The term dog agility training is used in association with training your dog to participate in a sport involving both speed and agility. The competition tests your dog’s ability to run through tunnels, jump over hurtles, swerve through cones and stop instantly on a pedestal all at the verbal command of their owners or handlers. Most dog owners consider agility training to be advanced and only for those wanting to participate in shows but in truth this training can be a fun pastime for the entire family, dog included.
For competition the obstacle course is designed by judges and includes any number of obstacles including ramps, seesaws, tunnels, poles, tables and a variety of jumps. I think perhaps the best resource for learning about agility for competition is non-other than Wikipedia.org. For the purpose of family fun I want to share a few of my favorite obstacles that are easy for your dog to learn and for you to teach.
Using Dog Agility Training In Your Own Backyard
If your family is looking for a creative way to give your dog exercise and tire out the kids then agility training might be just what you need. But don’t let the term “agility training” scare you off. It’s simpler than you might think. The easiest obstacles to get started with include:
- Pause box – This is an area marked on the ground using tape that you teach your dog to pause in either in a sit or down stay.
- Jump – This can be a purchased hurdle or made by stacking a couple of 4 x 4’s to create an object for them to jump over. Keep in mind this doesn’t have to be anything high or fancy. You’re just having fun with your dog.
- A-frame – If you picture the home made skateboard jumps in most residential neighborhoods then you have a visual of the a-frame obstacle. It’s literally just two ramps connected at the peek creating an up and down incline for the dog to run over in the shape of the letter A.
- Dog Walk – As an alternative to the a-frame or in conjunction with you can use what is known as a dog walk that consists of a level platform with a ramp on opposite sides creating a small bridge between the two inclines.
- Tunnel – You can purchase an agility tunnel or you can make your own by supporting a sheet securely with stakes or posts to create a “tunnel” low to the ground. Your dog should be able to comfortable run through but you want to keep the height comparable to the size of the commercial tunnels.
- Weave poles – These are used to teach your dog to weave in and out of poles placed close together. You can use any freestanding poles, posts or even stools to create a row of 4 or more weave poles for your dog to have fun with. Keep it simple and keep it fun.
It’s important to start with something simple in the beginning and not try to dump all this new stuff on your dog at once. Because learning to stay on command is a common part of training I recommend starting with the pause box. You will begin practicing your dog’s stay by placing him in the “box” area and telling him to stay.
As you practice, begin by walking along side your dog and as your dog approaches the box tell him to stay and you continue walking away. Once your dog has mastered this he is ready for you to add more tricks to his obstacle course.
The next obstacle I would recommend is either the a-frame or dog walk. You can introduce these to your dog by walking with him over the ramps and rewarding him for following. Then advance to walking beside him on the ground praising him all the way and using treats to encourage him across the walk.
The third obstacle is the weave poles. To introduce these you want to place them wide enough apart that your dog won’t accidentally bump them and so that you can walk alongside him during the early training. You will use lots of praise and treats as you guide him first with your body and then with just your hands and then just a verbal command to go.
The fourth obstacle would be the jump. Dog’s naturally jump over things when they are in hot pursuit so the fastest way to get your dog started is by running with him and giving the command “jump” as you jump over the obstacle with them. Then work up to you running next to the jump while your dog jumps over it. Again lots of treats and praise is key to making this fun for your dog and you.
The final, and most challenging to introduce is the tunnel. This is where having kids is the most fun because they love crawling through tunnels with the dogs. If you don’t have kids you can begin by having a tunnel short enough that your dog’s head peeks out the other side before his tail is fully inside. Then you can entice him into the tunnel with his treat and praise him for following through.
You may need a helper for this in the beginning but as your dog grows in confidence you can increase the length of the tunnel and watch your dog have a blast.
Now that you have introduced all the obstacles and spent some time teaching your dog how to have fun with them you can spend a couple afternoons a week just playing with your dog and keeping them at their best in the agility field of your back yard.
If you’ve had any practice with running an agility field with your dogs I would love to hear about them. Share your experiences below in the comments.