Canine Sports – AGILITYMay 31 2016
Agility is a dog sport in which your team consists of you and your dog. It’s a competitive sport that tests your skill in training and communication. Even if you don’t recognize the name, you’ve probably seen it before in a video online. It’s a sport where you direct your dog though a timed obstacle course in a race for speed and accuracy. Generally between 13-20 obstacles. Handlers are not allowed to touch their dog or equipment. No toys or treats are allowed in the competition ring (though they are used in training). All communication takes place with the handler’s cues, both verbal and non verbal.
It takes time for your dog to learn each piece of equipment safely and comfortably and for you as the handler to learn to direct your dog’s performance with voice and body cues. Agility can help build confidence in a shy dog and alleviate boredom in a high energy dog. The way you lean, point, and even the direction you face, tell your dog where you want to go. It can be as simple as the direction your feet are pointing, leaning forward to go faster, and standing straight to slow down. It’s a complicated dance that is really fun to learn and compete. And remember, it is a just game so don’t take it so seriously and you will have a blast with your dog.
Most training programs will want your dog to have basic skills before entering an agility class. They will need to know come, sit, down, leash walking and the ability to be safely crated while waiting their turn.
It can take a year or more in classes before you are at a skill level to compete. Agility helps your and your dog’s coordination skills. It’s a great way to build a bond with your dog even if you don’t plan on competing. Let me repeat that, you do not need to compete to reap the benefits of training. It can exercise your dog both physically and mentally, it can help improve your off leash recall ability (in emergency situations, as we know your dog will always be on leash when out walking where there are leash laws). It helps you become better at all aspects of training and communicating (those subtle cues remember). And it’s just a heck of a lot of fun to train and compete. The bond you gain with your dog is a great big bonus.
Agility is open to all breeds, all dogs regardless of size and all owners regardless of size or athletic ability. Being in shape is a plus but not a requirement. It can have the benefit though of encouraging you to get into shape so you can run faster with your dog. Yes, unless you are a super experienced trainer and can direct your dog from afar…you will be running the course with your dog in the beginning.
Competitions are arranged in height classes based on your dog’s height. That’s from the floor to the point of their shoulders right across the back at the base of the neck. There are competitions in the Richmond and surrounding areas for both AKC and USDAA and UKI Agility. The rules are very similar in all classes. The minor differences can be pointed out during training as you are deciding where and when you may want to eventually compete.
Classes are generally held during the week, after work hours, Monday-Friday. There are occasional beginning classes offered on the weekend. Private lessons can be of course worked out to your and the trainer’s schedule.
A word of caution: Your dog needs to be fully developed to start classes in agility. Your dog depending on the breed may need to be at least 12 months to start training and in some larger breeds 18-24 months. This is a good guideline. If you are unsure, you should consult your vet about joints and their development. In terms of training however, you should not wait until your dog is that old to get the basics down in manners classes. You can start basic obedience training at any age.
Rescued an older dog? No problem! You will have the benefit of being able to start right away (after your dog has the basic skills I mentioned). As long as your dog is able to run the course and jump safely it’s no problem. And, if your dog measures higher than you want him/her to jump, there is a “preferred” class where your dog can jump one jump height lower. You should check with your vet to make sure your dog is physically sound. Make sure the patellas are Ok and the hips feel good to prevent any injury. If your dog has luxating patellas or hip dysplasia, you need to discuss agility training with your vet prior to starting.