Learning how to work as a team, improving discipline and getting better at communication between you both – you and your canine partner can benefit in so many ways from agility training. But even more importantly – it’s just so much fun! How else can you explain the phenomenal and growing popularity, of the sport?
What exactly does it involve?
Directed by you, your dog runs through, over and under a series of obstacles such as tunnels, hoops and around poles. The aim is for your dog to complete the course without you touching either your canine friend or the obstacles and using only voice or hand signals. The dog with the least ‘faults’ wins the competition. Meanwhile, competitions tend to be split into three distinctive groups, based on dog size.
From this description it sounds as if most of the effort is done by your dog, but that’s simply not the case. Many of the courses are so complicated that he or she wouldn’t have any idea where to head to next; your dog is totally reliant on your clear instructions.
Like all competitions it can become intense. At the highest levels dogs and handlers can be training up to three times a day and competitions won by being able to shave of mere seconds from the lap time. This tends to occur in the weave poles section (a slalom-like obstacle where the poles are spaced just 60cm apart and must be entered by the dog from the left shoulder first).
How do I know my dog will be any good?
The short answer is you don’t – at least until they’ve tried. Collies and working sheep dogs tend to excel at this sport but it’s open to all breeds, sizes and ages.
Wait until your dog is at last a year old before you consider this though, as their bones and muscles are still forming and too much agility training at an early age could lead to bone displacement.
What are the benefits?
These are numerous. Agility training is both a mental and physical workout for you both. It requires a lot of concentration, mixed with running (the faster your dog completes the course, the better the chance he or she has of winning).
A lovely benefit of this training is the improved confidence it will give your dog. He or she will become far more self-assured and this will permeate into other areas of life too. They will obviously also become more agile and nimble. And finally, you’ll both enjoy having a more intense bonding experience thanks to all the time and effort you’re putting into this past time together.
I’m convinced – how do I get started?
First off, get your dog checked over by your vet to make sure he or she is fit and mentally stable enough to compete alongside other dogs.
Next, check out agility classes near where you live. Most cities and towns run these. If you’re a bit nervous about attending a class straight-off, you’ll probably be able to find a trainer who’s willing to give one-to-one sessions initially.