Why should you consider agility training your dog? In the words of trainer, author, and shelter founder, Sue Sternberg, “I think if every dog owner engaged in agility training with his or her dog, the dog world would be a better place. Agility is that good, that fun, and that important.” And what proud pup owner doesn’t want to make the dog world a better place? Why is agility training so powerful – and how can you get started?
The Benefits of Agility
Here are just of the few reasons that agility is “that good, that fun, and that important”:
- It’s great exercise. As the old adage goes, “A tired dog is a well-behaved dog.” Agility training burns off all that pent-up energy while improving endurance, coordination, and… agility. It also engages and stimulates his mind – which is critical in preventing or curbing destructive behaviours (e.g. shredding your curtains or making mincemeat of your favorite shoe).
- For you. As your furry friend is crawling through tunnels, jumping over tires, weaving through poles, and climbing ramps, you’ll be panting right alongside him. As dogs might say, “A tired human is a well-behaved human.”
- It builds trust. Agility training requires you to give hand and spoken signals. This builds trust; your dog comes to rely on you for guidance and help in navigating the course. And it reinforces all the training and behavioural expectations you have for your pup in your home, on walks, and everywhere else.
- Agility lets dogs be dogs. You may see a plastic tunnel, some wooden poles, and a few ramps. Your dog’s wild side sees prey running over logs, through trees, and up hills. Agility courses allow them to engage their primal hunting urges. (With no harm to local wildlife!)
- It’s fun! Why not? This is a great reason to do agility training. If you compete, you can meet new people and up the ante on your excitement. Even if you never intend to hit the agility circuit, time spent agility training is fulfilling on its own merits.
Is Agility Training Right for My Dog?
When people think of agility training, they often think of sleek dogs, expensive classes, and competitions that charge hefty fees. This may be great for you and your pet. But virtually any dog can benefit from agility courses – on any budget. Herding dogs like border collies are naturals on the obstacle course, but huskies, Chihuahuas, pit bulls, and mutts (a term of endearment where we’re from!) can, and do, enjoy training in classes or in your backyard.
When your dog begins to walk and explore the world on his own, you can start training. Remember, his joints are not fully formed yet, so keep the jumps low (e.g. lay a bar on the ground and have him “jump” over it). He should also know (and follow!) basic commands, including come, sit, lie down, and stay.
When you’re ready to start training, you can sign up for a beginners’ agility class or set up your own course. If you do the first, make sure your dog is able to socialize with other pups. And if you want to go the DIY route, stop by the hardware store or take a look around your garage for PVC pipe, plywood, cinder blocks, old tire tires, and other “junk” that you can repurpose.
Here are two obstacles that you can make easily:
- Weave poles. Stick 10-15 PVC pipes or old ski poles (check your local thrift stores/swap shops) into the ground. Make sure there’s enough space for your pooch to navigate around each.
- Tunnel. Keep your eyes open for a collapsible kids’ tunnel at toy stores or yard sales.
If you’re just having fun in your backyard, pick and choose the obstacles that you can easily build – and that you think your dog will enjoy.
Once you have a course ready, teach your dog to navigate the obstacles. Do it step-by-step with him. Take it slow and easy, teaching him the commands he needs to finish the course. When he masters these steps, work on speed and accuracy.
And, as always, don’t forget the treats, the praise, and the snuggles that come with a job well done. Plus, you may need a shower. This is a great workout – and an excellent opportunity to bond with your dog.