By Collin Roche, Professional Dog Trainer with Holiday House Pet Resort
Is agility training right for your dog? It’s no secret, dogs love to play and there’s more to a game of fetch or tug-o-war than you might think. Research has shown that dogs benefit from stimulating activities and structured play, and as an experienced dog trainer, I can tell you that a tired dog is a happier dog!
For thousands of years, dogs were bred with a specific job to perform, from herding livestock and hunting to rooting out vermin. Now, the job of most dogs is to be their master’s most faithful companion and a loved member of the family. However, that doesn’t mean they don’t still possess the intensity and drive of their working-dog ancestors.
Does your good dog go rogue when he gets bored? Does your active dog run circles around the other dogs at the dog park or in dog daycare? Agility training can be the perfect outlet for boredom or extra energy. Agility training helps teach your dog to control their energy while playing and receiving commands. It’s a great activity for reinforcing basic obedience training. Even if your dog isn’t the quickest or most energetic pup, agility is a fun, engaging way to play and exercise while bonding with your dog. From the tiniest terrier to the mightiest mastiff, this is a sport for all comers.
Agility originated in Britain in the 1970s, and the course is intended to mimic the sorts of obstacles that hunting dogs encounter on the job. A typical agility course consists of thin poles for weaving back and forth, several kinds of jumps, a nylon tunnel, as well as ramps, platforms and even a see-saw. These obstacles teach our dogs to look to us for guidance and to listen to us with confidence for help overcoming each obstacle and learning the course.
Walking through a tunnel or over a platform can be a lot scarier to a dog than it sounds to us. By learning to work through that fear or anxiety on the agility course, dogs are better able to overcome those feelings in other situations. It also teaches us to better communicate with our dogs using body language and energy—this is a language truly understood by humans and dogs!
Agility training benefits you and your dog in a variety of ways:
- There is plenty of physical and mental exercise for you both
- Working together strengthens the bond between your dog and you
- Completing the course teaches you how to better communicate with each other
- Tackling the obstacles helps build confidence, and provides the ability to overcome anxiety and fear
- Improves focus and responsiveness
- Working breeds and high energy dogs fulfill their natural instincts in a controlled environment
- Decreases reliance on food motivators
- It’s a lot of fun!
Agility training has very few limitations and can be done with dogs of all sizes, breeds and energy levels, since the course can always be adjusted to match the abilities of the dog. However, always consult with your veterinarian to determine if your dog is physically ready for agility, particularly for puppies under 18 months of age, seniors or dogs with pre-existing conditions. If your dog and you really enjoy agility training, there are regional, national and international agility trials and competitions, hosted by organizations like the American Kennel Club and the United States Dog Agility Association (USDAA), to enter. The most important thing to remember is to enjoy yourself! Dog ownership–and training especially–should be fun, and agility is an incredibly rewarding way to play.
Holiday House Pet Resort & Training Center offers agility training and many other enrichment activities and games as part of the Daycare program. Completion of basic dog training is recommended before starting agility training because of the use of obedience commands. The professional trainers and daycare teachers at Holiday House Pet Resort & Training Center evaluate the students individually in order to customize an agility or enrichment program for maximum benefit. Collin Roche is a member of the Association of Professional Dog Trainers (APDT).