An Introduction to Dog Agility Training
Among the many canine sports, dog agility training has been quickly and steadily growing in popularity. Perhaps one of the main reasons for this gain can be attributed to the fact that this sport offers an outlet for a dog's instinctual behaviors.
If your dog is a ball of energy and a working partner eager to have a job, then you may be interested in learning more about training your dog for agility.
The structured ambiance of an agility course, along with the need for concentration, focus and speed, can also help calm down hyper dogs.
Even if you are not planning to take it to the competition level, you can still use some techniques from dog agility training to have fun with your dog in a park on a sunny day.
What is Dog Agility Training?
Dog agility somewhat resembles an obstacle course designed for horses. This resemblance is not coincidental; indeed, this sport was initially crafted by a horse enthusiast in 1978.
He was attending the Crufts Dog Show in London when, between events, he decided to entertain the public by demonstrating talented dogs negotiating an obstacle course. The show was an immediate hit; therefore, in 1986 the sport arrived abroad and became one of the fasted growing sports.
An agility course is comprised of different types of equipment. Expect to see tunnels, teeter-totters, dog walks, a variety of jumps, A-frames and weave poles in an agility ring.
Perhaps the main beauty of dog agility training is the fact that it requires teamwork and a strong bond between dog and handler.
What are the Rules of Dog Agility?
As with any sport, there are rules to abide to in dog agility. If your are planning to start dog agility training, consider familiarizing yourself with some basic rules.
Dogs are required to run off leash and no food or toys are permitted in agility trials. While handlers may give an unlimited number of commands through voice, body signals and movement, they cannot touch the equipment or the dog.
Faults in this sport may include touching a jump or knocking down a jump bar, following incorrectly the obstacle sequence, missing a weave pole, failing to touch contact areas with at least one paw or exceeding the allotted standard course time.
While these are some general rules, keep in mind that each association may have their own. In North America, there are several organizations for dog agility that sanction trials held by local dog agility clubs. The largest agility associations are:
United States Dog Agility Association (USDAA)
American Kennel Club (AKC)
United Kennel Club (UKC)
North American Dog Agility Council, Inc. (NADAC)
Agility Association of Canada (AAC)
Regardless of the organization, the dog with the lowest number of faults and the fastest time wins the class or height division.
Minimum Age Requirements for Agility Training
At what age can a dog start agility training? Generally, it is recommended to wait until the puppy's growth plates have fused. This process can take anywhere from 6 to 18 months depending on breed. Keep in mind that age requirements may vary among various agility clubs and associations.
However, just because your puppy is too young to compete doesn't mean he can't be introduced to this sport by using some precautionary measures!
For instance, to avoid putting too much strain on your puppy's forming joints and spine, avoid the full-height jumps and weaving poles for now. You can encourage him instead to step over small obstacles, go through tunnels and get acquainted with low-height ability equipment along with wobble boards and ladders.
This preliminary groundwork can also be an excellent way to build confidence, promote self awareness and strengthen a bond between two of you. A win-win situation for all!
Getting a Puppy Started in Agility
Before starting your puppy in agility training, make sure he has a good obedience training foundation.
The key to successful agility training is keeping the first lessons short and sweet.
Positive training methods go a long way when introducing your puppy to agility. Make sure to find what really motivates him so you can easily and successfully guide him through these beginning levels of training. Is it going to be praise, toys or food?
It's also a good idea to develop a 'command vocabulary' of both verbal and body signals necessary to direct the dog off-leash around a course.
What Training Tools are Needed in Agility?
What agility equipment is needed in this sport?
Leashes are not used in agility because they may entangle on the dog and the agility equipment. The use of collars that apply physical corrections is not recommended during training and some are downright dangerous to use in an agility setting. A simple buckle collar may be permitted by some dog agility organizations or your dog may be required to run "naked" with no collar on.
If you are very passionate about this sport, you may wish to turn your yard into a mini-agility course. To get started, you will need a basic dog agility training kit that includes not only the equipment but also tips and instructions on puppy agility training.
As far as the equipment goes, a starter kit will not include all of the equipment you see in competitions but it will have plenty, including weaver poles, a tunnel and a chute. You will also find such extras as setup and usage instructions, rules, and training tips.
Teaching your dog the basic execution of most obstacles takes only a small amount of time and simple training techniques. Don't feel intimidated!
You can purchase dog agility equipment in several stores or online; however, if you are looking for an inexpensive solution, you can find guides on how to build your own agility equipment.
Never seen a dog agility competition? Here is a short video...
Some Helpful Agility Training Tips
As I mentioned earlier, your puppy or dog must have a good foundation in training. Because no leashes are used in agility, your canine companion must be capable of following your directions and staying by your side despite numerous distractions.
Following are some helpful tips for getting your puppy or dog started in dog agility training:
- Always encourage your dog to perform an obstacle, avoid forcing him.
- Introduce your puppy to smaller versions of the obstacles. As your puppy grows and gets acquainted with the obstacles, gradually increase the height and size up to their full competition forms once your dog is mature enough.
- In the early stages of training, puppies require physical spotting while they develop the necessary confidence on the obstacles.
- Use praise, toys and food to motivate your dog from puppy stages through the advanced levels of training. Of course, toys and food are not permitted in competitions!
- Leashes are dangerous because they can easily become entangled on the dog or equipment. Do not use any collars that apply physical corrections of any type.
- Spend some time training your puppy to follow your voice commands and body signals. Your dog should understand the right, left, fast, slow, up, down, heel and away commands.
- Consider that success in this sport requires the active participation and effort of both dog and handler.
- Wondering how to get started? Look for some local dog agility clubs where you can find a good agility trainer.
- Use specific commands for each piece of agility equipment.
- Last but not least, play it safe and have your puppy or dog examined by a vet prior to starting agility training.
Dog training agility can be very rewarding, especially if your dog enjoys it and is eager to run and jump.
While it is true that every dog needs a job, make sure you find the sport that better matches your individual dog's temperament and energy levels. If your dog exhibits all the qualities necessary for successful dog agility training, then you will be granted lots of joy and happy tail wagging in the ring.
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Want to learn more?
If you are a new dog owner and want to learn more about dog behavior and obedience training, I highly recommend you read and follow this Secrets to Dog Training guide. It's written by a professional dog trainer and is full of techniques you can use to teach your dog new tricks.
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