Is your dog the star of the dog park? Does he move like a speeding bullet? Jump like a jackrabbit? Does he make the cute poodles drool and the show-offs look like fools?
Whether you can attribute this energy level to his breed type or to his personality, if he's got it, he's got to use it. You can choose to commit to giving him plenty of outdoor play time, or...you can make the most of that inherent ability...by involving him in dog agility training.
Dog agility. It's more than a growing trend. It's an outlet for your dog's natural, instinctual habits. It's a timed event, consisting of a roadmap of several obstacles, which your dog is asked to negotiate in a particular order, without fault, and under a judge-determined time limit. The pressure is on!
Think about what you know about your dog's ancestors' behavior. In the wild, dogs are required to chase and kill prey, and to also avoid being the prey. Imagine pursuit of a rabbit, for instance. That rabbit, when chased by a hungry canine, will hurdle rocks, slip under fallen logs, teeter on natural bridges, climb sheer slopes, and squeeze through brambles and thick brush. And if that dog is hungry, he'll be required to do the same. Considering the hardy survival of the canine population in the wild, we can deduct that they've been considerably successful in chasing those quick little guys. Because they're good at it!
Here's another thought. Humans are also designed to be agile. Your ancestors sprinted from saber-tooth tigers, traversed rushing rivers, zigzagged through dense forests, and chased food of their own.
So, as you may guess that I'm going to suggest...why not join your dog in a rewarding sport that plays into all that's natural and necessary..exercise, entertainment, satisfaction? All wrapped into a fast paced and elegant demonstration of adrenaline-fueled teamwork..in dog agility trials.
Some breeds are definite underdogs when it comes to agility training. Giant breeds like Great Danes and Mastiffs usually have neither the energy nor the desire to participate. Short-nosed breeds like Boxers, Bulldogs, and some Terriers have difficulty with activities that require heavy breathing. Breeds with short legs, like Dachshunds, can have a hard time clearing the jumps.
Age can also be a factor to consider. Puppies are excluded from trials until they reach 9 months of age, and it's recommended that dogs older than 8 years of age enjoy their retirement - work free.
As we discussed earlier, a lot of your dog's ability will be determined by his personality and energy level. Don't lose heart...if you've got a snorer, a giant breed, or a little shrimp...remember that no breed is excluded from dog agility trails. If your kid's got heart, then give it a shot. On the other paw, if your guy would rather lie on your lap and not break a pant, he may be better suited to a low-impact sport, the spectator type.
Once you begin, and continue to improve upon, your dog's agility training, you'll notice that he's more alert, vigorous, and confident. His problem-solving capabilities will multiply. The attention that you require from him will strengthen his bond with you, reinforce basic obedience commands, and improve his communication ability. The physical demands of the dog agility courses will hone his coordination, increase endurance, and improve his overall health through physical fitness. And all of that exercise will improve his behavior off the course - because as we all know - a tired dog is a good dog.
And, yes, as for you...all of the above benefits apply. Go ahead, read the list again - it's practically guaranteed!
Besides your dog's vocabulary, his physical maturity needs to be a consideration. Dogs must be a minimum of 9 months old to compete, but that doesn't mean that every dog is ready at 9 months. Consider this: If your dog's breed is expected to reach its maximum weight at under 50 pounds, then he won't be finished growing until he's 9-12 months old. Likewise, breeds that are expected to tip the scales at over 50 pounds aren't likely to finish their upward pound-climb until they reach 10-14 months of age. Keeping this in mind, asking a puppy to clear regulation-height agility jumps before he is finished growing is a risky endeavor. His joints can't handle that kind of trauma. Jumps higher than a growing puppy's shoulder should remain out of the question. But, by all means, grounded equipment, like tunnels and boards, can be tackled as soon as the basic commands are mastered.
Bond with your dog in a playful atmosphere. Use toys to play fetch, tug-of-war, or Frisbee to reinforce commands and bring home the idea that work can be fun for your dog. You wouldn't join your first fitness club and sign up for the advanced class on the first day. Similarly, your dog needs to work up to his best physical condition. Gradually introduce equipment, one piece at a time, in the form of short agility tunnels and low jumps. With time and continual success, tunnels may be lengthened and bars raised to regulation level. This will not only build your dog's fitness and difficulty levels at a manageable pace, but will prevent injury and frustration.
Establish commands specific to each piece of equipment. This will be helpful when directing your dog in the ring (you'll have the map of the course, he won't). Also make sure that he's confident in commands to indicate fast, slow, right, left, up, down, heel, away, etc. to keep him on course. Reward good progress with treats and lots of love. Never reprimand for missed jumps or other fumbles. If you do, your dog will quickly become frustrated and want to give up. And, remember, if your dog approaches obstacles with his head or tail down, or if he shows any reluctance at the sight of the agility equipment, then it's not fun, and it may not be the thing for him.
Your veterinarian should always be a partner in your dog's health. Before beginning agility training, have your dog's joints, heart, lungs, and eyes checked. Additionally, extra weight can hinder his performance. A little belt-cinching may be in order, and your veterinarian can offer the best food plan for your little chunk.
If you like group support and good advice (who doesn't?), then look up a dog agility club in your area. You may also be able to find a trainer that specializes in agility training. Always keep it fun. Never focus on the prize, but rather, on the special bond that you will establish with your fun-and-fitness partner.
Here, I've included an overview of some of the most popular agility training equipment / obstacles and their descriptions:
Collapsed tunnels are constructed with a rigid, tubular entrance. Connected is an 8-10' fabric trailer, which the dog must push his way through.
Not a high jump, the broad jump is made by adjoining low platforms on the ground.
The single jump is constructed of two vertical side bars, with one adjustable horizontal bar for jumping over.
The double jump is fashioned after the single jump, but rather consists of 2 sets of vertical supports, placed one set in front of the other, with horizontal bars mounted at differing heights.
Additionally, the triple jump is built using 3 sets of vertical supports and horizontal bars, at varying depths and heights, much like stair steps.
Finally, a panel jump also uses vertical supports, but rather than a bar for jumping, a solid, removal panel is utilized. Panels of varying heights are used for different height classes.
Solid, standard, equipment is essential to your dog's agility trial success. If he's inadvertently injured on sub-standard obstacles, he will be skittish and fearful of ever mounting that apparatus again. If he shows up to a trial and is introduced to foreign equipment, he will be unable to perform. Set him up for success. By purchasing, renting, borrowing, or building quality benchmark equipment, you will elicit a performance of equal excellence.
Of course, each Dog Agility Association's rules vary, and not every one is offered through every organization. And, there are undoubtedly more courses available that are unique to each association. Do your homework - find an organization that is active in your area. Talk to local pet supply retailers, trainers, and shelters for more information.
By now, you should have familiarized yourself with the standard agility equipment used by the association of your choice, and you should know what rules will be imposed during the trial. Surprises are never a catalyst for success.
Know your organization. No leniency will be provided for misunderstanding. Disqualification is inevitable if rules are broken - excuses will not be accepted.
Plan to arrive at the site of the trial at registration time, not your run time. It's conceivable that your run time may be changed, and it's always helpful to your agility career when you have extra time to spend with professionals, helping out and learning from them.
Take along whatever your dog needs to be comfortable while he's waiting for his big moment. A safe crate and his favorite doggy toy can go a long way toward making him feel at home. Food and water are also musts. Take some time to play, so that he's not brimming over with blinding energy, and some time for rest, so that he's alert.
Agility courses generally cover about 180 linear yards within a 10,000 square foot area. You will have the opportunity to assess the course before trial time. Showtime will be the first time your dog sees the course, however. No treats, toys, or leashes are permitted in the ring at trial time. You may escort your dog to the start line on a leash, but it must then be abandoned.
Your dog will enter agility trials at the Novice level (a.k.a. Starter or No Title). As he accumulates Q's, or Qualifying Runs, he will be able to move onto the Open and Elite categories. He will earn a "Q" if he completes a run under the judge-determined Standard Course Time (SCT), without a single fault. Any of the following are considered a fault:
These are somewhat standard, but remember, each association's rules are unique.
No matter your dog's category, skill level, or association affiliation, one concept rings true for all agility participators. RELAX. Have fun. For your dog, this trial is just another run in the park, another practice in the back yard. Don't let nerves get the best of you - so that the crowd, and the judges, can see the best of your dog.
So, tap into that natural ability. Go for agility!
Please consult the services of a Professional Dog Trainer, Behaviorist or Veterinarian before implementing any of the advice contained on this site.