By John Youngblood
If you are lucky enough to be sharing your life with a dog, you’ve probably seen it hundreds of times. Each time your dog brings you a toy to tug, a ball to throw, or runs around with some unmentionables fresh out of the laundry basket so you will chase him, he is asking for your attention. He is asking to play. Dogs of all breeds and ages love to play!
What is playing? Well, playing to a dog is a way to connect with you. A way to get you to interact and fully engage with him in a fun and exciting way. It is not a coincidence that the favorite games of dogs involve running of some sort and if jumping is involved, then it’s even better.
Most dogs thrive on the attention and thrill they get from playing with you. The endorphins they experience are much more than you will ever get from staring at your mobile device, texting, or even checking your facebook feed. If you do not spend at least as much, or 2x as much, time interacting with your dog as you do with your inanimate mobile device you might consider shifting some of that time/attention and sharing it with your 4 legged pal. Whether you realize it or not, he is patiently sitting in the corner, waiting and hoping and hoping and hoping some more, that you will soon put it down and PLAY!
Throwing and retrieving is a great game. Dogs love it. We can select from a variety of balls, sticks, discs and toys. Each extremely fun for the dog, but maybe a bit repetitive for the human. So for the human who wants to spend more time with her/his dog but at the same time is looking for an exciting and stimulating activity, what is she/he to do? Well, dog agility is one option that checks all the boxes.
Dog agility is an event that challenges both you and your dog to work together in order to learn and participate. There are multiple levels of participation. While some just do it as something fun to do with their dogs others do it for the fun of competing for titles and placements. Whatever your original motivation, be forewarned…IT IS ADDICTIVE!
One really cool thing about agility is that all breeds and their owners can enjoy learning it together. (Dogs need to be at least 18 months old to compete and should not do jumping before the growth plates are solid. IF working with a young dog, please check with your veterinarian to make sure growth plates are closed and the dog is physically sound for agility.) Adults and dogs of almost any age, assuming basic physical fitness/soundness, can start learning at any time. To begin it is important that you and your dog work together on some of the basic fundamentals. In order to participate in agility, the dog will need to have an outstanding recall. Recalls can be fun to train and come in handy in a variety of situations outside of agility. In addition to a solid recall, your dog is going to need to be able to work with you off leash. For safety reasons, there are no leashes, (or some types of collars for that matter), in agility.
Agility involves a lot of running. Playing chasing games with your dog also helps lay a really nice foundation while you are thinking about ways to begin your agility training.
While it is possible to train fairly quickly, taking your time and doing it slow and steady leads to a solid base. Most competitive agility dogs learn this way. While it is awfully tempting to want to learn as fast as possible, too fast can often lead to weak foundations and then retraining. Retraining efforts can sometimes be less fun. While there are a few who will legitimately only want to play agility for exercise and fun, the sport is addictive and many who start with a desire of just being recreational, end up finding themselves bit by the agility bug and running in competitions whether it was the original intent or not. Because of this, it can be argued it is in your long term best interest to go with the slow and steady approach to training. As the multiple time agility World Champion Silvia Trkman says, “going slow is the fastest way to learn agility.”
For those wanting to learn, there are a couple of methods to explore. Most populated areas have agility training complexes with instructors who offer training in classes as well as private lessons. Taking classes and learning from an instructor has multiple benefits and can be loads of fun. Of course you will want to have some basic equipment around your home so that you can work on the lessons learned in class. The class gives you and your dog a chance to get experience training in an exciting environment under the watchful eye of someone who is vested in you learning and enjoying the sport so that you will continue to pursue it and train with them.
For those who may be more independent there are a variety of distance learning tools available today that allow you to learn on your own. To take full advantage of these distance options you will need to have access to either a training facility or have some equipment at your home. (Most of the time the intro classes make use of limited equipment such as 4 – 6 jumps and a couple of tunnels. You can make the jumps inexpensively out of PVC…lots of instructions online.) There are DVD’s that demonstrate the basics and show you how to teach them. There are also online classes where the instructors will provide you with lessons that usually include video demonstrations of the tasks for the session. You then work it on your own with your dog, make a video of the session and then upload it for critique and feedback.
Whatever method of training you decide, just remember that it is always supposed to be fun. Agility is all about playing a complex game with your dog and it is meant to always be fast and fun. It is a great way to strengthen your bond, stay in great physical condition and of course leads to hours and hours of pleasure and enjoyment for both of you.
If you think agility might be something you want to explore with your dog, try Googling “dog agility training (your city and state)” to find nearby trainers and facilities.
Listen to our interview with John about how he trained his dog to compete in agility