Getting Started in Agility
Interested in agility?
According to the American Kennel Club, “agility is designed to demonstrate a dog’s willingness to work with its handler in a variety of situations. It is an athletic event that requires conditioning, concentration, training and teamwork. Dog and handlers negotiate an obstacle course racing against the clock.”
Competing in Agility
In the United States, there are several organizations that support the sport of canine agility, including the American Kennel Club (AKC), the United States Dog Agility Association (USDAA), UK Agility International (UKI), and the North American Dog Agility Council (NADAC). Agility trials that are sanctioned by these and other organizations are offered in Oklahoma and surrounding states throughout the year. Competitors of all ages and athletic abilities are involved in the sport of agility, and dogs of all breeds (including mixed breed dogs) may compete. The dog-handler team will move through the obstacles in the class as quickly as possible, striving for accuracy and speed in completing the course, with the goal of earning a qualifying score and place in the class.
Agility training is offered by a number of schools in the Oklahoma City metropolitan area. At Flying K9 Agility School, our classes are geared for handlers who are serious about agility and eventually would like to compete in agility trials. The focus is on safety and foundational skills. To be successful in agility, handlers must practice regularly with their dogs at home, in addition to attending class.
Prior to Beginning Agility Training
Before beginning agility classes, dogs will need to have learned basic obedience skills. These skills include a stay, sit, down, and recall (or “come”). The dog also needs to be comfortable in his or her crate and with being around other dogs and people. Other useful skills are leave it, drop it, and loose leash walking. The dog should be able to do the obedience skill independently when given the command, and he or she should hold the skill until released with a release word such as “OK” or “Release”. For a stay, the handler will want to be able to walk away from him as much as 20 feet and have the dog maintain the stay. Handlers will want to get the dog out around other dogs frequently, and practice obedience skills in those settings until the dog is “proofed” - i.e., the dog will perform the skills in any setting. While such obedience skills are not taught in agility class, they are used often and are foundational to agility training. For that reason, handlers who are interested in agility training will want to begin with basic obedience training, either by training on their own at home or by taking obedience classes. As the handler is working with the dog on these obedience skills, consideration should be given as to whether the dog is more motivated by toys or by food. In agility training, it will be helpful to use rewards that are the best motivators for the individual dog.
When to Begin Agility Training
Dogs should not jump, weave, or practice other high-impact skills until their growth plates have closed, which typically occurs between 12-18 months. However, there are foundational skills that can be taught to puppies without the use of equipment, and for that reason, pre-agility classes for puppies are offered. Agility classes using equipment can be started after the growth plates are closed. Older dogs may begin agility classes at any time – depending on the dog’s health, dogs can continue to compete in agility throughout their lifetime.