Whenever you get to witness a dog compete in an agility course, you’re always in awe of their impeccable training. You think of all the long hours their human trainer must have put in with them to reach this point. You’d like your own dog to master agility courses someday, but at what age should you start their training?
If your dog is at least one year old, then they’re ready for agility training. It’s important not to push very young dogs into this form of training, as the long hours and physically demanding skills could lead to injuries.
How will you know your dog is ready for agility training? Can you train them yourself or should you let a pro do it? What training tips do you need to know? We’ll answer all these questions and more in this article, so keep reading!
The Right Time to Begin Training Your Dog for Agility
If you recall from a recent blog post of ours, agility is a type of event that dogs compete in. During agility, your well-trained canine will traverse obstacle courses, perform jumps, bob and weave through poles, cross tunnels, and otherwise show off their physical prowess.
It’s astounding when your dog gets it right, but that doesn’t just happen overnight. You have to be willing to funnel a lot of hours into your dog if you wish to someday win agility events. It’s also best if you decide early in their lives that this is what you want for them, as the sooner they begin their training, the better.
Just make sure it’s not too soon, as yes, there is a thing. If your dog hasn’t celebrated their first birthday yet, then it’s not within their best interest to train. Some dog owners wait until their four-legged friend has reached the milestone of two years old, but you don’t have to if you think they’re ready earlier.
As we talked about in the intro, training your dog too young, such as when they’re still puppies, is disadvantageous for a few reasons. For one, they’re still learning the basics like sit, stay, and lay down. Heaping on extra commands, and quite difficult ones at that, can cause confusion and potentially prevent your dog from learning anything well.
Even worse is because your pup’s body is still growing, they’re more susceptible to injuries as they try to master the agility course. The last thing you would want to do is ever hurt your four-legged friend, so hold off on the agility training for now.
Rather than just guess when your dog should start their training, it’s recommended you bring them to the vet. During the appointment, talk about what kind of agility courses you want to train your dog in. Your vet will assess whether your dog is in the right kind of state to compete. Underlying medical conditions may sometimes preclude them from agility, but if they’re otherwise healthy, then you should get the go-ahead from your vet. You’re ready to begin from there!
Should You Train Your Dog at Agility Yourself or Let a Professional Do It?
Now that you know your dog is old enough to train at agility, you next have to decide who’s going to do it. You can take care of this responsibility yourself or you can enroll your dog in a class with a professional teacher.
There are some pros and cons to both routes, so let’s talk about these now.
When you train your dog on your own, you know your pup is already familiar with you. That puts them at ease, so they may be more willing to learn. You two also get to enjoy the bonding benefits that agility training can bring rather than let some stranger get those perks.
However, a professional knows just the right commands and means of training dogs at agility considering they’ve done so before. They also have the type of equipment your dog will come across at real agility competitions. Sure, you can shop around online and maybe find some of the same pieces, but they could be expensive. You can also go the homemade agility route, but that’s not as authentic.
You’re also potentially saving money enrolling your dog in a course since you don’t have to buy the abovementioned equipment. If you care about cost savings, then that’s something to think about.
We recommend you decide which pros and cons matter most to you and then weigh them carefully to decide who’s the best person to train your dog at agility. There’s not necessarily a wrong answer, as what matters most is your dog is ready to compete.
How Many Hours a Day Should You Spend on Agility Training?
You’ve decided to train your dog at agility yourself. Whether they’re a complete beginner or an intermediate, you anticipate spending many hours on their training. How often should you two be out there in your backyard running through obstacle courses and the like?
Agility training may require more physically demanding feats than asking your dog to sit, stay, or roll over, but at the end of the day, it’s still training. If you can think back to the days when you first had your dog and you were teaching them the basics, you didn’t overdo it on the training then. You can’t do it now, either.
Each day you train, you should stick to doing so for 40 minutes. Yes, that’s right, not even a full hour. This may seem like too little time, especially for an agility competition, but it’s right for a few reasons.
First, 40 minutes is just enough time to introduce one new skill, go through it a few times, and see if your dog can do it with no supervision on your part. This method of training ensures they learn one skill at a time. As we said before, this prevents confusion and promotes skill mastery.
Also, these shorter training sessions can prevent fatigue in your dog. As they get tired, they begin making more mistakes, which then increases their chances of sustaining an injury. Getting hurt right before a competition would prevent them from participating in any agility events in the near future.
With time, you’ll find the best ways to maximize each second of that 40 minutes so you and your dog get the most out of it.
Tips and Tricks for Successful Agility Training
Let’s wrap up by sharing some great tactics and tips to follow as you begin to plan out your dog’s agility training sessions. With these pointers, winning first place at the next agility competition won’t seem so far out of reach!
Don’t exceed three hours of daily training:
If you really want to cram or find that 40 minutes isn’t enough time for you and your dog, some dog owners advocate for training your pup for up to three hours a day. This is not three hours consecutively, by the way, but one hour spent training, several hours taken as a break, another hour used for training, several more hours as a break, and then the last hour again spent training. Remember, this is not something you have to do, but if you must, don’t run your dog down with three back-to-back hours of agility training.
Days off are more than okay
If you have an agility competition coming up, you might think there’s no time to waste in training your dog. That said, a day off gives your dog’s muscles a chance to recover. Plus, the relaxation time will put your dog in a frame of mind to do even better work tomorrow.
Your dog just finished that part of the course you’ve struggled with for days. This is a time to celebrate! Even for smaller successes, you want to reward your pup for a job well done. You can verbally praise them, but make sure you give them treats throughout your training session to incentivize them to continue. Just don’t offer too many!
Dogs feed off our energy, so whatever vibe you’re putting out there, they will pick up on it. You may feel frustrated your dog isn’t learning as quickly as you’d like, but you should remain optimistic and upbeat. Getting flustered and even angry will upset your dog and interrupt their focus.
Agility courses demand the best of our canines, so of course you want to put your dog through a competition to see how they fare. You can begin training your dog if they’re between one and two years old, but no earlier. Otherwise, they could be at a greater risk of injuring themselves.
You may train your dog yourself in agility or let a professional do it. There are benefits and downsides to each. When you’re training, it’s best to stick to sessions lasting 30 or 40 minutes daily, although you can do three hours if you must cram. Still, give your dog plenty of rest between each hour of training. Best of luck!