Dog agility is one of the most popular canine sports in the US. If you never heard of this activity, you probably live under a rock.
But understanding what exactly it’s all about and how you can get into this sport isn’t always easy. Thus, let me share everything you need to know about dog agility training!
What Is Agility Training For Dogs?
Dog agility is a sport in which dogs are going through an obstacle course as fast as possible with their handler to guide them. A standard setup has between 14 and 20 obstacles. It generally includes hurdles, weave poles, tunnels, and dog walks. It requires a lot of agility training for dogs to master the course.
Here’s a video to show you how it looks in action!
If you want your dog to perform as well as this Border Collie, you still have a lot of work to do. From the preparation to training passing by the equipment, there are many things you need to know before getting started. Well, here’s all the information I know about the sport of dog agility!
An Introduction To Dog Agility Training!
As the handler, you will have to lead your dog to the whole obstacle course as fast and accurately as possible. It might seem impossible for you to imagine him jumping over hurdles or weaving through poles, but everything is possible with training.
Now you probably have many different questions, and it’s normal. First of all, you need to make sure it’s the right sport for you and your dog. Here are some elements to consider before you invest in equipment or start training together for nothing!
Is Agility Training Good For Dogs?
Running through an obstacle course and following your commands is excellent for your dog’s well-being. It’s foremost an effective way to provide him with mental stimulation and physical activity, which is essential for his overall health.
Dog agility has many other benefits, such as strengthen the bond between you two and alleviate boredom. If you want more details about why this sport is so great, check out this article on the Cesar’s Way website.
The only downside of this high-impact activity is the constant strain it puts on your dog’s joints and muscles. With too much training or inappropriate preparation, agility can have negative repercussions.
It can increase the chances of developing health issues such as arthritis or hip dysplasia as he gets older. He might also injure himself on the course during competition. Running fast, jumping high, and going through various other obstacles isn’t the safest sport for dogs.
But all the benefits it can bring them largely overcome the risks of injury. Just make sure you always respect their limits and conditions on training sessions as well as during competitions.
Can All Dogs Do Agility?
From Border Collies to Chihuahuas passing by mutts, any breed is eligible to compete in agility. As long as your dog is healthy, spayed/neutered, and well-trained, this can be the perfect sport for him. The only other condition is that he must be 15 months old or more to participate in AKC dog agility events.
At What Age Should Dogs Start Agility Training?
Even if your dog needs a certain age to compete in agility, it doesn’t mean you can’t start training him before. With pre-agility (flat-work), most dogs are suitable to get into this sport at around 1 year old.
In the beginning, you should avoid obstacles such as high jumps not to injure your puppy. Before introducing dogs to more serious agility training, they should be fully grown. Depending on their size, it can occur anywhere between 1 and 3 years.
If your puppy’s growth plates aren’t closed, high-impact sports can be harmful to him. His joints, bones, and muscles are too fragile for dog agility because they are still growing.
10 Best Dog Breeds For Agility Training!
No matter when you start training your dog, some breeds are naturally more well-suited for agility. His origin won’t restrict him from competing, but it will impact his performance on the course. Thus, here some dog breeds that excel in agility competitions!
- Border Collie.
- Australian Shepherd.
- Shetland Sheepdog.
- Golden Retriever.
- Australian Kelpie.
- Jack Russell Terrier.
- Standard Poodle.
- Pembroke Welsh Corgi.
What Makes Good Agility Dogs?
If your dog hasn’t made it up to the list, it doesn’t matter. But you probably still want to know if he’s a good candidate for this sport. The breeds on my top 10 all have some common traits; here what they are.
To go through the obstacle course as fast and accurately as possible, the ultimate agility dog must be active and intelligent. But it’s not all about speed. He also needs to follow the handler’s directions, keep his focus, and be agile.
On the other hand, you might only want to get into agility training for plain fun. In this case, your dog doesn’t have to be extremely fast, athletic, and obedient.
It can help, but everything should be fine as long as he’s healthy and old enough to run into tunnels, jump hurdles, and weave through poles.
How To Get Started With Dog Agility Training?
Once you understand what this sport is and if your dog is suitable for it, let’s get into more details. Before competing in official events, there are many things you should know about agility.
Starting to train your dog right away without any preparation and equipment will be quite difficult. That’s why you should take one step at a time to get started the proper way!
Prepare Your Dog For Agility Training.
Like any other activity, preparation is the key to success. If your dog isn’t ready mentally and physically for agility training, it won’t be fun nor efficient. Thus, here are the two ways to make sure he’s all set to get into this sport safely.
As I already told you, dogs must be relatively healthy to run through an obstacle course safely. They don’t have to be very fit or anything like that. But they should at least be in good shape to get started.
If your dog is overweight or has any health problem, agility training might not be ideal for him. There’s no secret to avoiding this situation. Regular exercise, proper nutrition, and good habits will prepare him physically for high-impact sports.
Basic Obedience Training.
Another way to prepare your dog for agility is to improve his overall obedience. Getting into an advanced type of training without the basics doesn’t make any sense. You can build up if you have nothing to stand on.
That’s why your dog should be relatively well-trained and responsive right off the bat. If he understands the fundamental commands such as “Sit”, “Stay”, and “Come”, it will be much easier to start working on his agility skills.
Dog Agility Equipment.
After some physical and mental preparation, it’s time to gear up properly. Training your dog to run into tunnels, jump hurdles, and weaves through poles isn’t possible if you don’t have any of those obstacles available.
Nowadays, finding dog agility equipment is easy thanks to the popularity of this sport. The real problem is to select the right products for your needs. But let’s start with my ultimate list of essentials to get started!
- Jump. (At Least One)
- Weave Poles.
- Treats or Toys. (As Reward)
- Bait Bag. (Optional)
There are many great options out there to get started. For beginners that just want to have fun, I highly recommend you check out this complete agility set made by SOWSUN. An alternative with more obstacles of better quality is the BSD Agility Starter Kit.
The most important is to find equipment that’s safe and durable. Your dog needs obstacles that won’t hurt him or break when he’s making an error, especially in the beginning.
Opting for something that’s highly adjustable is also an excellent idea. He will quickly improve his skills, so the course should evolve at the same pace.
Apart from the product features, you should also consider your dog’s conditions. His size, breed, experience, and many other details will influence what type of agility gear you should choose.
The last thing to keep in mind is the reason why you want to get into this sport. If it’s to exercise and have fun in the backyard with your dog, you don’t need to be picky.
On the other hand, you should probably invest in high-quality gear to prepare him for competitions. He must be ready to perform on advanced agility courses to have any chance of winning a title.
If you’re into DIY projects and want to save some money, you can also craft your own obstacles. Building homemade jumps and weaves poles isn’t as complicated as you might think.
However, I would recommend most people to buy agility equipment over making it. Several brands already have safe and appropriate obstacles you can add to your backyard course. It will save you a lot of time, energy, and headaches.
There’s much more information to know about each obstacle for selecting the right gear for you and your dog’s needs. But I already have other articles that are going into more details.
Learn More About The Best Agility Hurdles!
Learn More About The Best Tunnels For Agility Training!
Start Training Your Dog For Agility!
Once you have the right equipment and your dog is well prepared, you can start training him more seriously for agility. Even if he’s fast and athletic, there’s a huge learning curve to get into this sport. Thus, here are your two options to help him master the obstacle course.
Take A Class or Train Your Dog Yourself.
It’s possible to train an agility dog yourself, but signing up for a class will help speeding up the process. The decision you should take will depend on several elements. Your canine handling skills, time available, and financial situation can influence what’s best for you.
Whatever choice you make, commitment is essential in either way. Training your dog for agility requires an investment in time, energy, and money. However, it’s worth all the fun you will have together on the obstacle course.
To find a class, you can look for clubs in your area. (USDAA Directory & AKC Agility Club Search) Another option is to search for an independent training school by typing “dog agility training class near me” in Google. But keep in mind that it’s not always necessary.
Work On Your Dog’s Obedience.
If it’s not already done, you must master obedience training. From good manners to basic commands passing by focus, all those skills are essential for agility.
The more responsive your dog is, the better. Without any control over him, it can be hard and frustrating to train him for such a complicated sport. Even if you plan to take a class, fundamental obedience skills are generally prerequisites.
Introduce Your Dog To Agility Obstacles.
After some training, your dog should be ready to play with his new toys. Before teaching him anything more technical, you must introduce him properly to the equipment.
He should have the opportunity to sniff, walk around, and explore every obstacle of the course. At the same time, you can have fun together or give him treats to make sure he associates the agility gear with positive feelings.
Train Your Dog To Master The Agility Course.
With an appropriate introduction, your dog should be all set to start working on each obstacle. The most important to remember is to make it as easy as possible for him to progress. Here’s more information for training him to run into a tunnel, jump over hurdles, and weave through poles.
An Introduction To Dog Agility Tunnels.
I highly recommend you start with the tunnel because it’s usually the easiest obstacle for beginners. First of all, you should shrink the tunnel as much as possible. Your dog should be able to see through the other side.
Have someone to keep him on one end of the short tunnel. Go on the other side and call him with the command “Come”. For additional motivation, you can have his favorite toy or treats and lure him through the tunnel.
Once he succeeds, you should give him a reward and a lot of praise. After some practice and training, you can slowly increase the length of the tunnel. It’s also essential to replace the general voice cue “Come” with something more specific such as “Tunnel”.
When you think your dog is ready, you should try to master this obstacle without an assistant. Start on his side of the tunnel, give the specific command and meet him at the other end for the reward.
Then, you can step up the difficulty by adding curves in the tunnel. Working on speed is also not a bad idea if you want to compete in agility. I’m sure your dog will love to run as fast as possible into this type of tubular obstacle.
Teach Your Dog To Jump Over Hurdles.
Another obstacle section that every agility course has is the jumps. For your dog’s safety, don’t introduce him to hurdles if he’s not fully grown. He needs vet authorization before jumping over obstacles.
To get started, a bar hurdle with an adjustable height would be ideal. Depending on the training method you choose, you might also need an assistant.
In the beginning, you should put the bar as low as possible. You can even put it on the ground to make it extremely easy for your dog.
Now here are two methods to teach him how to jump over a hurdle:
The Solo Way.
Stand side-by-side your dog in front of the jump with his favorite toy in your hands. Then, throw it between the two uprights and encourage him to get it. If it doesn’t work, there’s another way.
The “Come” Technique.
Have someone (or use the command “Stay”) to keep your dog in front of the hurdle. Go on the other side of the jump and call him with the “Come” command. Again, you can have high-value toys or treats as extra motivation.
Once your dog is used to jumping over a low obstacle, you can gradually increase the bar height. But be careful with big airs because such high-impact can have bad repercussions on his joints.
If you use the second method, get rid of your assistance as soon as possible. You should also introduce him to the command “Jump” or “Hurdle” when he’s comfortable with this type of obstacle.
Start Weave Poles Agility Training.
Weave poles are probably the most demanding obstacle to master on the course. With a lot of training and practice, I’m sure your dog can do it. But you have to be patient.
To make it as easy as possible for him, you should start by placing a few poles in line with space between them. ( → , ‘ , ‘ , ) That way, your dog will be able to walk through them without weaving yet.
I’ve found two training methods you can try. Depending on the type of equipment you have and your preferences, one might be more appropriate for your situation. But they are very similar anyway.
The Standard Method:
The first option is to slowly and gradually move the poles closer to a straight line. If your dog doesn’t understand the obstacle, you can lead him with his favorite toy or treats.
The Weave Poles With An Angle:
The second technique you should give a shot consist of putting the poles angled in position. ( \¤/ ) It will be more simple for your dog to understand he must weave through them.
As with the other method, you can move the base of each pole closer to the center. Once it forms a straight line, you can start to decrease the angle as your dog gets better until the poles are in a vertical position.
Then, you can work on his speed to impress everyone in agility events. Don’t forget to use another specific training command for this obstacle too. Weave poles might take a lot of time for your dog to learn, but don’t give up and be patient.
Put It All Together!
If your dog masters each obstacle individually, it’s time for the real challenge: Finishing the whole agility course. For his first attempt, you can decrease the level of difficulty.
Put the hurdle bar relatively low, shrink the tunnel a bit, and leave space between the poles. Don’t forget that the easier it is for your dog, the faster he will learn.
To guide him through the obstacle course, you have many options. You can introduce and work on the command “Heel”, lure him with a treat in your hand, or use specific voice cues.
At this stage, you will have to improve your handling and footwork skills. Leading your dog isn’t as simple as it seems. He might lose focus or don’t understand what you want him to do.
That’s why preparation and patience are essential for agility training. If your dog is well-conditioned and you practice a lot, mastering a basic course shouldn’t be too difficult.
Once he can overcome each obstacle one after another, you should either work on his speed or increase the level of difficulty. There are many other types of jumps and more advanced obstacles you might want to add to your backyard course.
Just make sure to take this process one step at a time. Respect your dog’s limits and learning curve. Challenging him too drastically won’t help him to progress.
What If Your Dog Makes Errors During Agility Training?
The first thing you should know is that failure is part of learning. So if you challenge your dog and teach him new skills, it’s normal for him to make some mistakes.
With that said, there’s a right way to react when your dog fails. You should never be upset and punish him simply because he doesn’t meet your expectations. Be patient and use positive reinforcement.
In this training method, you should practically ignore errors and focus on the good things. That’s the secret to progress. Rewarding your dog every time he’s doing something right on the agility course is the way to go.
For example, let’s say you start training him to jump over a hurdle. He’s getting better and better, but at some point, he won’t be able to jump high enough and will knock off the bar on the ground. What should you do?
In my opinion, it’s not even necessary to notice his failure. You can put the bar back where he was able to jump over it. Let him succeed, and then end the training session for the day.
Finishing on a good note is essential to make agility as fun as possible. If every time you stop is because your dog made a mistake, it’s easy to lose interest in this activity.
5 Dog Agility Training Tips For Beginners!
Now you have more than enough information to get started. But there are still many things you have to learn before competing. Thus, here are 5 tips to help you avoid dog agility training beginner’s mistakes.
Start Slow & Improve Gradually.
We all want our dogs to get better as fast as possible. But trying to skip steps or surcharging their minds with too much information isn’t efficient. That’s why it’s essential to start with easy skills and slowly build upon their foundations.
Agility training is not a sprint; it’s a marathon. Like any other sport, it will take a lot of time for your dog to become proficient. If you try to find any shortcut, you’re more likely to injure him or take away the fun out of it.
Keep Training Sessions Short.
As you will quickly notice, dogs have a short attention span. Besides their difficulty to focus on a specific task over long periods, training can also tire them out mentally. Thus, working on agility skills all day long isn’t helpful nor pleasant.
Keeping training sessions short will help your dog to learn faster and prevent you from a lot of frustration. In general, anything over 45 to 60 minutes might be too long for him.
If you want to train him more than that every day, do it multiple times throughout the day. For example, you can work on obedience from 30 to 45 minutes in the morning and have another training session for agility with a similar duration later in the day.
Join An Agility Club.
Finding a community that can help you get into agility training is probably the best thing you can do as a beginner. By surrounding yourself with experienced people in this sport, everything will be more simple for you.
If you join a club, the members can guide you through the whole process. From training to competing passing by the equipment, they will provide you with some help if you need it.
Where to find agility clubs in your area?
Locating groups of people sharing the same passion for this dog sport isn’t as difficult as you might think. According to the AKC, there are over 5,000 clubs in the US only. Thus, you can take a look at their Agility Club Search Results to find one near you.
The United-States Dog Agility Association (USDAA) also has its own Agility Resource Directory. If you’re not living in the US or North America, there are many organizations elsewhere. You can always type “dog agility club near me” in Google to see what your options are.
Invest In High-Quality Equipment.
Beginners generally want to start on a budget. I’ve no problem with that but be aware you might have safety or durability issues with cheap gear. Investing in high-quality obstacles and treats can make dog agility training more effective and fun.
There’s nothing more frustrating to spend more time fixing the course and equipment than actually enjoying them. You don’t need the best products on the market. Just think twice before choosing the most affordable starter kit because there’s probably a reason why it’s soo inexpensive.
Even if agility training is not easy and requires a serious commitment, it can still be amusing. It’s an excellent sport to combine the pleasant with the useful. Teaching your dog how to go through an obstacle course will help you both to stay healthy and happy.
It’s your responsibility to make sure training sessions are as enjoyable as possible for everyone. Agility doesn’t always have to be serious. Sometimes it’s better to take it easy and have fun!
Agility Training FAQ:
At this point, you should be all set to get started. But you might still have some questions related to agility training. Here are some answers to common wonderings about this activity.
How Long Does It Take To Train An Agility Dog?
It depends on your method, dog’s traits, how often you train him, and several other elements. Considering all those factors, it can take anywhere from a couple of months up to a few years. Between 1 and 2 years would be a realistic time frame to prepare your dog for his first agility trial.
How Much Does Dog Agility Training Cost?
Expenses related to agility training will vary from one person to another. For classes, you can expect to pay between $150 and $200 for a 6-week-training program. Concerning equipment, you can find excellent starter kits for around $100.
Thus, training your dog for agility should cost you approximately $300. But it can be much cheaper or more expensive. It will depend on how many classes you sign up for (if you take any) and the type of gear you buy.
Where To Find Agility Events?
Many clubs organize competitions all over the world. If you’re in the US, you can browse through the American Kennel Club (AKC) Agility Event Seach. Another place to look at would be in the North American Dog Agility Council (NADAC) Calendar Of Events.
For people in the UK, the UK Agility International (UKI) Events Page is a helpful resource. If you live anywhere else or want to find an agility trial/competition, searching “dog agility event near me” in Google might be the ultimate solution.
Last Thoughts About Agility Training For Dogs!
Finally, there’s a lot of information you need to know before competing in agility. It might require an investment in time, money, and energy, but all the benefits you will get from this sport are worth the sacrifices.
Training your dog to go through an obstacle course is one of the best gifts you can offer to yourself. It will keep you both in good shape, strengthen your bond and help you create unforgettable memories.
I hope my article will help you prepare your dog for his first official agility event. Now it’s time to take action and start training as soon as you can.
Have Fun & See You On The Course!