There is an ever-growing list of agility sanctioning organizations. The ones you’ll hear about most often in the US are NADAC, AKC, and the USDAA (see below for a more complete list of national and international groups). Each organization has its own rules and style. For example, NADAC courses are spread out and focus on speed. They often challenge the handler to send their dog through the course at a distance. USDAA courses are “tighter” and more technically challenging.
Once you have the above obstacles created, you are ready to work on training your dog on the agility course. Before you get started, make sure your dog is able to follow basic commands such as sit, lie down, come, and stay. Next, begin to help your dog through the course. Teach him to crawl through tunnels, jump over hurdles and through tires. Help him weave through poles. Walk your dog over the teeter board and dogwalk and have him pause for a predetermined amount of time on the pause box. Take your time and start off slow. Once your dog has mastered the commands necessary to finish the course, you can start picking up the pace and working on his speed and accuracy.
It's a good idea to proof your dog's training in different locations to prepare it for distractions. Invite a few friends over to cheer on your dog so it gets used to a crowd. You might also want to go to a training center or find local trainers who also have the obstacles set up in their backyard. If your obstacles are portable, you could even take them to a park.
Step one of each run is the walkthrough. If you’ve ever been to an agility trial and seen a group of people walking around in the ring with one arm out and muttering commands to an invisible dog, you’ve just witnessed the walkthrough portion of the trial. These people may look three fries short of a Happy Meal, but they’re actually hard at work memorizing the course and plotting out how they will run it.
I've dabbled in agility with a previous dog, but this time I want to go to the show. My 10-month old sheltie is only a spectator now, but the look in her eyes tells me she's ready to become a contender. I've learned from the pros that the road ahead will be filled with training and hard work (for me and for Fiona), but the time spent developing our speed and skills will be rewarded by a canine-human bond rarely obtained in any other activity.
Changing behavior takes time. You need to have realistic expectations about changing your dog’s behavior as well as how long it will take to change behaviors that you don’t like. Often behaviors which are “normal” doggie behaviors will take the most time such as barking, digging and jumping. You also need to consider how long your dog has rehearsed the behavior. For example, if you didn’t mind that your dog jumped up on people to say hi for the last seven years and now you decide that you don’t want him to do that anymore, that behavior will take a much longer time to undo than if you had addressed it when he was a pup. Remember it’s never too late to change the behavior some will just take longer than others.
Last, basic obedience training isn’t just for dogs that compete in obedience, agility, or trick competitions. Obedience exercises are important for all dogs, especially high-energy breeds that need mental stimulation as well as physical exercise. Simple behaviors like sit, down, stay, come, and leave it are essential for a well-behaved pet. You can challenge your dog even more by teaching him more advanced behaviors like “go to place,” formal heeling, to roll over, etc. The old adage — a tired dog is a good dog — is not incorrect. However, a mentally and physically tired dog is even better.
Dog intelligence is exhibited in many different ways, and a dog that might not be easy to train might nonetheless be quite adept at figuring out how to open kitchen cabinets or to escape from the yard. Novice dog owners need to consider a dog's trainability as well as its energy level, exercise requirements, and other factors before choosing a new pet. Very high intelligence is not necessarily a good thing in a companion dog, as smart dogs can require extensive daily mental stimulation if they are not to become bored and destructive.
Remember that training is an ongoing process. You will never be completely finished. It is important to keep working on obedience training throughout the life of your dog. People who learn a language at a young age but stop speaking that language may forget much of it as they grow older. The same goes for your dog: use it or lose it. Running through even the most basic tricks and commands will help them stay fresh in your dog's mind. Plus, it's a great way to spend time with your dog.