Is your dog ready for agility training? Here’s what to know about trying out this terrific activity at home.
Are you one of those dog owners who are glued to the television when a dog agility trail competition is broadcast? Watching those handsome dogs run through an agility course with jumps and obstacles is mesmerizing.
Plus, the dogs look like they’re having fun with their agility handlers, navigating their way around obstacles, crawling through a tunnel, mastering a tire jump and generally showing their stuff.
These programs might catch the attention of your dog too. It’s well-known that a canine sometimes enjoys watching TV almost as much as their owner – especially with other dogs on the screen!
Dog agility classes are great, but if you’d like to teach your dog agility training yourself, this is certainly something you can try at home. We’ve got great advice to get you started. First, let’s examine the benefit of agility training and whether it’s right for your fur baby.
The Benefits of Agility Training for You and Your Dog
When it comes to agility training, there are several advantages for your dog. Certainly, it’s a great way for them to stay active and get exercise. All that focused movement is also good brain training.
Agility trials sharpen your dog’s cognitive skills just as learning any trick does. Agility training helps dogs feel very motivated, like they have a purpose or a specific job. In addition, this stimulating sport strengthens the bond between you and your doggo since you must work as a team.
Basically, your pooch wants to please you, and performing well at this sport is a sure-fire way to earn your praise. For your part, you’ll be very focused on watching for cues your dog is beginning to master the different tricks you’re teaching them, and sorting out how to assist them to get to the next level.
Is Your Dog Suitable for Agility Training?
The short answer is yes. Your fur baby doesn’t have to be a certain breed or have a particular disposition to try an agility trial. The key is to begin by knowing your dog and understanding any challenges they may bring to the activity.
For instance, is your dog older and doesn’t have as much strength as they used to? Maybe your canine friend is high energy and doesn’t listen as well as they should. Another consideration is whether your doggo has any fears, such as of the dark.
All this is to say that you should tailor the agility training to the needs of your dog. Think about what specific tricks to begin with and which to try later on or avoid entirely.
Furthermore, make sure to be very patient as they learn. Some dogs take right away to this sport, while others are slower to master the tricks.
Keep your expectations reasonable. Rest assured, once your pooch starts to see how happy their progress makes you, and earn a few rewards, their interest and motivation will increase.
Basic Agility Equipment
Professional dog trainers use many types of agility equipment. These include an A-frame, a dog walk, jumps, ramps, a teeter board, a tunnel and weave poles. A-frames, dog walks and ramps teach nimbleness in climbing and often incorporate a pause table.
A tire jump or jumps using suspended poles trains a dog to leap over or through obstacles. A teeter board improves climbing and balance skills. Tunnels are employed to train dogs how to move through things, while weave poles create an obstacle course for them to navigate.
You can purchase agility equipment or, if you’re handy, build it yourself. However, you can also find items around the house to use for agility training. This is actually a great way to begin. Take a look below at how to get started, and the best tricks to focus on.
How to Get Started with Agility Training
Agility training requires that your canine companion is ready to listen and follow commands. Therefore, taking them to a basic dog obedience class as soon as they’re old enough is good preparation. The other consideration around their age is whether their body has finished growing.
You don’t want them to injure themselves by attempting jumps that their muscles aren’t ready for. Get advice from your veterinarian about the kinds of agility moves you want to teach them, and whether they’re physically mature enough for them.
Remember, even if you have visions of Rover or Rosie earning a dog agility trophy some day, your main reason for teaching your dog these tricks should be to have fun. So, start small and introduce your dog to this activity with regular short five- or ten-minute training sessions.
Also, keep things simple by beginning with enough materials to set up a few tricks. Your dog must not feel overwhelmed.
If you introduce too much at once, they may feel a bit confused and not know where to turn. With a few basic agilities set ups, you’ll learn what tricks your fur baby prefers and what pieces of equipment you might want to invest in.
Minimize distractions to increase your pup’s ability to pay attention. For instance, if you live with others, pick an occasion when you can have alone time with your canine companion. Find a place inside or outdoors that’s suitable.
Also make sure it’s a relatively quiet time of day. You don’t want to try this with the sound of a garbage truck outside or yells from neighborhood kids at they get off the school bus!
Dog training means getting them to focus on you first so you know you have their attention, and giving lots of verbal praise and head rubs when they begin to learn. As your dog slowly masters agility training, you’ll notice that they pay less heed to surrounding distractions.
Introduce Tricks & Rewards
Tricks are beneficial for increasing your dog’s flexibility and strength. They also improve your pup’s coordination as they develop stronger proprioception, or more awareness of where their body is in relation to their environment.
Introducing tricks like rolling over, walking backwards or twirling on the spot to increase your dog’s agility will help them warm up for the agility training exercises involving obstacles.
Encourage your pooch by offering tons of praise and treats when they get things right. They’ll readily associate this positive feedback with learning more complicated agility moves later on.
Work on Handling
Dog agility training requires proper handling. Start by teaching your dog to walk quietly beside you, not jumping and moving around looking for your attention or being distracted.
When your pooch accomplishes this on one side, train them to walk alongside you on the other side. Then, teach them these obedience behaviors while you’re both jogging or running.
Another simple exercise to work on handling is to have your canine move away from you at your command. Throwing treats a short distance out can show them what you mean.
In all cases, make sure your dog knows you have treats on you that they’ll earn for following your instructions! Giving some at first when they come close to performing the action you’re teaching – known as shaping – helps.
Start with Basic Agility Moves
Once you have handling under control, try a few basic agility tricks. For example, prep your pup for learning how to move tightly around an object without disturbing it by instructing them to go around a small item of furniture like a footstool or chair.
Attempt to have Butch or Bella follow your lead by running around a few agility obstacles yourself, and cheer them on when they follow you. Employ their favorite ball or toy in the agility game by throwing it over a jump or inside a tunnel and asking them to fetch it back.
Having your pooch sit up off the ground on particular items is another method. This could be on a sturdy upturned cardboard box or recycling bin.
Next, you can reward Lucy or Luke for climbing inside the box or walking over the rungs of a ladder that you’ve laid flat on the ground. The possibilities are endless to get your friend ready for the big tricks!
Introducing obstacles is the next step in training your dog to complete various agility moves. The plan is to have your canine friend use the obstacle in accomplishing a trick − either by going around it without disturbing it or moving through it. Placing a treat where you want them to end up is a good strategy in the early learning stages.
Items like an A-frame, teeter board or dog walk are called contact obstacles since there are places where the dog is required to walk in order to complete the trick. Here are several other types of obstacles that you can, more easily, replicate at home.
Unless your dog is afraid of being in confined areas, tunnels are an easy obstacle to start off with. They’re at ground level and not too intimidating.
If you have a cat tunnel already and your pup is small enough, you can teach them to crawl through it for this dog agility move. Otherwise, it’s super easy to design something using a few kitchen chairs and a blanket. It doesn’t have to be pretty!
Be sure to begin with a fairly short structure so Snoopy of Stella can see through to the other end. Ramp up the fun by peeking at them through the end opening and holding out a treat for them to come and get.
Just as it sounds, ramps are nothing more than flat boards you teach your dog to walk up and back down on. Beginners that aren’t fond of climbing to any height will find this a bit harder.
You might have an old table top or door for a ramp, and a picnic bench outside that’s just the right height for a pause table. Or, if you don’t mind taking your couch apart and your fur baby is on the lighter side, you could angle one of the cushions from the floor to the base of the seating surface. Whatever you choose, the ramp shouldn’t be very steep to start with.
As you may have seen, weave poles used in competitions are a number of upright poles placed in a straight line and spaced apart to create an obstacle course. There are anywhere from six to 12 normally used. The canine weaves between the poles, entering from the right of the initial pole and attempting to come around the last one without missing any.
To try this at home, hunt for any obstacles of a similar size that you can place in a straight line. If you’re outside, ski poles or even a slim tree branch or two stuck in the ground works.
Nothing appropriate? Then, you may be able to pick up small inexpensive traffic cones at your local department store. Inside, you can place these along a hallway so your dog is less likely to be distracted.
Understandably, this skill is quite a bit harder for the average dog to achieve. It can assist to use a leash at first to guide them around the obstacles.
Dog Agility Training: Our Final Thoughts
If you’re feeling that you don’t want to sign your pet up for an agility class, it’s extremely easy to get started with an agility course right in your own living room or back yard. Teaching your dog a few basic skills is good for them in so many ways − in addition to being a fun way to spend time with them.
Frequently Asked Questions
What age should I start agility training?
Dog agility training can be started for beginners once your canine has stopped growing and has moved past the puppy stage.
What are the best tricks to start with?
Owners can set up home agility course tricks use tunnels, ramps and weaving poles.
What equipment do I need for agility training?
Any kind of poles or narrow pvc pipes to space apart for weaving, a frame of some sort to use as a ramp and a tire tunnel for your dog to crawl through are all you need.