So you’re interested in dog agility, but before you start, you want to make sure that it is something your dog will enjoy. Is dog agility good for your dog? Will your dog like agility?
To answer your questions, let’s break down what makes up agility!
What is dog agility?
According to the dictionary, “agility” is the ability to change the body’s position quickly and efficiently. This kind of athleticism requires balance, coordination, strength, speed, and endurance. Agility dogs run, jump, and even weave with incredible ability and speed.
While many people choose to start dog agility just for fun, taking classes in person or taking classes online, many ultimately choose to compete with their dogs in dog agility trials.
What is a dog agility trial?
An agility trial is a competition for dogs where dogs of various breeds navigate obstacles and are judged on both speed and accuracy.
Agility courses are specially designed to demonstrate the dog’s athletic ability, level of training, and teamwork with their handler. Competitions require both physical conditioning and mental conditioning.
In a typical agility trial, dogs jump over hurdles, run through tunnels, weave through upright poles, and charge up A-frame structures planks and across elevated walkways.
Courses are unique and entirely different at every competition, so the dog depends on their human teammate to guide them through the course correctly. Well-trained dogs are able to run at top-speed as their handlers guide them through the course using hand signals or verbal cues.
What are the benefits of agility training?
Agility training can benefit both the dog and the handler in the following ways:
Agility training provides mental stimulation.
Let’s face it. We fall into routines pretty easily. While that simplifies the day-to-day, it can create a very bored dog. Agility training fixes that.
Instead of the same walk around the block week after week, your dog will be presented with new environments and training challenges. This change of location and mental activity is great for your dog!
Not only will they get more mental stimulation, but you will find that your dog relaxes more physically as they conquer new training challenges that you will get in your agility training classes.
Dog agility provides good exercise.
Some dogs require lots of exercise to burn excess energy, and running through an obstacle course is a great way to do just that. The athletic aspect to dog agility can help keep a dog fit, help prevent obesity, increase physical endurance, and strengthen bones and joints.
Plus, as we mentioned above, agility training also exercises a dog’s mind, by giving them opportunities to learn and solve problems.
As a bonus, agility training can also help you keep in shape! You won’t actually run through a tunnel or jump over the hurdles, but you will keep moving alongside your dog. If you use a watch to track your steps, you will be amazed by how much activity you get in your dog’s agility class!
Simply put, agility training provides good cardiovascular, muscular, and mental exercise for you and your dog.
Agility training bonds dog and owner.
Dogs are smart…far smarter than we give them credit for, but it would be difficult for them to successfully complete an agility course without the aid of their owner/handler.
The human member of the team guides the dog through an agility course using verbal cues and hand signals. This level of communication developed through the time spent training, bond a dog and their owner in a very special way.
Another great side-effect to the increased bond from agility training is that your dog will also become more obedient and well-behaved off the course. That’s right! All that time spent training agility also transfers to general obedience and self-control behaviors!
What should you consider before starting in a dog agility training class?
Since agility training is can be a strenuous exercise, there are a few things to consider before starting this type of physical activity:
Make sure your dog is physically fit.
Dog agility is a sport that involves lots of running and jumping, so sound joints and a healthy heart are a must. We recommend having your veterinarian perform an overall physical exam to ensure that your dog is in good physical condition. If possible, you may even want to consider x-rays to be sure there is not a hidden skeletal issue that would prevent your dog from safely doing agility.
Even young pups should be checked out because developing joints can be injured if over-stressed. Also beware of any agility training school that utilizes full-height jumps or other equipment for puppies under one year of age. Growth plates are easily damaged in puppies, and as such, agility schools should avoid full-height equipment with puppies.
Regardless of your dog’s age or how healthy they appear, we recommend you get your veterinarian’s approval before you begin training. If you have any health concerns, it may also be a good idea to see your personal physician for their approval, too.
Consider your dog’s temperament.
Training can involve just you and your dog in one-on-one lessons with an agility instructor, but there will be lots of dogs at training facilities, in group classes, and at competitions.
Your dog should be comfortable around strange dogs and strange people. This is especially important since your dog will be competing off-leash and will need to respond to voice commands immediately regardless of distractions.
It is a common misconception that agility training can help with reactivity and/or dog aggression issues. Rather, dog agility is intense, fast-paced, and stimulating, so it can actually make reactivity problems worse.
Figure out what motivates your dog.
Agility training is challenging and can become tiresome for you and your dog. While you may be motivated by winning ribbons and titles, your dog won’t be so impressed with those things.
Good, fun training starts with figuring out what best motivates your dog to persevere through the training challenges. Is it food? Toys? Praise? Or a combination?
How do you get started with dog agility training?
The best way to get started in agility is by finding local agility groups in your area. Search online, ask your veterinarian, call a dog trainer, or talk to fellow pet owners at the dog park. Or, maybe the next time you see a competition taking place at a local park, stop and ask a few of the competitors who they train with!
There are many options for local dog agility training in-person as well as many options for training dog agility online.
A good trainer will train both you and your dog. There is an art to assisting your dog through a course with finesse, and your best trainers want to make sure you know what that art is!
So, what are you waiting for? Get started in agility today!