6 Tips For The Dog Agility Novice
If you are just getting your paws wet in the world of dog agility, so to speak, it's easy to become overwhelmed by the equipment, the lingo, competition rules and so on. However, if you keep your focus on the following five helpful tips, agility training is sure to be an exciting and fun experience.
1. Choose Your Lingo
When a dog is running on a dog agility course, the trainer will use both verbal commands and hand signals to help guide the dog through the course correctly. Dogs can develop a fairly substantial vocabulary, but it's best to keep the commands short and sweet.
There is no set rule as to what you must use for verbal commands, and any word can be successful. The real trick is being consistent. You need to use the same command words every single time in order for your dog to associate the command with the action. With consistency, you will achieve success.
Write down the words you intend to use for each piece of dog agility equipment. For instance, you might use "frame" for the A-frame and "walk" for the dog walk and "tire" for the tire jump. Again, what you say matters less than the consistency, but it's wise to make note of what you intend to say and be sure that anyone else involved in training is on the same page.
2. Craft A Dog Agility Plan
Teachers of all kinds develop lesson plans and while these plans aren't set in stone, they do help keep you focused. You can begin by creating a general daily schedule for your dog. This might include a warm-up walk around the block and then 15-20 minutes of dog agility training.
A brief warm-up is an essential part of the agility training plan for a couple of reasons. Dogs, just like humans, need to warm up and get their blood circulating prior to exercise. This helps prevent injuries. Additionally, a short workout can burn off some energy and make it easier for your dog to focus on the task at hand.
During the first weeks of training, you will want to focus on just one or two pieces of dog agility equipment at the most. Once your dog has mastered one piece of equipment, you can move on to the next and even begin teaching your pooch to move from one piece of equipment to the next.
Be sure to continue to use your commands, and don't be afraid to mix up the order. For instance, one day, you might have your dog run through jump, jump, tunnel, pause table. The next day you might try jump, pause table, jump, tunnel. By not always following the same pattern, your dog will learn by using the commands and hand signals rather than complete a specific run. When you compete, you never know what order dog agility equipment will be arranged, so it's best to have your dog memorize commands rather than a pattern.
3. Read Up On The Rules
While the beginning stages of dog agility training are mostly devoted to introducing your dog to different pieces of dog agility equipment, if competition is your goal, it's important that you become acquainted with the competition rules.
There are many organizations that host competitions throughout the United States, including the USDAA, the AKC and the UKC to name a few. Take a look at the websites of these organizations as well as a few others and decide which organization looks like the best fit for you. From there, you can download and print copies of the rules and incorporate these rules into your teaching.
4. Work On Accuracy, Then On Speed
When you run on a dog agility course, you and your dog will be judged on both accuracy and on speed. While both are important, speed means little if you don't have a clean run. Make sure your dog is confident coming at any obstacle, in any order and at any angle. They might make you enter the weaves from the left or right or turn left or right for a jump, and your dog needs be able to handle it all.
As the handler, one of your biggest goals should be keeping your dog in your line of vision. Often a handler will move ahead and not keep the dog in their sights and just continue down the course, not noticing that the dog has gone off course. Learning how to be a great handler takes practice and time, so be patient with your dog and be patient with yourself, as well.
Once the two of you are competent moving around the course in many different configurations, it's time to work on speed. The fastest dog with the cleanest run wins the competition, so speed is important. Be sure to continue your handling through the finish line and train your dog to make a great dash at the end after completing that last obstacle. Your run doesn't end until you cross the finish line, so keep your game face on until you hit that final mark.
5. Don't Forget The Social Aspect
A healthy, energetic dog is a perfect dog for agility training. However, your dog's personality is also a factor in the competition equation. When dogs are at agility competitions, this tends to be quite a social event. While the dogs are on a leash when they are not competing, they interact with each other a great deal. Of course, there are also plenty of people around as well and lots of noise and bustle.
This is why it is so important to socialize your dog prior to entering agility training. In general, socializing is very important for all dog owners. You can join an obedience class or a dog agility club or visit the dog park to encourage socialization. Agility dogs need to be able to run a course and tune out all of the noise and commotion going on around them. This takes practice, too, but it should be considered part of your training regimen.
6. Focus On The Fun
Dog sports are supposed to be fun. This isn't life or death, it's dog agility and it's simply meant to be a fun, athletic activity for you and your canine companion. You will strengthen your bond, enjoy plenty of sunshine, get some great exercise and meet a lot of terrific people along the way.
Whenever you feel frustrated by training (and we all do at times), just take a deep breath, give your dog a friendly pat and let it go. If you are having a tough training session, cut it short. Tomorrow is another day, and all your pet truly wants is to spend some happy time with you.
If you need dog agility equipment, you have come to the right place. At Carlson Agility, we have virtually every piece of dog agility equipment you could possibly need as well as handy training tools. You could begin by purchasing just one piece of equipment or consider one of our many handy starter kits.