There are many different reasons why a dog owner might like to participate in agility training.
From providing an outlet for high drive and working dog breeds that need a lot of mental stimulation and physical exercise, to building owner/handler confidence and building a bond between and owner and their dog.
Agility can also improve obedience and develop better leadership with the owner, including improving off lead control. But, best of all, it can be a lot of fun and provide socialisation opportunities for both owner and dog.
Doing agility, either just for fun or competitively, can also help address and control some behaviour issues that can arise with high drive dogs that need that extra mental and physical stimulation to help meet their instinctual needs.
Preparing your dog and yourself for agility
As with any type of training, it’s important to properly prepare for agility in order to ensure a positive outcome for you and your dog.
Before you do sign up for agility with your dog however, do consider the following:
- Physical assessment of the dog: weight, age, conformation, previous injuries, gait, sight,
hearing, etc. Are they match fit, or could they be at risk of injury from agility if they are not 100%?
- Temperament / personality assessment of the dog: Can you motivate them well for training and what is it that motivates them ie: treats, praise or just the activity itself. Are they motivated and have confidence or are they timid
(general outlook as well as with strange people / dogs), behaviour in the presence of other dogs, prior training / obedience, etc. which might affect their experience being a positive one.
- Environmental considerations: Ensure there is an adequate space for training area and that the course equipment safe ie: level, good grip, sturdy etc. the right height and skill level for your dog, and is it secure so your dog can’t escape or run away.
- Handler considerations and training tools: Make sure you take along treat pouch or motivational toys, appropriate running shoes, water etc.
Agility equipment and obstacles
Agility equipment can be arranged in various layouts and courses may be designed to alter the degree of difficulty and level of interest for the handler and dog. Dogs should be introduced to and become familiar with individual agility obstacles, prior to being expected to run a course.
Handlers should also familiarise themselves with the skills required to do agility as even many experienced dog trainers and owners find the handling of a dog on an agility course very challenging.
That’s why it is important to start out with an obedience or agility club or trainer so that the basics skill both you and your dog will need are well established before introducing your dog to agility obstacles.
It must be remembered that an obstacle course for beginners is very different from a competitive agility course. Obstacle courses are primarily designed around giving the dog varied experiences, develop confidence and there are no real restrictions on the design, except for ensuring safety.
Formal / competitive agility has very strict guidelines and equipment so I would recommend giving it a go with a local club or school first that will allow you to work your way up to a competitive level.
Many local obedience clubs offer agility classes, and some trainers and puppy schools also run agility courses so you can learn how to do it with your dog and participate in casual classes.
Visit the NDTF Find a Trainer page to find a trainer that offers agility near you.
About the Author: Lara Shannon is co-Host of Pooches at Play and has completed a Certificate III in Dog Behaviour & Training with the National Dog Trainers Federation. Lara also runs her own dog training, minding and walking business in Melbourne’s Bayside area.