By Linda Cole
Agility training is a sport that’s been gaining in popularity for some time. It’s a great way to give your dog plenty of exercise and stimulation to keep his mind and body healthy. You might be surprised to learn your dog isn’t the couch potato you once thought after watching him jump, weave, and run around a course having the time of his life. Agility training requires time and patience, but it’s worth the effort to have a sport you can do together. If you’ve taught your dog basic commands, then he’s ready to learn how to navigate an agility course.
Contact obstacles include a teeter-totter, dog walk and A-frame. They’re called contact obstacles because in order for the dog to successfully complete the task, he must touch a certain spot on one or both ends with at least one of his feet.
Teeter-totter – If your dog is reluctant to walk on the teeter-totter, begin with a square 4 x 4 piece of plywood on the ground with a small ball under it. Have him move around on the wood so he can get used to movement under his feet. Once he’s comfortable with movement, move to the teeter-totter. With your dog on a 6 ft. leash, give him a description command for each obstacle (teeter-totter, A-frame, weave, etc.) and move him towards the obstacle. Make sure he touches any required spots before going on. When he correctly succeeds at each task, give him praise and a treat reward. As he gets used to the movement of the teeter-totter, you can increase his speed.
Dog walk – A balance beam with ramps on both ends. The dog runs up a ramp, across the beam and down the other ramp, making sure to touch required sports.
A-frame – Just what the name implies. The dog goes up the incline, over the top and down the other side. This also has required spots that need to be touched.
Jumps – Start at the lowest level and keep him on his leash so he won’t cheat and go around the hurdle. If he is hesitant to jump and wants to go around, block his path with barriers on both sides. Increase the height when he’s comfortable jumping over each level.
Tunnels – Have someone stand at the other end of a short tunnel with treats. Move your dog to the opening, use your description command and have the person at the other end call his name to encourage him through the tunnel. When he’s comfortable running through the short tunnel, increase the length and add curves. Some tunnels are collapsed, so he also needs to be able to go through a tunnel he can’t see through.
Pause table – The dog has to jump onto a table and pause for a specific time in a sit/stay or down/stay position. Pat the table to encourage him to jump up on it. Have him sit or lay down for just a few seconds at a time, and work up to at least 10 seconds.
Weave poles – This is probably the hardest part of agility for dogs to learn. Weave poles are the only obstacle that requires an unnatural movement for your dog. Start by placing the poles off center so your dog can walk between them. Then slowly move the poles closer to the center which will make him have to “weave” through the poles to get around them. Keep moving them closer to the center as your dog gets comfortable bending his body to maneuver through the poles. Once the poles are in the correct position for an agility competition, then you can increase his speed.
Well trained dogs competing in agility events make it look easy, but their owner or handler spent weeks or even months training the dog. Be patient and give your dog opportunities to succeed and lots of praise during training sessions. Any dog can learn agility regardless of his size or age. However, a puppy’s body is still growing and an older dog may move slower. Don’t force your dog to do something he doesn’t want to do, and keep an eye on him to make sure he doesn’t overdo it trying to please you.
Since agility is an active sport, it’s a good idea to take your dog in for a checkup to make sure he can handle this kind of exertion. Even if he isn’t ready for prime time, agility training is lots of fun for your dog, and an excellent way of getting rid of pent up energy.
Read more articles by Linda Cole
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