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Curious about Dog Agility Training?

What is Dog Agility Training?Here’s What to Know!

When you take your dog out to the park, do his antics and physical talents make him stand out among the crowd? If so, you might want to consider some dog agility training to hone those skills. When a dog has the energy, drive and interest in physical activity to impress people and other dogs, it naturally follows that he’d enjoy honing those agility skills, and might even enjoy competing. Whether it’s just for fun, or for competition, dog agility training can be very fulfilling for certain dogs.

What Is Dog Agility Training?

Dog agility training is a competition sport that tests athletic talent and intelligence, or a hobby that uses similar physical fitness and course challenges for family fun and growth. In more detail…

Why Do Some Dogs Crave Agility Training?

A wild dog lives in a pack. That pack is like a tribe of nomads – they travel, they track prey, they groom and care for each other, they compete for the most desirable mates, they entertain each other. Naturally, in that lifestyle, it can pay to be a capable show-off. Dog agility training taps into those instincts and brings out the dog’s ability to become a superb physical performer. As a competition, there are many obedience factors, and the judging is very strict. As a hobby, it’s just a chance for your dog to become more awesome. So, whether it’s just to make your dog happier, and strengthen the bond between you and your dog, or whether you want to enter your dog in formal competition, dog agility training can be fun and rewarding. {module TOP ONLINE DOG TRAINING PROGRAMS REVIEWED|none}

What Are the Benefits of Dog Agility Training?

With very few exceptions, anything that makes use of your dog’s instincts, will make him happy. This means providing a diet of natural foods, teaching a Golden Retriever to play fetch, and making sure that working dogs have something to do. The mental and physical stimulation involved in dog agility training will make your dog stronger, faster, more confident, and much, much smarter. Your obedience training commands will “stick” better, and your dog will be more-able to learn as the agility training goes on. And, since this part is important to anyone who owns a dog with tons of energy: all that energy will be burned-off, resulting in a content dog with a very low chance of developing behavior problems. So, like all good things in a dog/owner relationship, dog agility training is good for your dog, and that makes your dog happier about the pack he’s in, which is a huge plus for both of you.

Which Dogs are Best for Agility Training?

The way we’ve bred dogs over the centuries, has a lot to do with which dog breeds have retained the skills that make a good athlete. In short, it’s the breeds who were bred for work, who make the best dog agility training students. Keep in mind that the American Kennel Club will only accept pure-bred dogs for competition, but there are lots of other agility training clubs that are more inclusive. Some of the best-performing dogs in agility sports are Collies, Corgis, Retrievers, Pinschers, Poodles, Papillons, Terriers, Schnauzers, Sheepdogs, Shepherds, Cattle Dogs … but this is only a short list. Medium sized work breeds are generally great at dog agility training, with a few exceptions:

  • Puppies can’t compete until they’re at least nine months old.
  • Don’t put an older dog through agility training – after eight years old, it’s time to relax.
  • Dogs with short snouts, such as Bulldogs, have trouble breathing during agility sports.
  • Dogs with shorter legs, such as Dachshunds, don’t have the jumping ability.

Bigger dogs are not so good at competition sports, because they run out of stamina. Now, all the above points are mostly related to dog agility training for the purposes of competition. If your dog loves to play and burn up tons of energy, and seems to be craving something rigorous to sharpen his body and mind – feel free to do a bit of dog agility training at your dog’s own pace.

Before Dog Agility Training, Master Obedience Training

Before you even think about starting your dog’s agility training regimen, you need to make sure your dog is perfectly obedient. This is true for many reasons: Obedience is key on the competition course; confidence is key to learning dog agility tricks; and thorough obedience training establishes you as the alpha, which will raise your dog’s confidence and power, helping him or her to skyrocket through the training. If your dog can sit, stay, heel, walk at your side on a loose leash, and so-on without any trouble, then he’s got the vocabulary skills and the obedience to begin dog agility training.

Dog Agility Training Ain’t “Kid Stuff”

Full-blown dog agility training isn't appropriate for puppies and adolescent dogs.Your dog also needs to be physically mature before beginning serious agility training. There are regulations for age, but that’s not the point: Your dog needs to be physically grown up, nearing his adult height and weight, in order to “handle himself” right. If your dog is still an adolescent and begins agility training, then there are risks of injury and bone deformity when doing high-impact sports such as jumping, dodging poles, etc. So, choose which agility training steps you start out with, wisely. Avoid bone-jarring activities, and you can begin teaching your dog some basic agility tricks right after obedience training is mastered.

Dog Agility Training is Hard Work

If you thought obedience training was challenging or involved, wait till you read this section. Like any athletic training, dog agility training is going to push your dog to the limit both physically and mentally. It takes almost a year to get a dog ready for his or her first competition. During that year, your dog will turn from a household buddy, into a hardened, disciplined athlete. With that in mind, you need to think like a sports coach. So, the first thing is to make sure your dog is in good health and the right physical condition. Have your veterinarian check your dog’s joints, heart and lungs, eyesight, diet, weight and agility, muscle mass, muscle health, and stamina.

Take things slowly. Start with high-energy play, such as fetching a Frisbee, tug-of-war with a rope, and long, hearty chases. Eventually you’ll want to start using short tunnels or low jumps. Never start more than one agility trick at a time, and never start at the regulation height. Regulation jumps and courses are for trained professionals – early on in your dog’s agility training, you’re just getting your dog used to vigorous exercise, building his confidence, and so forth.

Note: When starting competition routines, don’t start with regulation difficulty. That’s likely to frustrate and discourage your dog, and quite possibly injure him or her.

Every time you add equipment to your dog’s agility training, you’ll also be adding new commands. Some of these commands are things like left, right, up or down; fast, slow, away; things like that. Use lots of love and encouragement, and never scold or show disappointment for failures. Most of all, watch your dog’s reactions – if his head is low or his tail is down, he’s not enjoying himself. If your dog isn’t enjoying agility training, then why bother? Once you’re at the point of building on successes, and you’re literally “raising the bar,” it’s time to get in touch with your local dog agility training club. You can probably also find at least one person near you who’s also training their dog for agility, and wants a buddy to train with. Most of all, remember that the training needs to be fun for you and your dog. If you “keep your eyes on the prize,” then it’s going to become work.Focus on the journey, and the family bond.

Good Equipment is Key to Dog Agility Training

This is true whether you’re going to enter your dog into competitions or not: You need certain equipment. Cardboard boxes and duct tape are no substitute for a good tunnel; and do you really want to spend days or months building weave poles in your garage? Dog agility trainers, whether pros or hobbyists, need good equipment. Starting dog agility training without good equipment, would be like taking up running, in work boots or dress shoes. And, if your dog is going to compete, then you absolutely want him to be familiar with the equipment. In that case, you also need to be sure the agility training equipment conforms to competition standards. Some equipment can be set up for both early agility training, and competition practice.

Here are the kinds of agility training equipment you’ll want to consider:

  • A-Frames: An A-shaped, hinged obstacle that your dog climbs up on one side, and down the other.
  • Weave Poles: This is like a slalom you might see on a ski track or skating competition, but with smaller spaces between the poles. Your dog weaves back and forth between the poles.
  • Dog Walks: This consists of three planks raised off the ground, and arranged in a zig-zag shape at 90 degree angles. Your dog hops up and walks to the center plank, then traverses that, then walks off the third plank.
  • Tunnels: These come in rigid, or collapsible versions.
  • Seesaws: Just like a seesaw you would ride as a child, but with one side weighted so that it returns to its original position when your dog walks off it.
  • Tire Jumps: Another simple one. Your dog must jump through a tire that’s suspended by a frame, without touching the tire itself.
  • Bar Jumps: These come in single, double, and triple jump variations. The arrangement is that your dog leaps from platform to platform, with a horizontal bar between each platform. The bars will be at differing heights, like stairs.
  • Pause Table: The pause table is a 3’x3′ platform that your dog jumps up on, lays down on for a few seconds, and then jumps off of.
  • Pause Box: This is a simple one – it’s just a 3’x3′ box drawn on the ground using tape, that your dog uses the same as a pause table, but on the ground.

Remember – for most of the above kinds of dog agility training equipment, you really need to get professionally-built goods. If the equipment breaks, splinters, or is built to the wrong specifications, your dog can hurt himself, and that will probably be the last time your dog wants anything to do with agility training. Most bigger cities have a company or two, who will rent out this equipment. Once your dog is beginning to master his or her agility training on that equipment, you’ll want to look into the different kinds of agility training courses and competitions – or you might just want to take your proud, confident dog back to the dog park to show off! In any case, you’re going to have a lot of fun, and both of you will be in top shape by the time your dog agility training is well underway. Good luck, and have fun!

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