Beginning Agility Training With Your Dog

Most people find it quite enjoyable to watch dogs on tv compete in agility trials, but most have never considered it for their own dogs. Actually an agility course is simply an obstacle course for dogs and there are many benefits, both for the dog and for you, the owner.

In agility, your dog is off leash and you don’t touch your dog, but guide him through the course using a combination of body movements and cues. Communication is key to success.

Agility is great exercise for your dog, and most dogs love having a job, plus there is the social part of it as well. Owners love it because it fosters a deep bond with their dog and a level of communication that they likely would never have acheived. Plus it’s also great exercise for owners and a chance to meet others who are enthusiastic about this sport.

Plus, you and your dog can get started without even having to set food in a formal agility course or compete in a trial. Work on beginning foundational skills with your dog at home by using objects such as making a tunnel from a large box and substituting a hula hoop for the tire jump.

Look on YouTube for beginning dog agility training and there are also many books on the topic as well. But your best bet is to find a local agility class. You can probably find a club and it’s a good idea to observe a class. You’ll want to find one that uses positive training methods and has equipment that is lowered for beginners.

Here is a basic agility move to work on with your dog:

Begin by rewarding your dog for sitting by your side. Then you want to work on moving, starting out slowly and gradually building up to running speed. Use an object such as a tree or a garbage can and move with your dog around the object. Work on both directions keeping your dog on the outside. When he has mastered this, then place him between you and the object.

Not every dog will thrive in the agility competition environment and it’s not necessary to compete to enjoy the sport. 

You can also teach your dog to jump over an obstacle like a broomstick placed on some logs or a stack of books. Toss a treat over the stick so he jumps after it. Once he understands what you are doing, ad a verbal cue just as “jump” and gradually increase the distance. 

Start by throwing the toy or bag over the jump so your dog can chase after it, jumping the obstacle as he goes. Once he understands the game, you can add a verbal cue like “Go” and start adding distance a little bit at a time. Don’t forget to play this game with your dog starting on both your right and left sides.

You can also find do it yourself plans for dog obstacle courses online. Happy jumping!

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By Ellen Britt

Dr. Ellen Britt has loved dogs since she was a child. She is particularly fond of the Northern breeds, especially Alaskan Malamutes. Ellen worked as a PA in Emergency and Occupational Medicine for two decades and holds a doctorate (Ed.D.) in biology.

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