Agility has grown to become one of the biggest sports in dog world. In an agility event, the handler (that’s you), directs the dog through an obstacle course. Dogs must run off leash and no food treats or lures can be used. This sport requires a lot of work and training on the part of the handler and the dog…but that is all of the fun…right?
Agility is usually done with competition in mind. Very few attempt agility with the intention of never competing. Courses can be simple or complex. The course is a race and the dog and handler with the best time wins. There are faults along the way that can add time to the team’s finish time. These include missing obstacles, or other faults, such as missing a weave pole or the end of an A-frame. Alright, interested, here’s how to get involved.
The first question that every dog owner must ask is, can my dog do agility? The best part about agility is that any dog, as long as they are physically sound, can do agility. Classes at a competition are divided into toy, small, medium, and large dogs. For each of these classes, the obstacles such as jumps, are adjusted so that class of dog can successfully complete the course. Yes, I have even seen a Chihuahua compete in agility.
The most important quality for an agility dog is that they have a lot of energy to burn. If your dog is hyper after a long day without you, agility can be a great way to burn off steam for the both of you. Border collies with their explosive energy are common agility competitors. Bur I have seen almost any breed in the competition ring, so the possibilities are wide open. If your dog is a couch potato, get them off the couch and get them out. You might be surprised at the energy and desire that your couch potato might have. Most dogs love agility. It stimulates their mind and lets them do what they love to do best, run.
Equipment for agility can be expensive or nonexistent. The only thing that an owner really needs for the sport is a dog that is willing. There are many training centers available around the country that have courses and experienced trainers who can help the novice learn to train their dog for this sport.
Some people get so into agility that they decide to build their own course. This route can be expensive, especially if the person decides to purchase standard equipment from a supplier. Standard equipment includes jumps, the pause table, pause box, weave poles, A-frames, and chutes. Purchasing this equipment can be expensive. For instance a chute typically runs $125. A set of weave poles can cost $400. However, there are also plans available on the internet to build a set of practice poles out of cheap PVC pipe at a considerably lower cost.
For those who do not have the space or the desire to set up their own backyard training course, training centers are beginning to spring up in most areas of the country. Many of these training centers have courses and equipment that can be used. They also have people there who are often happy to help the beginner. These centers are great resources for classes and getting clues to help improve the team’s performance. Training centers are much less expensive than purchasing your own equipment. These centers are a great resource for preparing for competition as well.
As with any advanced training, agility begins with a good foundation in the basic five commands. Many training centers will not even talk to a handler whose dogs do not know the basics already. The dog absolutely must be able to do a long down and then be directed from a down to the first obstacle. They must listen very well off lead and must have good ring manners. Dogs who eliminate on or mark the obstacles are frowned upon and could be disqualified. There is a lot of ground work on manners and basic commands that must be done before the dog is even remotely ready to train in the agility ring. There is a lot of work that must be done to get ready for the intensity of agility training, but in the end, it is worth it.
Agility is a tremendous amount of fun for dogs, handlers, and spectators. The dogs always have a few surprises for their handlers that were not expected. The most important thing about agility training is to expect the unexpected. The one thing that you can count on is that you and your dog will have fun!