How to start Dog Agility

Dog agility is a great way to have fun and build your bond with your dog. It is so much fun to train, socialise and even compete within the Agility community.

I’ve been lucky enough to compete with Woody at Crufts 3 times with our agility team, and it was the best experience to share together. Despite that, the training never stops; there’s always something to work on and improve no matter what dog you have or who you are [Although it’s usually us humans that need training!].

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Starting Dog agility was one of the best decisions I made as I’ve met so many special people and so many lifelong friends [I’m even a Godmother now because of Agility!]. It was also one of the main contributors to getting Wilma so she has agility to thank for joining the gang!

Dogs any breed and size can do agility. In fact you’ll mostly find Rescue dogs or dogs that may be nervous of others but everyone is so kind and understanding and gives them space if they need it. The jumps get higher or lower depending on how long the dogs legs are, not how old they are which some people think. So Terriers will jump a lot lower than a Collie so not to damage their joints.

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Any time that I share snippets of our training I get lots of videos asking how they can get into agility with their dogs which I just love. So the first thing you want to do is find a local, positive agility club. Dogs can start to learn all of the equipment once they are 1 year old. This is to make sure their joints have finished growing properly and so you don’t cause any damage to them later in life. However you can find foundation classes for dogs under one year where you can learn techniques that will give you a good head start when they are 1.

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I started with Woody when he was 1 as I read that you needed to wait. However with Wilma I had learnt more over the years and she started foundation classes at 16 weeks old. Being able to compare the two I noticed how much of a head start that foundation training gave Wilma and I’d definitely recommend finding a club that offers foundation training.

So finding a club – agiltynet.com has an excellent list of clubs all over the country with an interactive map to search near you. Not every single club is on there so if you can’t find one the Agility Net group on Facebook is also a good place for information. If you join and ask for recommendations of clubs near your town or village you’ll get suggestions of clubs people have tried and tested and absolutely recommend.

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Now the dogs don’t get to choose to go to agility, although if you gave mine the option they would always choose to go along, so we need to make sure they enjoy the experience too. Like all dog training we praise and reward when they do something right, so you can decide what rewards [Or bribery to use]. So it’s up to you whether you use treats or toys, there’s benefits to either or like me you can use both.

Some techniques you need may work best with treats for your dogs, others may work with toys, each dog is different and you work to their needs. If you ever wanted to get into agility competitively I’d say that toys are better as you can train and play with them in the ring. You aren’t allowed to take food into the ring as the smell could distract other dogs that have a go, so if your dog will only follow you with food in your hand it may be something to work on.

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Basic tug and play will help build your bond with your dog, boost their confidence but also encourage drive and to chase you. This is something I am focusing on with Wilma in particular, as I mentioned before each dog is unique and it’s up to us to work out what our dogs love best. For Wilma it is 100% fluff, anything fluffy she just adores. Tug-E-Nuff are a brand I always go to for toys as they’re tough and long-lasting [Which is essential for strong dogs]. So here are two of our favourites:

The Sheepskin Tug from Tug-E-Nuff has a short handle which means it’s a very close game of tug. For bigger dogs when they get into it this may mean there’s the odd accidental nip of your fingers which they misjudge for the toy, but you remain in control with it close to you and I can start a game if we’re somewhere with not much space.

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But to encourage chase with me I switch to the Rabbit Skin Chaser Tug from Tug-E-Nuff. This has a longer handle meaning you can trail it along the ground whilst running in the opposite direction or around in a circle, making it ‘Dance’ makes it look alive and even more fun to chase. Not only the distance helps chase but some dogs may prefer the change from Sheepskin to rabbit skin and the different scent / texture, but you can get the different skins in either length toy.

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These toys only come out for training, they are hidden away in between to make them extra special. If they were left out on the floor like their other toys so they can access them 24/7 they’d lose there sparkle and excitement. Instead I want Wilma to be excited to play with them rather than thinking ‘Oh just that old toy again’. Another really good point is not just to use them once a week in your lesson. Take them out on some walks or every so often in the house or garden, play just for fun rather than when you want them to do something so that they think their toy is the best thing in the world. A saying that I absolutely love that @jazzcoachingdog said on Instagram is that you need to charge the toy. All that fun play means it is charged and can be used at training when you ask them to do something. The stronger this drive and bond means that nothing else can distract them. Woody has so much drive you could throw a box full of sausages on the course and he’d carry on going [Trust me we tried it!], whereas Wilma would see a feather about 3 fields away and go to investigate which is why we are working on drive!

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So at home you can work on your playing and drive, but your trainer may also give you little techniques to work on. You won’t have the full set of equipment at home so obviously can’t do it all, but little things like teaching your dog to touch the lid of a Pringles tin. This can then be put on the end of a piece of equipment for your dog to stop and touch the lid automatically.

I hope this gave you a good introduction of where to start when getting into Dog Agility, what training posts would you like to read next?

Thanks for reading,

Megan, Woody & Wilma

 

Thank you to Tug-E-Nuff for working with us on this post.

Photos by Megan Williams Photography

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