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Dog Agility Training 101: The Complete Guide

Nicole Cosgrove

If your dog has a lot of energy, one of the best ways to keep it happy, healthy, and calm is to participate in dog agility training. Agility training is when you lead your dog through an obstacle course using your commands. It requires a lot of training on your dog’s part, but it requires a lot of patience on yours.

Getting started in dog agility training can be a bit difficult as a beginner. If you’ve never trained a dog in agility sports before, it certainly can be a daunting task. That does not mean you should shy away from the exercise, though.

To make dog agility training a bit easier for you, we have come up with this complete guide. In this guide, we will talk about what agility training is, how you can get started, and more. Read on to find out everything you would need to know about dog agility training.

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Dog Agility Training: What Is It?

As we already mentioned, dog agility training is whenever you direct your dog through an obstacle course using voice commands. Most courses will have between 14 and 20 obstacles, including items like tunnels, tire jumps, and seesaws. Your dog must go through this obstacle course by relying on your cues and body language.

All breeds, even mixed breeds, can participate in agility sports, but certain dogs are better at it than others. For example, Australian Shepherds tend to excel at agility training, but your dog may be great at it too.

Lakeland-Terrier-at-competitions-of-Dog-agility_Zelenskaya_shutterstock
Image Credit: Zelenskaya, Shutterstock

Benefits

The benefits of agility training are really outstanding. Most notably, agility training is a mental and physical exercise for your dog. The obstacles require your dog to push its body while stimulating its brain. It can help your dog stay in peak condition for many years to come.

Additionally, agility training is great for dogs that have a lot of energy. Because training requires a lot of exercise, it can relax rowdy dogs since they have to put out so much energy during practice. Of course, you will have to exercise your dog frequently through agility training in order to get this benefit.

The last major benefit of agility training is the bond between you and your dog will be strengthened. As we’ve already mentioned several times now, the dogs are led by your voice. During the training process, your dog will become more bonded to you and learn to listen to you even better.

Is It Right For You?

Now that you know what agility training is, you might be wondering if it is right for you. There are a lot of misconceptions about the requirements and the type of people who participate in agility training. To put it bluntly, you only need a lot of passion and patience to train a dog in agility sports.

You do not need to be a great athlete. In fact, there are some really impressive agility sport trainers that are in wheelchairs. This just proves that there is nothing stopping you from becoming an agility sports trainer with your dog – as long as you’re patient and willing to put in the work.

Any dog can participate in agility sports as well. Some dogs will naturally be better at it than others, but agility sports can be a great way to exercise any dog you may have. This includes purebreds and mixed breeds alike.

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Staying Healthy During Agility Training

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Image Credit: SnottyBoggins, Pixabay

Agility training can be a lot of hard work and put a lot of strain on your and your dog’s bodies. It’s important that both you and your dog stay healthy throughout all of the training phases. At the beginning, go slow and don’t push you or your dog beyond the limits.

It’s a great idea to talk to your doctor and your dog’s vet before participating in agility training. If you and your dog get a full physical, you can learn about any issues that may become apparent based on the health conditions. Only get into agility sports if your doctor and vet approve.

After getting the approval you need, still be smart about the training. Provide your dog a lot of water, especially during summer months. Pay attention to your dog’s body mannerisms and take it to the vet if it shows signs of pain.

Getting Started

If you are sold on agility sports, let’s get right into what you need to do to get started. It’s a great idea to start out by going to a class or some training opportunity if you have never done agility training before. It can be really difficult to get started if both you and your dog are clueless.

You will begin training your dog on a leash to teach your dog cues and understand how it works. As both you and your dog get the hang of things, you can eventually start practicing off the leash. Once again, we recommend starting out with some sort of training course. The instructor will give you advice for when you should transition from on leash training to off leash training.

Stay Positive

During these early stages, stay optimistic and positive. It may be a little bit stressful because your dog does not know the commands yet. Nevertheless, stay optimistic and keep it fun. If you are fun and happy to be there, your dog will be too. Similarly, your dog will start picking up on the commands more quickly if you aren’t creating a more stressful environment.

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Training At Home

Mastiff on training
Image Credit: 947051, Pixabay

As you start training your dog, you might want to start training at home. Just as with any other sport, practice makes perfect. Practicing at home allows you to practice every single day with your dog, even if the training course is only once a week.

Set Up Your Obstacle Course

When you first start training at home, you will need to get the necessary tools to set up the obstacle course. Most obstacle courses will include jumps, tunnels, weave poles, and pause tables. It’s important to have either serious tools or makeshift ones.

If you look online for agility training tools, you will likely find that they are really expensive. You might want to invest in these tools if you know you want to compete in agility sports. If you don’t have the money, you can make a makeshift obstacle course instead. It doesn’t really matter what the obstacle course looks like so long as the dog is learning the motions and following your cues.

Jumps

One of the most basic parts of agility training is teaching your dog jumps. Begin with low jump so your dog can get the hang of the course. You also need to begin by teaching your dog jumps on a leash. This will prevent the dog from simply going around the hurdle.

As your dog is learning the jumps, make sure to give it a lot of treats. Start to raise the height of the hurdles as your dog gains confidence and skills. In the case that your dog is afraid to jump, place the hurdles in a narrow hallway so they cannot go around them. This will show your dog that it can jump over the hurdles without hurting itself.

Tunnels

Tunnels are something else that you have to teach your dog how to go through. Begin with short tunnels so that your dog can see through. It will likely be helpful to have another person at the end of the tunnel with some sort of treat or toy. You can even put treats inside the tunnel to lure the dog through it.

As your dog gets brave, you can start having longer tunnels and curved tunnels. Once again, placing treats and toys in the tunnel can be a great way to get the dog inside.

dog training
Image Credit: RoboMichalec, Pixabay

Weave Poles

Weave polls are another part of agility obstacle courses that your dog is basically guaranteed to come in contact with. Weave poles are much more difficult to teach than jumping and tunnels. It takes a lot of practice and repetition.

Stagger the poles so that they are easy for your dog to get through. Lead your dog through the poles on a leash so that it understands the motion. You will need to do this quite a few times before moving the poles closer together. It can take several weeks to fully teach your dog this skill.

Pause Table

Probably the most difficult part of an agility obstacle course is the pause table. Pause tables are typically the height of a couch, but they require your dog to sit still. Even dogs that are good at sitting find it difficult to stay at an obstacle’s pause table because they want to go onto the next obstacle.

This is something that will require a lot of patience. Your dog will likely understand the motion, but you’ll have to teach it to actually stay. Start by teaching your dog to stay for five seconds. Once your dog can do that, introduce distractions to keep it sitting no matter what.

Sequencing

Finally, the last step in your home training should be sequencing. Sequencing is when you put all of the obstacles together into an obstacle course. This tells your dog which obstacle it should do in what order. Begin by linking two obstacles. Then, start adding more. You need to learn when to give the commands, or else the dog may choose the next obstacle for you.

Sequencing requires a learning curve for both you and your dog. Your dog must learn how to connect the obstacles, but you must learn when to give the commands.

During the sequencing phase, you might want to introduce your dog to different training locations. This will keep your dog focused on your commands even when you aren’t at home. This may be a bit stressful at first, but it is the only way to ensure your dog won’t get distracted come competition day.

welsh corgi pembroke agility training
Image Credit: ElfinFox, Pixabay

Compete

Depending on what you want to get out of agility training, you can either do agility training with your dog for fun or for sport. Agility training can be a way to exercise your dog and relieve some of its energy. If your dog gets really good at agility training, though, you can begin competing in tournaments.

Several organizations oversee agility sports, like the USDAA, NADAC, and AKCA. If you think you want to do agility more seriously, you can look into these organizations to find training programs and tournaments to put on your calendar.

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Final Thoughts

Agility training is a great way to keep your dog active and exercised. It can be a little bit difficult to get started, though. Follow this guide to learn the basics for agility training. With a lot of patience and hard work, you and your dog can be on your way to agility sport competitions in no time!


Featured Image: SnottyBoggins, Pixabay

Nicole Cosgrove

Nicole is the proud mom of Baby, a Burmese cat and Rosa, a New Zealand Huntaway. A Canadian expat, Nicole now lives on a lush forest property with her Kiwi husband in New Zealand. She has a strong love for all animals of all shapes and sizes (and particularly loves a good interspecies friendship) and wants to share her animal knowledge and other experts' knowledge with pet lovers across the globe.