As young as dog agility training is (it started in the late 1970s), it is an incredibly popular sport that garners more interest every year. People just seem to love getting out into the arena and showing what their dogs can do. If you’ve seen a competition or heard about agility training from a friend and are reading more about it here, you were probably impressed by the skill and discipline involved, not to mention the amount of fun both dog and owner have together!
So what is it, and how do you get started? We’re here to answer your questions about dog agility training so you and Spot can get started on your own.
How is dog agility training different from “regular” training?
Dog agility training has a specific purpose that has many similarities to “regular” canine training but is also distinctly different.
|“Regular” or Obedience Training||Both||Agility Training|
|Teaches basic skills like sit, stay, come, heel, drop||Uses verbal and non-verbal commands||Focuses on completing tasks quickly and accurately|
|Sets a relationship standard between owner and dog||Exercises the body and brain||Focuses on physical elements, form, speed, etc.|
|Incorporates physical elements, but lacks the distinct physicality that accompanies agility training||Fosters a relationship between dog and owner||Uses equipment like poles, ramps, ladders, tunnels, etc.|
|Uses basic obedience training skills|
|Helps improve behavior|
What are the benefits of agility training?
Agility training has so many benefits that it’s difficult to name them all! A few of the most important ones include:
- Lessens anxiety in dogs
- Improves reliability with commands (your dog will actually come back when you ask)
- Dogs feel happier because they’ve been productive
- Helps separation anxiety
- There’s a lot of praise involved, which helps everyone
- Owners see behavior problems melt away
- Dogs are calmer at night
- Keeps dogs fit (physically and mentally)
- Bonds both of you together
- Improves communication skills (both verbal and non-verbal)
Is it limited to specific breeds?
Nope! While certain breeds are more consistently good at agility tasks, all breeds show promise and potential. Herding breeds (border collies, shelties, shepherds, etc.) are some of the most popular agility dogs at shows, but toy varieties like Pomeranians also have a knack for agility training. There is no reason why your boxer, Chihuahua, poodle, or mutt shouldn’t be able to learn and be successful in dog agility training.
What do agility training and trials entail?
Agility training relies on a firm foundation of obedience skills. Sit, stay, lie down, heel, come – your dog needs a solid understanding of the basics before he can even attempt agility training.
Once he has the obedience aspect down, agility training teaches the dog to do specific tasks like weaving through poles, crawling through a tunnel, and climbing up and down ramps. It’s more than just jumping over some obstacles, though. There is skill, technique, and form that your dog needs to perfect to be safe and speedy. It takes time to build up the muscle memory and confidence that your dog needs to be successful.
Agility training trials are the competitions where dogs strut their stuff. The handlers can’t touch their dogs at all – the only guidance they can give is vocal cues and successful training. Different competitions have different focuses. Some focus on speed, while others focus on technical ability and endurance. Dogs get points for speed, confidence, and skill, but they lose points for:
- Taking too long at an obstacle or stopping in front of one
- Knocking down a bar at a jump
- Missing an obstacle
- Going in the wrong order
- Forgetting to put at least one paw down on the downward side of a ramp
Believe it or not, most agility teams don’t require a huge time commitment. There are generally a few hour-long classes each month, and then dogs and owners do at-home training for about 20 minutes a day. Of course, some people do more or less, but 20 minutes of focused training per day is about average.
How do I find a trainer?
There are plenty of books and online tutorials to help the DIY trainer learn dog agility training, but you might want to go the professional dog training route at the beginning. You can find a trainer by:
- Asking around at local dog kennels
- Look up the websites of dog agility training schools or clubs
o United States Dog Agility Association
o American Kennel Club Agility
o Teacup Dog Ability Association
o Canine Performance Events
o North American Dog Agility Council
- Go to trials and ask the participants who they used
- Join a club or school
When you have a few trainers in mind, you should interview them to make sure you’re a good fit for their training style. You should ask for their experience and what kind of titles their dogs have earned in the past. Remember: poorly trained trainers train poorly. Inadequate training can influence speed, confidence, points, and safety.
Before choosing your trainer, you should also visit a class. Pay attention to safety standards, class size, facility size, training style, and temperature of the class. All of these things will influence how well your dog learns and retains information.
Dog agility training is a fantastic way for owners and their dogs to learn a new skill and develop a close bond. If you have more questions, please contact us and speak to one of our professional dog agility trainers.