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Nikki (Cirneco dell'Etna) handled by Kathy Ingram; AKC Agility Invitational presented by YuMove, December 16-18, 2022, Orlando, FL.

The sport of dog agility is popular at dog events, fairs, and pet conventions. You’ve no doubt seen dogs sprinting down a tunnel or racing through the weave poles and thought “my dog could do that.” Or maybe you’ve tried some simple obstacles at home or in your dog training class and noticed how much your dog enjoyed the challenge. Whatever your introduction to dog agility, this guide will help you get more involved in this fast-paced sport as well as introduce you to other dog sports you might enjoy. Just beware – it’s addictive!

Benefits of Agility

Agility isn’t just incredibly enjoyable; it has many benefits too. And pretty much any dog can participate including mixed breeds, senior dogs, and deaf dogs. Whether you advance to competition-level training or simply have fun at home, you and your canine companion can expect to experience the following:

  • A stronger bond. Agility is all about teamwork.
  • Better communication. You need to direct your dog around the course with body language and verbal cues.
  • Improved training skills. Your timing needs to be razor-sharp.
  • A good workout. You and your dog will move around the course as fast as you’re able.
  • Better off-leash reliability. Agility teaches your dog to focus on you and listen despite being free to do their own thing.
  • Increased confidence for your dog. Agility is great for anxious dogs, but all dogs will benefit as they learn how to conquer the obstacles.
  • Fewer problem behaviors. Agility exercises your dog’s brain as well as their body which is a fabulous solution to boredom and gives your dog a job to do.

Enjoy Agility Training at Home

But you don’t have to compete at an international level to achieve the above benefits. Even basic agility training at home will help. At-home agility is also a great first step to see if you and your dog enjoy the concept. Maybe your dog would rather do scent work than jump through hoops. A simple set of homemade obstacles can help you test the waters.

Before taking the next step and getting some professional help, watch your dog’s enjoyment level at home and think about their personality. If your dog is having fun, sign them up for a group class.

Take Agility Classes

Agility classes are a fun way to continue building your dog’s skills. Even if you don’t intend to compete, you can learn better ways to communicate with your dog and the proper techniques for your backyard course. Some obstacles, like the weave poles or those with contact zones, can be tricky to figure out without help. Plus, your instructor will watch your body language and help you build awareness of the ways you’re influencing your dog.

Start with an introduction to agility class and build the difficulty from there. Most classes are one hour per week with short bursts of daily homework, so the time commitment isn’t too great. And be sure to find an agility instructor who uses positive methods. One of the best parts of agility is how much dogs enjoy it and that will certainly be the case if you use praise and rewards. To find a class, look for local AKC clubs, ask around for recommendations, or attend local agility events and talk to the participants about where they train.

Try Competitive Agility

AKC Agility Invitational at the 2018 AKC National Championship presented by Royal Canin.
David Woo ©American Kennel Club

If you want to put you and your dog’s new skills to the test, then your next step is competitive agility. In fact, in advanced training classes, your instructor will likely set up mock courses and send each dog through one at a time to give you a taste. Before signing up, attend a trial or two to experience the atmosphere. Leave your dog at home and consider volunteering with the organizers so you can learn as much as possible. Then honestly assess your dog’s personality. Even if you love the thrill of competition, it needs to be fun for your dog too.

Find an AKC Agility Course Test event near you! ACT events, or Agility Coursing Tests, are specifically designed to welcome beginner dogs and handlers. Teams can give their entry-level skills a run at these events while getting used to the specifics of an agility competition that they may not be familiar with. Things like entering the ring and being judged are great to get used to at ACT events. They come in four different courses, ACT Standard 1 and 2 and ACT Jumpers 1 and 2.

You can also with an agility match, also known as a fun match. Unlike agility trials, these are just for enjoyment and give you and your dog a chance to run a course without the pressure of competition. It’s a great way to practice without nerves and stress getting in the way. If you love the experience, sign up for an agility trial where you will compete against other teams. But don’t feel intimidated. Although people take their runs seriously, the agility community is warm and welcoming. And you never know, you might be competing at the national level one day.

Try Other Sports That Use Agility Skills

A Border Collie performing a retrieve over high jump at the 2018 AKC Obedience Classic.
David Woo / American Kennel Club

Whether you make it to the AKC National Agility Championships or just play in your own backyard, the agility skills you develop can be applied to a lot of other dog sports. Once you experience the joy of training just for fun, you won’t want to stop. You can learn more about other dog sports from your agility instructor. Many training schools offer classes in other dog sports, and you might be able to sit in on a few to see what interests you. Here are some sports to consider if you love agility:

Whether you stick with agility or add other sports to your repertoire, your dog will thank you for the mental stimulation and physical exercise. And both of you will benefit from a happier dog and a stronger bond.