11 Great Tips To Start With Dog Agility Training

(Photo: fotievna/stock.adobe.com)
(Photo: fotievna/stock.adobe.com)

Agility is a rapidly expanding competitive sport for dogs. I’m sure you’ve heard about it from a friend or seen it on television. Dog agility training can be a thrilling activity to undertake with your dog, especially if they’re shy. This thrill applies regardless of whether you want your dog to participate in agility for fun or if you want them to compete at the highest level.

I spent some time talking to dog owners who have started their pups on the journey of agility sports. They offered you some pointers on how to get your dog started in agility sports as well.

This article will go over the essential steps you’ll need to take to prepare your dog for agility sports. Continue reading to learn more about these steps.

1. Start Agility Training As Soon As Possible

Starting agility training with your dog as soon as possible gives them a head start. Your dog can begin competing in agility competitions between the ages of one year and 18 months, but that doesn’t mean you couldn’t start training them earlier. Consult your veterinarian if you are unsure when to begin training with your dog. They will advise you on agility exercises appropriate for your dog’s age.

Before you begin training, make sure your dog understands basic commands such as “sit”, “stay”, and “come”. Attending basic obedience classes is one of the most effective methods to achieve this. This will not only help your dog with obedience, but it will also help your dog become acclimated to being around other dogs and humans. Your dog’s obedience abilities will also come in handy at certain stages of the agility training itself.

If you want to take part in agility sports for fun, you can simply train your dog at home; but, if you want to participate competitively, you may need to attend agility classes. Consider joining a local club or speaking with your dog trainer when your dog’s ready to begin training. It is not uncommon for dog trainers to also provide agility training.

2. Set Your Dog Up For Success

Some dogs will enjoy the thrill of agility, while others will be content with backyard training. I’m sorry to say that, as much as you’d like your dog to pick up on agility quickly, it’s highly doubtful. It is essential not to impose training on your dog. If your dog doesn’t have a fun experience, they will likely lose interest. Build the value of agility training by using encouragement and praise anytime your dog succeeds. Additionally, consider using toys to entice them into participating in the practice sessions.

3. Increase Your Dog’s Focus and Attention

Agility requires your dog’s undivided attention on you, their handler. Without this focus, your dog will not know what to do or which obstacle to attempt next. There are many distractions in the surroundings that could cause your dog to lose focus during a competition. Loud noises, humans, and other dogs are all such examples.

Teach your dog focus commands such as “look” and “watch.” You could also invite friends and their pets to your dog’s agility training. This will help to simulate the type of environment your dog would encounter at a competition.

4. Improve Your Handling

Handling is crucial in agility sports because it is how you communicate with your dog on the course. If your handling is poor, no matter how skilled or focused your dog is, they will fail. To improve your handling, make absolutely sure your dog can run and walk comfortably at your side, in front of, and behind you.

To motivate your dog, use treats or their favourite toy. Toys, in my opinion, are generally preferable because they appeal to your dog’s natural need to play. That’s because, when you think about it, your dog is basically playing when they are on the course. Toys can also be used as a lure when teaching your dog to move around objects and then as a reward once they have completed their training.

Big dog with handler running in an agility competition
(Photo: skumer/stock.adobe.com)

5. Teach Your Dog Different Movements

The agility obstacle courses challenge your dog to perform unusual bodily motions. When your dog starts with agility, it will not have the best movement but, the good news is that there are numerous exercises you can practice with your dog to improve these movements.

Teach your dog to place its paws in specified locations on different objects. You can encourage them to do this by placing treats in the spots you want them to touch. Remember only to reward them after they have completed the desired action.

Teach your dog to climb on top of objects and to walk and move around them. Walking your dog backwards will assist them to improve their paw placement in relation to their body.

Consider arranging some boxes for your dog to crawl through. This activity will encourage your dog to consider shifting its body position in order to reach the other side. Finally, teach your dog to make sharp turns around differently shaped objects and in tight areas.

6. Teach Jumping

Jumping is an essential skill that your dog will need to learn. Always check with your veterinarian to ensure that your dog is old enough to start learning jumps. 

You can practise jumping at home by balancing a pole between two objects, such as books or heavy bricks. Ensure that your dog will not be injured if they knock the hurdle over. Also, do not make the jump too high. Larger breeds can start an inch and a half off the ground, while smaller dogs should start as low as possible. The more comfortable your dog gets, you can progressively raise the hurdle to competition height.

Your dog may refuse to jump over the obstacle and instead walk around it. To counteract this, use your dog’s favourite toy and encourage them to retrieve it by having them jump over the pole. Another option is to start close to the jump so that your dog does not have time to consider going around it. With some patience and encouragement, your dog will begin to get comfortable with jumping over hurdles and other different objects.

Border Collie jumping over an obstacle in a dog agility sport competition
(Photo: skumer/stock.adobe.com)

8. Moving Teeter Board

The teeterboard is one of the most frightening and challenging obstacles for your dog. It is initially stable, but as your dog climbs higher, it begins to move. It’s safe to say that your dog has never felt anything like this before. As a result, when interacting with moving objects, you must build your dog’s confidence.

You can do this by letting your dog interact with low-lying objects like a skateboard or a wobble board. Encourage your dog to interact with these objects by enticing them with treats. Reward them for standing on, touching, or even simply staring at the skateboard or wobble board. The primary goal of these interactions is to help your dog become familiar with sensing movement underneath their feet.

Once your dog gets comfortable with low-lying objects, you can progress to the teeterboard. Like with all training, you need to be patient with your dog.  It’s all about encouraging them to climb the board and praising them as they become more accustomed to the board’s movement. Keep supporting your dog in practising until they can walk on the teeterboard without fear.

A dog doing the teeterboard obstacle with a lot of focus
(Photo: skumer/stock.adobe.com)

9. Weave Poles

When you first start practising the weave poles, you should place the posts far apart. Consider placing them on separate vertical planes so your dog can quickly learn what they need to do. Later on, you can start bringing them closer together into one line.

During the early phases of practice, you can assist your dog by leading them through with a leash. This, like the previous exercise, is to help your dog understand what they need to do. Eventually, your dog will need to start doing the weave poles alone.

Flexibility is essential when dealing with weave poles. You can practice flexibility by teaching your dog the figure-eight weave around your legs. This exercise teaches your dog the motion necessary to execute the weave poles.

It takes a great deal of practice for your dog to become genuinely proficient at the weave poles. Given how difficult it is to teach, I believe that hiring an expert is the best approach to helping your dog master this skill.

purebred border collie doing the weave pole obstacle course at dog agility training
(Photo: neillockhart/stock.adobe.com)

10. Pause Table

The pause table is a common feature of many agility obstacle courses. It tests the handler’s and the dog’s focus and composure. While on the table, your dog will need to perform a down-stay or a sit-stay. To begin, pat the table’s surface or use treats to entice your dog to jump up onto it. Your dog should have no trouble getting up because the table isn’t very high.

Most dogs are often overeager to move on to the next obstacle after the pause table. For this reason, your dog must understand basic commands such as “sit” and “stay.” Your dog will not become a master of the pause table overnight, so be patient with them. Initially, have your dog stay on the table for 1 second.  Then, as they become more comfortable, gradually extend the time. You want your dog to learn to remain on the table even if you’re moving away from it.

Shetland sheepdog at a dog agility trial standing on top of a pause table
(Photo: Mark Herried/stock.adobe.com)

11. The Light at the End of the Tunnel

Tunnels are generally not a challenging obstacle to teach your dog. This, however, varies from dog to dog. Some dogs have little trouble going through the tunnel on their first try; however, others find the tunnel to be a frightening place due to the darkness.

To make the tunnel less scary, ensure it is as short as possible so that your dog can see you on the other side standing with their favourite toy as a source of motivation. If your dog is still afraid of the tunnel, try throwing some treats inside to get them interested. Once they are comfortable entering and exiting the tunnel, you can start to lengthen and curve it.

A furry dog walking through a blue tunnel in an agility competition
(Photo: Bianca/stock.adobe.com)

Sequencing

Sequencing combines all of the obstacles into a single ultimate course. It should be done after your dog has mastered all of the other individual challenges. Sequencing does not imply that you must immediately put everything together. You can begin by putting two obstacles together and seeing how your dog reacts. When your dog is ready to progress, you can connect even more components.

With sequence training, you must be precise in your communication, timing, and handling. An unsuccessful run will occur if your timing or handling is poor, and miscommunication could cause your dog to stop entirely or proceed to the wrong obstacle.

It is crucial that your dog only competes after they’ve done the entire practice course with confidence.

Final Thoughts

Teaching your dog these abilities at home will give them an advantage when it comes time to start proper training in an agility class. Never force agility on your dog if training in the backyard is all they are prepared to do. Instead, consider this an opportunity for you and your dog to deepen your existing bond. Your dog must have a great time, and ensuring that they do will allow them to excel in agility sports.

What to do next?

As previously stated, dog agility can be competitive or fun in purpose. That said, read our article on games you can play with your dog to have even more fun.

Further Reading