Agility Training: What is it and is it right for your dog

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Lately there has been a growing trend towards agility training for dogs. Aside from being an excellent bonding hobby for owner and dog, it is also a fantastic outlet for dogs that require both mental and physical stimulation.

What is dog agility training?

Dog agility is essentially an obstacle course. This course designed for dogs that they must get through in a limited time with only the commands from their owner. No incentives like food or toys as well as no touching from owners.  All courses are designed to be tricky enough to require dogs to rely on their owner for guidance. Thus it is a team sport between human and canine.

Dog agility can be traced back to the United Kingdom in the 1970’s where trainers used various obstacles (weave polls, collapsed tunnel runs) to entertain audiences between the obedience and breed standard shows.  In 1990 agility training in the United States started to catch on and official rules and competitions were introduced.

Owners were excited to find a sport that they could do with their dog that encompassed exercise, obedience and dedication. While dogs have been domesticated, they generally retain traits from when they were wild and thus a Bearded Collie will always want to herd someone or something. Rat Terrier will always want to chase and corner a rat.

Agility is a place to direct these behaviors and a great way to let your dog’s natural skills thrive; some dogs’ speed will win them a contest while other dogs’ ability to jump will do the same.  While the United States Dog Agility Association sets the standard for dog agility and hosts national competitions, local breed clubs or regional dog sporting clubs often have their own set of rules.

Is it right for your dog?

Most dogs will thrive at the opportunity to chase down a Frisbee or jump over a panel: it’s really up to you how far you can take the training commands and practice.  Agility is especially good for intelligent, high-energy breeds like Border Collies, Australian Shepherds, German Shepherds, Jack Russell Terriers and most Spaniels.

Agility training is also an excellent way to improve the bond between owner and dog.  “The more time spent involved in this activity can only strengthen the bond between dog and handler. It’s like a mom taking her child to the playground for the afternoon,” says Terri Crisp, Animal Resource and Rescue Consultant for SPCA International, “This focused, one-on-one time is priceless. For dogs that need to stay busy and have something purposeful to do, agility training can meet this important need.”

Indeed agility training forces a dog’s mind to concentrate on the task in front of them, challenging both their mind and body.  It takes as much cerebral energy for a dog to focus on jumping over a gate as it does physical.  That is why agility is so popular among high-energy, high-intelligence dogs like Border Collies who absolutely need an outlet for their smarts and vigor.

“Agility is a fantastic way to calm and settle a dog’s mind,” dog trainer Tibor Feigel of Zen Canine says. “It uses all of a dog’s physical and mental concentration and leaves them in the relaxed, peaceful state that owners want.”

How can I start agility training with my dog?

Before anything you will need to get a clean bill of health from your veterinarian.  After that you will need to pass a basic obedience class.  If your dog hasn’t mastered the “sit” and “stay” commands he is not ready for advanced training like agility. If your dog’s health and basic commands are all set then you can find a local agility class by searching on the Internet or contacting your local animal shelter. Many shelters use agility training to calm their high-energy dogs and thus improve their chances of adoption.

Well-behaved puppies at around 8 to 10 months are excellent candidates for agility as most competitions usually require a dog to be 18 months to compete.  Some dog competitions separate dogs not just by size but by age. So don’t let your dog’s age put you off from agility if he is up for the challenge.  Often older dogs have a stronger bond with their owners which make them easier to handle and trust on the course.  Older dogs can ease any joint issues with glucosamine or chondroitin supplements.

Furthermore agility training is a great way to excite children about the importance of training for canines. While young children are not appropriate handlers for dogs. Kids do like to watch agility competitions and get in on the training.  It’s a great family activity that includes the family dog! Agility training is an ideal way to both mentally and physically stimulate any dog and enhance the relationship between owner and dog.  “Agility training takes as much work from the owner as the dog.” Feigel continues, “but the result is the perfect balance between dog and owner.”  And isn’t a calm, balanced relationship with our pooch what we are all after?


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