These days most people, or at least dog people, have heard about agility but we’ll give you a brief description just in case. It is a kind of obstacle course that a dog and handler navigate together. The handler show the dog what obstacle to do in what order, and the dog goes over/through the different ones. The common obstacles are tunnels, jumps, tire jumps, see-saw, A-frame, dogwalk and weave poles. Some also have the table but that’s not a very common obstacle in competitions around here.
Both dog and handler need to be fit and healthy to do agility, and the dog must be fully grown. No dog should do any training like jumping and weaving until they’re at least a year old, and large dogs should be even older. This is because the joints of young dogs are soft and can be worn down easier than those of a full grown dog + you don’t want to impact their growth in any way. There are lots of useful ground work you can do before the dog turns 1, though, so there’s no reason to be impatient. More damage has been done starting a dog too hard too early than by going too slow.
Here you can see some of our equipment. We don’t have any contacts (a-frame, see-saw, dogwalk), but a couple of jumps and a tunnel. Our tire jump isn’t quite right, it lacked a third pole to keep if off the ground. This picture was from our first attempt at putting it up, and it didn’t work very well.
It’s nice to have something to train with at home, although Bajas isn’t fit to do this anymore since he injured his back last winter. Gummi will be able to do some training next summer, though!
Here’s Bajas at 8,5 years old doing a little garden agility. The speed was reduced due to the photographer also being the handler and having him in sit-stays for all individual obstacles.
I don’t have any photos of Bajas during proper agility training, I think.
Here are some from Nimbus’ first agility class, though. All dog clubs we know of require a basic agility class before being allowed to use their equipment for regular trainings to prevent serious injuries/mistakes in training.
Learning to weave – you start with just a few poles and teach the dog the right way to enter the poles, then gradually increase the number of poles.
Coming down the a-frame. As you can see he’s wearing a collar and leash (you can’t do that for competition, just when you begin training) – this is to make sure he doesn’t jump off or run down without touching the contact field, the yellow part. One of the main aspects of the contacts are that the dog needs to step on the contact area both going up and coming down.
See-saw – one person is helping out making sure it moves gradually and that you don’t get a hard bang when it touches the ground. This could scare an inexperienced dog, so it’s very important to pay attention and prevent things like that from happening. If you want an agility dog it can be useful to get him or her used to wobbly surfaces from a young age. Feeling secure even when the ground is wobbling will make a dog more confident when you start training the see-saw.
Nimbus flyin across the long jump. By this point I was feeling confident he’d jump it, so he didn’t have a leash on. Initially someone would be on one side holding his leash and making sure he couldn’t come to me (who was calling to him from the other side) without jumping correctly.
Nimbus walking the a-frame, quite confident!
Coming out of the collapsed tunnel. In the beginning one assistant would hold it open so he could see through it and then gradually lower it until he opened it all on his own. I placed the toy before walking him to the other end and sending him through. The assistant is making sure he wouldn’t run off with it in case I didn’t get there in time
Very basic back chaining – here he’s first doing the last of the two jumps a few times before doing them both. That is to increase the likelihood that he’ll jump both rather than stopping after the first one.
Nimbus illustrating a classic error – he’s turning back after the jump when you’d really want him to keep focusing forward. It was probably mostly because of the leash following him through the tire, but it’s important to reward in the direction you want the dog to move (= forward).