come through. If they don’t, try using their leash as a gentle guide. As they learn to travel through the chute or tunnel, make sure to shower them in praise. As they get more comfortable going through on their own, extend the chute or tunnel slowly until you finally hit the full length.
Weave poles are common obstacles in agility, but they take a bit of work from a training perspective. A good way to start is by leashing your dog and walking them through the poles slowly. After a few rounds, ditch the leash and try deploying voice commands to guide them through the poles. As with the other steps, celebrating their progress is a great way to condition them to get through the poles on their own.