An Introduction to Agility Training

Agility training is an excellent way to help your dog gain the exercise he needs to thrive.

While he’s getting a good workout, you also teach him to obey commands and lead a healthier lifestyle. It fosters great communication between you and your furry friend, and is often used to curb troubling behaviors like anxiety and aggression.

What is agility training?

Agility is a competitive sport for dogs that involves obstacles like jumps, tunnels, weaves, and more. It’s a team sport that requires owner and pet to work as one to accomplish a goal. This helps to deepen your bond and get both of your bodies’ blood pumping.

Competitors often take the sport very seriously, but it can also be just a fun way to burn off energy for you and your dog.

tunnel

Tunnel | istockphoto/s5iztok

When to start agility training?

Dogs can begin agility training as early as one year, but shouldn’t engage in the sport any earlier than that. A puppy’s body isn’t equipped to handle the rigors of the hurdles and could potentially hurt him by participating before fully grown. The joints in his body must be allowed to finish growing. Speak with your veterinarian before jumping into agility training to ensure that your dog is healthy and ready.

Your dog should have already completed obedience training before beginning agility. Without the basics down, it will be difficult to teach him some of the more involved commands the sport requires. The dog should also be properly socialized so that he’s comfortable around other people and pets. This is especially true if you plan on competing, as aggressive behavior is not permitted at competitions.

agility walk

A-Frame | istockphoto/cunfek

Where to start agility training?

Contact obstacles are the easiest to learn. The most popular of these are the A-frame, the dog walk, and the teeter-totter.

The A-frame is a triangular obstacle with wooden rungs that your dog is meant to climb up one side of, and then descend down the opposite side. It helps to teach balance skills and pacing. The dog walk is basically a balance beam for dogs and another great way to practice balance skills. The teeter-totter is just like the children’s version, wherein your dog must balance as he walks across it while it shifts position.

From there, you can move on to more challenging obstacles. Tunnels and weave poles are great options as they’re both still ground obstacles. Tunnels don’t require much skill, but do test your dog’s focus and ability to navigate small spaces. Weave poles help hone your dog’s movements and can be hard to teach. Remember to have patience as you practice these obstacles.

Finally, you can move on to jumps with your veterinarian’s approval. Hurdles are the best way to train for jumps and should be kept low when starting out. With small breeds, it’s best to start with the bar on the ground, while medium and larger breeds can practice on hurdles that are one to two inches high. As your dog becomes more comfortable and confident with his jumps, you can gradually increase the height.

Remember to use training treats to help your dog stay focused on the task at hand!

teeter-totter seesaw

Teeter-Totter/Seesaw | istockphoto/s5iztok

What if I need help?

It can be difficult to teach your dog agility obstacles on your own. Luckily, there are plenty of trainers willing to help out. Check your local listings for certified trainers in your area who work with agility training. They’ll be able to assess your dog’s skill level when starting out and put you on the appropriate path for a safe and happy training schedule for all.

From there, you can begin visiting the local agility course or even build one in your own backyard. Whether you’re looking to compete with your pup or just need a way to wear him out at the end of the day, agility training can be the perfect game for you and your furry friend.

poles

Weave Poles | istockphoto/mayalain

Meet the Author: Ben Kerns

Ben Kerns is a freelance writer, photographer and outdoor adventurer based out of San Diego. When he’s not busy working you can find him hopping across the world looking for new places to climb big rocks. He’s also fanatically obsessed with funding his outdoor obsessions for as little money as possible. This stuff gets expensive.

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