A Beginner’s Guide to Agility Training for Dogs

A Beginner’s Guide to Agility Training for Dogs

A dog jumps a log with a toy in its mouth.A dog jumps a log with a toy in its mouth.
A dog jumps a log with a toy in its mouth.A dog jumps a log with a toy in its mouth.

Wanna keep your dog’s brain and body in tip-top shape? Agility training exercises are your best bet!

Agility training provides an outlet for your dog’s energy and boredom, and it’s the perfect opportunity to develop stronger communication skills between you and your pup. If you’re thinking about exploring agility training, this guide is the perfect place to start.

What Is Agility Training?

Agility training is a team activity for both you and your dog. As the handler, you guide your dog through a series of predetermined obstacles in a timed course as you try to race against the clock.

Agility courses have anywhere from 14 – 20 obstacles, depending on your experience level. These obstacles typically include:

  • Weave poles
  • Standard jump
  • Pause table
  • Tunnel
  • Dogwalk
  • Tire jump
  • Teeterboard

Is Agility Training Right for You and Your Dog?

Agility training is open to dogs of all breeds and sizes, but it might not be right for all temperaments. Agility is a very physical activity that requires a moderate to high level of energy. If your dog doesn’t enjoy running or prefers more relaxed, low energy activities, agility might not be right for them.

Additionally, if you have a puppy, you should start small with agility work and only complete an entire course when they’re at least 12 months old. Too much running and jumping can be tough on a puppy’s growing plates, which are still developing.

If your main concern is behavioral issues with your dog, agility could be a fantastic option for you! Lots of pet parents find that agility training helps dogs work through behavioral issues, since many of them stem from boredom.

While dogs of all breeds can benefit from agility, high-energy herding breeds tend to pick the sport up the easiest.

What You Need to Know Before You Start Agility Training

There are a few things you should know or prepare for before signing your dog up for their first agility class.

Your Dog’s Confidence Level

One main benefit of agility training is confidence building, but you should also work with your dog to build their confidence before you jump into obstacle courses.

Exploring and clearing obstacles requires a lot of trust on your dog’s part, and the self-confidence to follow through with actions that can be scary at first. These include running through tunnels, walking across seesaws, and jumping over high hurdles.

Working on small behaviors in your home that reinforce your dog’s independence and confidence builds a great foundation for agility. Confidence-building games are a good place to start as they help to increase your dog’s focus and willingness to try new things.

Basic Obedience Skills

Speaking of a great foundation, basic obedience skills are a must for agility training, particularly mastering commands like sit, down, and stay. These behaviors are the first step to accomplishing many agility obstacles, such as the pause table.

You’ll also need to reinforce your dog’s recall and impulse control, so they can succeed in classroom environments.

Time Commitments

If you want to teach your dog agility exercises at home for occasional exercise and fun, the amount of time required is entirely up to you. However, if you’re interested in agility lessons and competing, you’ll need a long-term training commitment to be successful.

Typically, you’ll attend an agility class once a week for about an hour, and then practice the moves you learned in class at home for at least 15 – 20 minutes a day.

Budget

Just like the time commitment, the amount of money you spend on agility training will depend on how dedicated you are to the sport.

Agility classes will range in price depending on where you live and whether you opt for group classes or private lessons. Group classes can range from $10 – $50 per hour, depending on the class, area, and instructor, while private lessons can range from $20 – $70 for a lesson.

You’ll also want to factor in the cost of at-home equipment. You can build your own obstacles for little to nothing, or you can purchase equipment. Practice equipment is relatively inexpensive, with tunnels running $20 – $50, while competition-grade equipment will be a higher price investment. Competition-grade tunnels are commonly priced in the $300 – $400 range.

How to Get Started

If you’re ready to get started with agility training, the good news is that the barrier to entry is low. Here are a few ways you can get started:

1. Check with Your Veterinarian

Before you start training, make sure your dog is healthy enough to start agility training. Have your pup thoroughly examined by your veterinarian to check for any health concerns that could affect their ability to participate in agility. Once you get the all-clear from your vet, you’re good to get started.

2. Start Your Training at Home

Start small with simple, foundational training skills using homemade obstacles. You can use an open box as a tunnel, a broom handle balanced on top of two boxes as a standard jump, or a hula hoop as a tire jump.

Starting at home is a great option if your dog is still a puppy, or if you want to get a feel for the sport before you make a big investment.

3. Find and Test Your Local Agility Club

If you’re ready to commit to a class, there are lots of great organizations to consider. Many local dog trainers will also offer private lessons, or you can search groups like the United States Dog Agility Association or the American Kennel Club to find a club near you.

Many classes will let you observe a sample class or attend a trial to see if the class is right for you. Visit a few different classes to make sure you like the instructor’s teaching style and the atmosphere of the class. If in-person classes don’t fit into your current schedule, there are also a wide variety of online agility courses to choose from.

Are You Ready for Agility Training?

While competitive agility requires a long-term time commitment, the rewards are worth it for both you and your pup. If you’re ready to get started, follow these tips and reap the benefits of this fun and challenging canine sport. Best of luck in the world of agility training!

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