Are you looking for a way to use up your pup’s excess energy? Are you proud of your dog’s natural athletic nature? There are many ways to exercise your dog, if exercise is all you are after. Getting your dog involved in agility games will not only give him plenty of exercise, it will also increase his confidence and create a closer bond between canine and owner, among other benefits.
What is agility?
Agility games/training is a sport in which a dog and his handler (you) complete an obstacle course, without the use of toys or food and without the handler touching the dog or the obstacles. There are numerous obstacles, like tunnels, beams, see-saws and jumps. The course must be completed in a specific order, and in competition the time it takes is a key factor to winning. Completing each obstacle with the least number of faults (mistakes) is also a factor.
History of Agility
Agility training began in the United Kingdom back in the late 1970s as entertainment at a dog show. It picked up popularity quickly because of the complexity and obedience skills that were required. The English Kennel Club was the first organization to recognize agility as an official sport in 1980, and competitions begin to spread internationally. Even today, the number of classes and competitions continue to grow every year.
What kind of dog is agility good for?
As long as your dog is healthy, does not have any pain issues, and your vet says your dog is healthy enough, then there is no limit to the size or breed of dog that would benefit from agility games. Physical limitations would include hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia or vision problems. The different equipment and obstacles used are adapted to the size of the dog, allowing small dogs to participate and compete.
There are breeds that naturally excel in agility, but any dog can participate and benefit from it. Although you can start training when your dog is a puppy, it is usually not recommended to start jumps before the dog is full-grown because their joints can be permanently damaged while in the growth stage.
Ways to get involved in Agility
You can join an agility class at your local dog training facility. I would check references and maybe attend a class to observe before committing to a class. Make sure the trainer is qualified, spends enough time with each dog giving clear direction to the handler, and is always positive with the dogs. If you are looking to get into competition, find a trainer with experience in competition, who can train you toward the skills you and your dog will need and direct you to the arenas you are looking to gain entry to.
If you aren’t interested in competition, but want to do agility for the benefits that agility can give a dog/human pair, consider setting up an agility course in your own backyard. That way you can change it up to keep it interesting as often as you like, and can start small and build bigger as the dog learns more.
Benefits of agility games for dogs
One of the best benefits of doing agility with your dog is the improved communication between you both, which also enhances the bond between dog and owner. As the handler, you are responsible for leading your dog through the obstacles, and he will depend on you for voice and hand signals in order to successfully navigate the challenges.
Another great benefit is the confidence that agility gives a dog. For a dog that may have had fears of confined places, different textured surfaces, or just new situations at all, doing agility training can help the dog overcome his fears and feel more confident. Classes are done at a pace where the dog is not pushed, and are always made to feel comfortable with the challenges ahead of them. Always make sure every experience a dog has is a positive one.
Dogs also learn self-control through agility training. They can’t just play as they please, they can’t go over and be sociable with the other dogs around (or their owners), they must focus on the course and generally they enjoy it so much, the other distractions become less of an interest.
One very obvious benefit to agility training is the exercise that it gives both the dog and the handler. Because the dog gets his signals from you, you need to keep up with him on the course at least to the point that he can see you and read your hand signs or hear your voice. It is also mental stimulation for the dog, which has the same benefits as physical exercise. Your puppy will be exhausted! If you have an energetic dog like I do, that is great news!
Obstacles on the course
In competition, the USDAA requires the following obstacles:
Three contact obstacles, including A-frame, see-saw and beam
Set of 10-12 weave poles
An agility tunnel
An agility table
A tire jump
Three winged hurdles, one which has to be a spread hurdle
There are different numbers of obstacles, based on whether the competition is with novice, advanced or masters level dogs. This can range from 14 to 22 obstacles. There are specifications for each of the obstacles, regarding height, width and length.
If you want to set up an agility course at home, you can buy these items (click here) or you can build them yourself. This book has all you need to build the course out of solid materials for long lasting value. You can also just use things around the house for some of the obstacles. A picnic bench works as a beam. A fold up beach lounge chair can be used as a table. Electric fence posts can be used for the weave poles.
Teaching the agility games to your dog
If you don’t plan to compete and just want to have the activity at home, my suggestion would be to start with a class or two so you can get the basics down. Then have a ball with your dog. (Technically, balls are not part of agility, but after the training is done a ball could be a great reward). If you can’t find any classes nearby, you can read about how to do agility training here.
Go have fun!
There are so many benefits to agility games/training, but the best one of all is the fun you and your dog will have together. Agility is a team sport, and your dog and you could be the perfect team. Leave me a comment below and let me know what you decided to do and how it worked out. I love hearing about dogs and their pawrents finding new ways to enjoy each other!