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Introduction to Agility

Agility is a great team sport for you and your dog. It is purported to be the fastest growing dog sport. It is a rewarding and bonding experience for both you and your canine companion.

Any dog ( small or large, mixed or pure-bred ) can participate in Agility. Obstacles are designed to be set at various heights in consideration of the dog's size.

Some breeds such as Border Collies and Shelties excel in Agility. Other breeds such as Mastiffs just have fun.

In simple terms, in an Agility competition:

· The handler ( you ) direct your dog through an obstacle course in a race against the clock

· Accuracy is a must

· Dog's run off leash without motivational aids such as toys and treats. Therefore the handler's tools are limited to voice, movement and body signals.

· A Typical AKC ( American Kennel Club ) sponsored Obstacle Course consists of:

o Jumps

o Weave Poles

o Tunnels & Chute

o Dog Walk

o Table

o A-Frame

o Teeter

Today there are numerous organizations that sponsor Agility Competitions such as AKC, USDAA, CPE to name a few.

Of course, not everyone aspires to compete in Agility. The bonding experience, exercise and backyard fun are rewards in and by themselves.

Health & Welfare

First and foremost, always consider your dog's Health and Welfare. The physical exercise and mental stimulation associated with Agility is wonderful for almost every dog. However, a check with your Vet regarding your dog's physical capabilities is recommended.

Special consideration should be given to puppies. It's best start to your dog in Agility at an early age, but puppies bones and joints are not fully formed. Again ask your Vet or Trainer for specifics, but puppies jump height, weaving, etc. should be limited until they reach about 18 months.

Safety

Akin to your Dog's Health & Welfare, safety should be top of mind. Special consideration should be given to equipment design and your dog's running surface. A few thoughts on each:

· Equipment design:

o Weight-bearing equipment ( Dog Walks, A-Frames, Teeters, Tables ) should be sturdy and stable.

o All contact surfaces should be non-slip ( either sand encapsulated in the paint or rubberized ).

o Stripes on obstacles should painted or a quality vinyl tape. Avoid duct tape and low grade vinyl tape. These tapes can peel and the sharp edge could then cause injury to your dog.

o Use molded Jump Cups and Strips without sharp edges.

o Avoid Jumps with an elevated bottom bar that does not displace easily.

· Running Surface:

o Avoid hard surfaces such as cement or blacktop. Similar to humans, hard surface are hard on a dog's joints.

o All running surfaces should provide traction to avoid slips. Grass and rubberized mats are recommended.

Guidelines

A few Agility guidelines:

· Make Agility Fun, Fun, Fun for your dog. As a famous instructor once said... you need to be more fun than chasing a squirrel.

o Frequently use positive reinforcement such as treats and the "Yes" word when starting Agility. Later you will be able to reduce the frequency as your dog gains proficiency.

o Reward with small high-value soft treats. In their excitement, dogs tend to swallow without chewing.

· Avoid the use of the "No" word. "No" typically comes across as harsh. "Oops, Try again" is a softer sounding, friendlier phrase.

· In the early stages of training:

o A leash is helpful in guiding your dog over a Jump or through Weave Poles, etc.

o Keep training sessions short. After about 15 minutes you'll lose your dog's attention. Schedule multiple sessions throughout the day.

· Set your criteria and only reward when your dog meets your criteria. "Close enough" is not "Good Enough". Strive for accuracy ... speed will come in time. You may set your criteria at a fairly low level when first starting Agility and then raise it over time. Make sure your dog understands you raised your criteria. For example:

o When 1st starting Agility, you may reward your dog for running through the Uprights of a Jump ( no Jumping required )

o Later your criteria may be that your dog must Jump 4" before receiving a reward

o Ultimately a reward is given when your dog jumps his or her specified height