Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Is Agility in Your Dog's Future?

by Carrie Boyko
(c) Kim Litz
Skye Flies through the Tire
I'm really not sure what prompted me to try my first agility class. Whatever it was, I have no regrets. The more we learned, the more I realized that our bond had increased, while accomplishing other important goals: exercise, mental stimulation, problem solving training and teamwork.

Dog-On-It Agility is a club in my area that offers classes, competitions and lots of social interaction with other dog lovers. You might enjoy watching their slideshow, if you're interested in seeing a little action. 

Many of these people are involved in multiple dog sports such as Flyball, Frisbee and herding. I was fascinated to learn more about all these different ways to engage with a dog; who knew?

I won't tell you that there wasn't any work involved. That would be misleading. But it was fun work--setting up agility equipment, taking down equipment, and sometimes trying to figure out what a teacher is talking about when they get off on a tangent. They can occasionally forget they are teaching beginners and lose us in their vocabulary. It's all good; we enjoyed every minute.

Agility classes have levels, just like every sport. As you and your dog progress, you get moved up, experience new instructors, meet new classmates, and eventually get to try competing, if you stick with it. Again, there are a variety of levels of competition, giving you the chance to start out easy and work your way up.
(c) Pix'n Pages
Tux Jumps with Great Skill

So, how do you get started? First, look into agility clubs or training facilities in your area. Meanwhile, brush up on your basic obedience commands. Fido will have to prove he can follow them off leash before he'll get to move up to learn more. Your first class will likely consist of a good bit of obedience screening and a test to assure that your dog is ready to learn more. Don't worry, he'll also get to try some fun new stuff like jumping and tunnels.

It's not uncommon for a dog to remain in one level for two or more class segments (ours were 6 weeks long), so don't let that concern you. Better to get a good foundation before you move up, or you may find yourself wishing you were back a level. You'll have to trust me on that one.
(c) Kim Litz
Rose Exits the Tunnel
Before I wrap this up, let me make two final, very important points. First of all, agility training is primarily about teaching the handler how to handle. Accept that and you'll go a long way toward learning faster. It's almost always NOT the dog's fault. Most often, a wayward dog is confused by your body language, so focus on learning the proper body positioning to communicate well with your dog.

Finally, before you sign up, you might want to attend a local agility demonstration or competition. You'll learn a lot about what's involved--handler behavior, dog behavior and  get a peek at the equipment you'll be learning to deal with. Each has its own unique challenges, and those are different for every dog. Suffice it to say, approach training each of your dogs with a fresh slate. While one may balk at the A-frame, another may freak out on the teeter. Your job, as always, is to lead with complete confidence. Set the stage and your pup will perform.

Thanks to Maureen and Kim for sharing our cover dog photos for today. Aren't they beautiful and talented? Tanner and Oliver can only drool. They have a long way to go, but the journey will be fun.

Can't get enough? Read and practice with this stuff:
This "Agility-in-a-Bag" set is what I purchased to practice at home. It's plenty to get you started and work on basic skills--particularly the weave poles. I highly recommend them.

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