Your dog has seemingly boundless energy and a fascination for all sorts of things. It tires you out chasing after them, but you wouldn’t have it any other way. Lately, you’ve heard about agility, a type of sports competition for dogs. You’re thinking your pup may be the perfect candidate for this, but how can you be sure?
Here are five ways of determining whether your dog would be great for agility training:
- They’re young (at least one year old or older)
- They’re very healthy
- They’re quite social around people and other dogs
- They know all the basic training inside and out
- They have tons of energy and a strong desire for activity
Still not sure if you should enroll your dog in a training course for agility? In this article, we’ll expand on the points above and provide pointers and products for successful training. Keep reading, as you won’t want to miss it!
What Is Agility?
First thing’s first; what is agility anyway? Yes, it’s a general word, but in the world of dogs, agility refers to a specific activity. When your dog participates in an agility event, they’re running through an obstacle course. This course demands many skills from your dog, such as jumping over tires, weaving through poles, hopping on a teeter-totter, and navigating enclosed tunnels.
Agility can be done for fun in your backyard with a homemade course, or you can sign up your favorite four-legged friend to compete in an agility event. For the latter, you often have to be ready to go through the whole course with your dog, as they’ll be leashed up and you’ll accompany them. Yes, that means jumping and weaving right with them.
One of the best parts about agility is that whether your dog competes on a casual or professional level, almost any canine can be good at it. There are certain breeds with a predilection to win competitive events, though. Those are Border Collies, Australian Shepherds, and Shetland Sheepdogs says the United States Dog Agility Association or USDAA.
Now, that doesn’t mean your dog is excluded if they’re not one of the three breeds above. As we said, nearly any dog breed can excel in agility. It takes time, training, and patience more than anything else. Even if your pup doesn’t necessarily win any grand prizes, if you two have fun and the training acts as a great bonding experience, then we’d say it’s worth it.
Signs Your Dog Should Try Agility
Okay, so you’re definitely intrigued by the concept of agility. You’re thinking your dog may be a natural fit for this training, but you’re not entirely sure. Should you enroll your dog in an agility training course or not? Here are five ways to tell…
Your Dog Is Young
If your pup has celebrated at least their first birthday, then they’re eligible to begin with agility. It’s okay to set up a makeshift agility course in your backyard and have your dog run through it before they’re a year old, but that’s the youngest they can be if they want to test their mettle in an official event.
They’re Also in Peak Health
The good thing about a dog in their youth is that they’re typically in the best condition of their lives. Their bodies have grown to adulthood, but they’re not yet plagued by the pain and discomfort that can come with older age.
Before you think of signing up your dog up for an agility training course or even a competition, we recommend you schedule an appointment with your veterinarian. They can ensure your pup has a clean bill of health and is clear to race.
They Have a Social Streak a Mile Long
Nonsocial dogs need not apply for agility. Your dog is going to be surrounded by other canines bobbing and weaving their hearts out to win the gold. If your canine is antisocial around dogs, then this could interrupt their own performance. Perhaps they have a problem with aggressiveness, in which case they’re a risk to the other participants and will likely not be allowed to compete.
Besides dogs, your four-legged friend should be sociable around people, too. There will be just as many people as dogs at these events, probably even more. If people make your dog nervous or angry, then agility events aren’t a great idea for them at this time.
They’re Great at Obeying Commands (and Know All the Basics)
During an agility event, your dog has to focus on all sorts of skills, as we mentioned before. From running to jumping, weaving and hopping, these activities call on all your dog’s training. However, like you have to learn to crawl before you can learn to walk, the same applies to your dog.
If you haven’t spent enough time on the basics like sit, lay down, and stay, then how can you expect your dog to master more complex commands for agility?
There’s another reason to really home in on the basics, too. Think about all the frenetic energy at an agility event. With so much distraction surrounding your dog, they must know to stay still and listen for your commands. Otherwise, they’ll go running after every stimulus and you’ll get nowhere in the event.
They Never Run out of Energy or an Enthusiasm for Activity
Athleticism is in your dog’s bones. From the first rays of daylight until after dark, they almost always want to run around, play, and do something active. Their endless excitement is contagious.
Whether on their daily walk, when romping around at the dog park, or even when playing in the living room or backyard, your dog consistently impresses you with their energy. They sound like they could be a good candidate for agility.
How to Train Your Dog for Agility
After reviewing the above signs, you think you want to see how your dog will fare at agility events. Before they can begin competing, they’ll need a lot of training. This is by far one of the most important parts of agility, because without the proper training, all the energy in the world won’t help your dog when on the course.
Here are some pointers and advice for beginning the long, sometimes difficult, but ultimately rewarding agility training process…
Have the Right Equipment for Creating Your Own Course
While sure, you could erect an agility course using cardboard boxes, empty milk crates, paper tubes, and the like, there are two downsides to this. For one, it’s not really representative of what your dog would experience in a real agility competition, which may confuse them during the actual event. Second, these homemade obstacles, while very inexpensive to make, don’t tend to hold up long.
It’s much better to invest in legit equipment that’s on par with what your dog would come across during an actual agility competition. This agility set from PawHut on Amazon is inexpensive and includes everything you need to get started, such as a rounded, open tunnel, a square pause box, weaving poles, and a high jump you can adjust. This is what we used when we first started off with agility training with our dog, Max.
Take It One Obstacle at a Time
Think back to when you trained your pup on basic commands. You didn’t expect them to learn sit, stay, and lay down the same day, right? That would be confusing. Also, by training the dog on too many commands at once, they have a hard time retaining any one of them.
The same applies to their agility training. Choose a single obstacle for your dog to learn and then move onto another one when they master the first. Perhaps you wish to instruct your dog on weaving through poles first, then using a pause box and so on and so forth.
Train Regularly (but Not Excessively)
It’s hard for a dog to maintain a skill if they’re not asked to use it often. While you don’t have to train every day, make sure your dog is practicing their agility course several times a week at least. Devote 30 to 60 minutes on training, but check yourself so you’re not pushing your dog too much. Not only will their accuracy suffer, but they could end up injured and unable to compete.
Reward That Hard Work
Your dog just did a perfect jump or navigated the enclosed tube at their fastest time yet. Hooray! You want to reward your dog with praise and positive attention, but a few treats won’t hurt, either. Treats can keep your dog going during hard training sessions, so they’re good to have. Just make sure you don’t overdo it, as your dog can gain weight that slows them down.
The Benefits of Agility Training
Besides the acclaim and possible prize money, there are lots of reasons to consider enrolling your dog in agility training and events. Let’s talk about these perks now…
It’s Great Exercise for Dog and (Wo)Man Alike
All the exercise your dog is getting will keep them trim and healthy, but have you thought about yourself as well? Remember, you need to guide your leashed dog through the course, which will burn calories as you run and jump along with your canine friend.
It Comes Naturally to Your Dog
Your pup may be a domesticated animal, but they still have some of their original DNA deep within. Running, ascending hills, navigating tight paths, jumping, and chasing reminds them of their ancestry as wild predators and allows them to sharpen and use their natural instincts.
A Better Relationship Between You and Your Dog
As we said before, the opportunity to bond that exists in agility training will strengthen your relationship with your dog. You two will be the best of friends after spending hours together working hard and then tasting the fruits of your labor.
Agility is a competitive event where your dog races through an obstacle course, showing off various skills in the process. Dogs that are young and in peak health that has been trained well, are socialized, and love activity are the best fits for agility. Almost any dog can compete!
While it takes time and training to prep your dog for agility, you two will get closer and enjoy some quality exercise as well. Best of luck!