Agility training isn't just for purebred dogs in dog shows. Any dog no matter the breed or age can benefit from casual agility training at home. With enough work, your dog could compete in agility sports.
The best way to train your dog is to take them to agility training classes. However, you can start training them at home with a few do-it-yourself supplies, training resources, and a lot of patience.
What Is Agility Training?
You've likely seen agility competitions on televised dog shows. Canines and their owners move through an obstacle course without a leash, relying on commands, training, and their relationship.
Agility training is beneficial for all dogs. It gets them in shape, keeps their mind sharp, and improves their obedience.
You also benefit from agility training with your dog. It gives you an outlet for physical fitness, strengthens your relationship with your dog, and can introduce you to a new community.
While any dog can benefit from agility training, not all dogs are suitable for the competition right away. In addition, the crowds and stress may overwhelm your dog. Do what's best for your dog.
Explore Your Resources
Beyond books and videos, you may have agility training courses or competitions in your area. Find time to observe these events and learn more about the sport of agility training.
Start Small and Have Fun
Agility training is supposed to be fun for you and your dog. If it's not fun, you may get frustrated and your dog may lose interest.
Start with small agility training periods lasting no more than 10 minutes. Training for long periods makes it more likely that you and your dog will burn out.
Start With the Basics
Before you can command your dog to weave through poles, they need to understand what your commands are like. Teach your dogs simple tricks and commands.
For agility training, some commands are effective in developing the skills needed. These commands and tricks are:
- Look at or watch you
- Touch your hand or object with their nose
- Walk backward (back up)
Teach Your Dog to Focus
Without being on a leash, your dog may get distracted easily. For example, your dog may think it's playtime and ignore your commands.
Commands like "look" or "watch" will encourage your dog to make eye contact, training their attention on you. Additionally, training them in quiet areas free of distractions will help your training be more effective.
Leave it. One exercise that teaches focus involves scattering desirable objects around your training area (e.g. toys, bags of treats, or chewable items). Then, when your dog approaches one of these items, use a command like "leave it." Then, if your dog leaves the object alone, reward them.
Slowly Introduce Obstacles
You don't need an entire obstacle course to train your dog. Objects around your house can serve as simple obstacles for your dog's agility training.
Consider the following homemade obstacles that mimic agility training courses:
- A broom balanced on two stacks of books for your dog to jump over
- A blanket draped over two chairs (like a tunnel) for your dog to run through
- A garbage can or something else upright that your dog can perform tight turns around
- An upside plastic bin for your dog to jump up and balance on
- A child's wagon for your dog to practice balance
The options are endless! To be extra crafty, you could build set pieces and turn your yard into an agility training course. For others, you can purchase the various obstacles.
It may seem like the owners at agility competitions are moving alongside their dogs and the dogs are doing the course independently. However, the owner is using a variety of commands, rewards, and body language to lead their dog through the course.
The first way to improve how you handle your dog is to train them from multiple angles. For example, if your dog is used to walking on your left side, work on training them from different sides of your body.
The second way to improve your handling is by working with your dog at greater distances. Once you've got a few commands down, try performing them from a few steps away so your dog learns that they don't need to be by your side.
Don't Forget Rewards
Treats or kibble are a great reward during initial training. However, love, praise, and encouragement are necessary for your dog's agility training. Extra recognition will make them enjoy the training, improving its efficacy.