Whenever I go to a dog show, my attention invariably gets pulled away from the beautiful and stately show dogs over to the agility area where dogs of all shapes and sizes are scrambling around an obstacle course at full speed. An agility dog is a site to behold and a ton of fun to watch in action!
In fact, you might be tempted to enter your own dog in agility but have no idea where to start. Just how does one get started and should you even attempt it with your dog?
What Is Agility?
The simple answer is that Agility is a “sport” in which dogs individually run an obstacle course to see who can complete it in the least amount of time. The obstacles include jumps, collapsible tunnels, pylons, and more. The “handler” is the human who helps guide the dog around the course instructing it on which obstacle to tackle next.
If you think agility is just for border collies and retrievers, then you have a lot to learn about this sport! I’ve seen every breed of dog you can think of run an agility course. Yes, that includes English Bulldogs, Saint Bernards, and even Chihuahuas!
Agility is far more about the dog’s willingness to participate than it is about the athletic ability of the dog. It’s only when you’re begin competing on a regional or national level that athletic ability really helps.
Should My Dog And I Do Agility?
This is the first question you should be asking. Not every dog and, most certainly, not every dog owner should attempt agility. Dogs have to want to do it and the owner needs to be a guide and not a drill sergeant.
If your dog is already over the age of six, you may not want to do any high-level training or competitions in the first place. Learning a few basic agility obstacles would be fun and engaging.
Do you have the desire to run your dog through an agility course? You need to be to jog/run around for roughly a minute or so at the very least. Don’t worry about being in great shape. That’s not needed.
How to Start Agility Training with Your Dog
Before starting Agility training, you must train your puppy in basic obedience. This will help to teach your puppy essentially to follow your commands. Then you will move up to advanced obedience and then agility training.
Before starting basic obedience training with your dog, first, you must come up with a plan and method you want to follow.
You can do DIY training, take your dog to training classes, or hire a professional dog trainer. The most cost-effective way would be doing the training yourself. It can be very easy using a positive reinforcement technique (treats). Essentially, every time your dog does one of the following commands, you give them a treat.
The first skills you will need to teach your puppy are sit, come, down, stay, and leave it. As well, you will want to get your dog adapted to walking on a leash by your side. These are good skills because they teach your dog to have their attention completely on you and are capable of following your commands.
Once your puppy has these commands down, you can work on fun tricks such as shake, roll over, standing up, and jumping. Next, you will want to move up to advanced obedience training.
Advanced Obedience Training
Advanced obedience training is essentially training just a little more skilled than basic obedience. Advanced skills that you will be teaching your dog include staying for an extended period, staying while off-leash, and walking at a tight heel while off-leash. At this point, it may be beneficial to begin teaching your dog hand signals as well, but that’s up to you.
Teaching your dog basic and advanced obedience can take a while, and you want to make sure they have those skills solidified before starting agility training. Once you feel your dog has the previous skills down, you can move onto beginning your agility training.
Teaching Your Dog Agility Training
One of the most important things to do while training your dog agility is to use lots of encouragement and praise when your dog something correct. For a more in-depth training regiment from an expert, check out this book from Amazon:
Begin teaching your dog agility by one skill at a time. You can do this at most dog parks. If you want to start specifically start purchasing some basic agility equipment for home use, there’s some really good “sets” you can purchase off of Amazon.
Beginner Dog Agility Set – this great starter set includes a few weave poles, a small jump, a flat pad for sitting/standing on, and a straight, small tunnel. For under $50, you can’t beat the amount of equipment that you’ll get.
PawHut 5-Piece Agility Set – On the more expensive side (roughly $120), there’s this 5-piece agility set that is far more professional and complete. It also comes with a high jump, a collapsible tunnel, and more activities that are very similar to what you will find out on the competition field.
There are two types of agility competitions: Matches (Fun Matches) and sanctioned trials.
Matches are open to mixed breeds and have less strict rules (You usually can use food in the ring and keep your dog on a leash). Matches are cheaper to enter, and you can purchase multiple obstacles for your dog. Winnings do not add to your dog’s “title.”
Sanctioned trials are usually organized by dog clubs. These have stricter rules and are more expensive to enter. The obstacles are typically more complex and do not allow leashes or treats.
In competitions, dogs are sorted by their height at the peak of their shoulders. Then put into height groups. They are also further sorted into their experience levels. Some organizations divide the dogs into more categories, but the latter are the main two categories.
In agility competitions, scoring is based on how many mistakes a dog makes while running the courses, as well as their speed. These mistakes can include anything from knocking down a bar in a jump to time faults for not completing all the obstacles within a set amount of time.
Agility Competition Eligibility
In order to compete in an Agility competition ran by a larger dog organization your dog must:
- Be 15 months of age or older
- Registered with AKC or another dog organization
- Spayed and neutered dogs are eligible to compete
- In sound health and up-to-date on vaccinations
- Most breeds are allowed to participate
- Females must not be in heat
Do Agility Dogs Make Money?
You can win money from your dog competing in agility, but most of the time, it will not cover the cost of getting in. For example, winning a world championship can bring in up to a few thousand dollars (at most) but this would not cover all the training, equipment, transportation, hotels, and fees.
While the top-level competitors are usually doing this to further their reputations as trainers and breeders, the vast majority of competitors do agility because it’s fun for both them and their dogs. They want to see just how great their dog can be!
Is Agility Bad For Dogs?
Agility is a great exercise for your dog as long as it is in good health. Agility will help to strengthen a dog’s muscles, improve coordination, and increase muscle endurance. Many have felt that not only does agility improve your dog’s behavior, but it also can strengthen the bond between you and your dog.
However, on the other side…
While agility can be great for most dogs, it is not for everyone. Not every dog is physically or mentally capable of doing agility. Many dog owners don’t realize the physical limitations that their dogs have and may unintentionally make certain orthopedic conditions worse.
These dogs can still participate in agility, but just make sure to schedule regular vet visits to check on their joints.
It’s All About Your Relationship With Your Dog
For anyone who has an athletic relationship with their dog (you frequently take hikes or jogs) and wants to further their bond, agility is a fantastic option.
If you have a dog that you love dearly who is bored or in great need of a lot of interaction, agility can be a great way to fix that. A dog that is exercised both physically and mentally will be happy, healthy, and will love you greatly.