You may have seen agility on television or attended a local agility trial and thought it looked like a fun activity to do with your dog. You are not alone. Agility is one of fastest growing canine sports in the United States. It’s a great way to challenge both you and your dog, build your bond, and get some exercise! Agility classes are a great place to start training, but if you’re short on time, there are many things you can do at home to gauge your dog’s interest in the sport and start building their skills.
You can begin by teaching your dog some basic yet fun skills that will help ease their way into mastering the elements of an agility course. Agility training is great for all dogs, especially dogs who are anxious, as it helps build confidence and trust and introduces them to new experiences. Remember to use lots of encouragement and praise when your dog is successful.
- Tricks: Tricks increase your dog’s confidence, aptitude, and coordination, which are all traits that help with agility. You should try teaching your dog to:
- Move to the right and left
- Weave through legs
- Spin to the left and to the right following your hand
- Touch their nose to your hand on command
- Jump through a hoop
- Wrap: Teach your dog to turn tightly around a cone, barrel, or something similar. This will help him in turning tightly over/between jumps in the future.
- Side: Reward your dog for walking by your right and left side. Agility dogs must be able to perform on both sides.
- Perching on Things: Get some sturdy boxes or plastic bins and turn them upside down. Reward your dog for any interaction, such as placing a paw on top of the box, jumping on top of the box, standing on the box, and sitting on the box.
- Climbing in Things: Now do the opposite and turn the boxes/bins horizontally and encourage your dog to climb inside. Place several boxes in a line and lure your dog to crawl or step through the boxes.
- Ladders: Lay a ladder on the ground and entice your dog to step through the rungs. Start with a walk and see if you can work up to a trot.
- Moving Items: Skateboards, children’s wagons, etc. are wonderful platforms to use when teaching your dog that putting his feet on moving items is not scary. You can also get a square piece of plywood a minimum of 2 feet x 2 feet and place a brick under it to make a “wobble board for your dog to practice putting first his front feet and them all 4 feet on. This will help when he begins to learn the agility seesaw. Start with encouraging your dog to just look at the item and slowly build up to standing on the item itself.
Once your dog is comfortable with these core agility skills, it is time to create some homemade agility obstacles to practice in the comforts of your home. Common obstacles in an agility course include tunnels, weaves, and jumps. Here are some DIY ideas to get you started:
- Tunnels: Place a blanket over two chairs spaced apart and teach your dog to walk or run between the chairs and under the blanket. You can also use a large open cardboard box and have your dog walk or run through.
- Jumps: Jumping is a critical skill for a dog participating in agility and it’s also easy to start practicing at home. You can place a broomstick or some other pole between two chairs or flower pots to create a jump. Keep jump height low in the training phase and make sure not to practice on a slippery surface. Make sure the pole you use will fall if your dog hits it. You do not want your dog to fall over.
- Weave Poles: You can set up a row soccer cones or a row of tomato stakes (or something similar stuck in the ground outside) to make weave poles. Make sure they are spaced 24 inches apart and that the dog only enters between the first and 2nd cone/pole from his left side.
By mastering these basic skills at home, you and your dog will be ahead of the game. You can continue your training by attending agility classes at a nearby AKC Training Club or a local training facility where your dog can practice on actual agility obstacles. The Agility Course Test (ACT) is an entry-level agility event where beginning dogs and their handlers can test their skills. You’ll soon be on your way to reaping the benefits of this challenging and exciting sport.