The training takes place around a set course, and if on a competitive level, training is carried out against the clock. At competition level, the dogs compete against others for the fewest faults in the fastest time. For general exercise, not in the competition arena, the dog owner or handler walks or runs around the course and directs and controls the dog while he’s off his leash.
The clicker is a small hand-held device that makes a distinct, short sound to mark a desired behavior. (See clicker training for a more detailed discussion of this methodology.) It has gained popularity in recent years as being a means of training that does not involve physically correcting the dog, though it may be used in conjunction with these methods.
The idea of using treats to train is often equated with bribery. Truthfully, dogs do what works. If using treats gets them to do what you want, then why not? You can also use the world around you as a reinforcement. Every interaction you have with your dog is a learning opportunity, so when you think about it, you probably don’t use food very often except during active training sessions. So why does your dog continue to hang out? Because you reinforce him with praise, touch, games and walks. Just remember, the behavior should produce the treat; the treat should not produce the behavior.
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.
Martingale collars (also called limited-slip collars) are usually made of flat nylon with a smaller fixed-length section (made of either nylon or a short length of chain) that, when pulled on by the leash, shortens up tightening the collar around the dog's neck, to a limited extent. When properly fitted, martingales are looser than flat-buckle collars when not tightened, and less severely corrective than slip collars when tightened.
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.
In addition to behavior training, socializing your puppy is an important part of dog training. Socializing your dog means they become comfortable and confident in a variety of settings and have a great foundation for becoming a well-adjusted adult dog. After your puppy has had the proper vaccinations, you can start to introduce it to a variety of different dogs and people in safe settings.
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When observing a class, take note of the dogs; do they look happy? Relaxed? Excited to work? Is the instructor encouraging dogs and owners? Does the class seem to be run in a safe and effective manner? If you don’t feel comfortable at a particular training school, your dog won’t either, and you’ll be setting Fido up to fail. Keep looking for a school where you feel comfortable; you and Fido will do your best work this way!
You can start training your dog before they're of age to compete. Begin by working on basic obedience and teach your puppy to sit, lie down, come, heel, and stay. Your puppy will also benefit from attending training classes where they will learn basic obedience and get used to working around lots of other dogs and people. Having your pet take and pass the AKC Good Citizen Test is a helpful step.
"Pamela's approach to dog training is one of the only few in Dallas that does not use treats to train. With this approach, your dog not only listens to you better, but longterm wise they won't keep looking at your hand or for the nearest bag of dog treats nearby to determine if they should listen to you. This has taught my dog to fully understand my commands better and build a better relationship and bonding experience between her and me based on praise training. My dog now listens to me without having to have any treats on hand or nearby."
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