Dog agility is an exhilarating dog sport where each participating dog must complete an obstacle course of tunnels, tires, weave poles, seesaws and jumps as quickly and accurately as possible off leash.
You must direct your dog through the obstacles in the correct sequence without touching your dog or the obstacles and without the use of treats. Your dog must rely entirely on your verbal cues and body language for guidance.
Dog agility is exciting for participants and spectators alike. It is obvious that the dogs relish the sport. They can pounce through the weave poles faster than you’d believe possible, and it’s heartening to see the close bond between dog and handler when the course is complete.
Agility requires a sharp mind, an eagerness to please, and a lot of energy. If your dog loves to run and learn, she will likely thrive on agility. A few breeds you will constantly see winning agility competitions are working dogs such as the Border Collie, Jack Russell, Australian Shepherd, Shetland Sheepdogs, Australian Kelpie and German Shepherd but also some unexpected breeds such as the Standard poodle, Papillon, Pembroke Welsh corgi and the Rat terrier.
Dachshunds will have trouble clearing the jumps and this activity won’t do his back any good. Great Danes don’t have the high energy required to dash through the course. The brachycephalic (short-snouted) dog breeds such as the Bulldog might have trouble breathing. Read about the signs of heat stroke and how to keep your dog cool. Breathing troubles are also exaggerated if dogs become overweight.
As with dogs, not all humans are suitable for dog agility. Training will require your patience, perseverance, persistence and daily commitment. But you will soon find that the rewards are well worth it!
To be eligible for competitions your dog must be older than 15 months, be registered to compete, be spayed or neutered and be up-to-date with vaccinations.
Before you start agility training, it is a good idea to teach your dog the basic commands first – sit, heel, down, stay. Once you have established these foundations, sign up with a dog agility class. You and your dog will be introduced to the various obstacle types and taught communication techniques so that you can guide your dog through the obstacle course. Be prepared to attend once a week for about an hour.
It is important to practice from home between classes for at least 15 - 20 minutes each day. You could improvise an obstacle course with objects from home. Some equipment, such as the tunnel, is collapsible and easy to store between practice sessions. Weave poles are also easy to store. If you opt for some DIY agility equipment rather than purchased equipment, be sure to build them according to the specifications in your country. For the USA this is the American Kennel Club regulations (in chapter 3) and for the European Union it is European regulations (in section C).
Take your time in the beginning to allow you and your dog to get accustomed to the sport. Incentives such as healthy treats can help in the beginning but are not permitted in competitions so they should eventually be replaced with voice and body commands.
Building a dog agility obstacle course is a bit like building a playground for your dog. If you don’t have your own yard, you can set a course in a nearby park, dismantling it after each practice. Here are some common obstacles.
If your dog does well with agility, you could find yourself having so much fun that you want to take it to the next level and compete. Dogs are put into groups for competitions in order to give them a fair chance – the small dogs compete against other small dogs, experienced dogs compete against other experienced dogs, beginners against beginners and so on.
Each organization has its own rules but some common rules and faults include:
In the late 1970s the organizers of the Crufts dog show in the United Kingdom decided to liven things up a bit during the intermission between dog shows so that the audience was not staring at an empty oval. They had dogs run an obstacle course similar to the ones used in horse jumping. This intermission entertainment was such a hit that it became a competition in its own right.
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