In the twentieth century, formalized dog training originated in military and police applications, and the methods used largely reflected the military approach to training humans. In the middle and late part of the century, however, more research into operant conditioning and positive reinforcement occurred as wild animal shows became more popular. Aquatic mammal trainers used clickers (a small box that makes a loud click when pushed on) to "mark" desired behavior, giving food as a reward. The change in training methods spread gradually into the world of dog training. Today many dog trainers rely heavily on positive reinforcement to teach new behaviors.
Dogs that demonstrate the previously mentioned basic skills, as well as walking reasonably well on a leash and a few other minor tasks, can be tested for and earn the American Kennel Club's (AKC) Canine Good Citizen certification. While not a competitive obedience title, a CGC certification demonstrates that the dog is sociable, well behaved, and reliable in public settings. Some insurance companies will waive breed restrictions on dogs with CGCs, and many states have passed resolutions supporting and encouraging CGC certification as a yardstick for canine manners and responsible dog ownership.
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.
If your dog is refusing to go over a hurdle, practice in a narrow hallway. Set up a small jump and put your dog on one side with you on the other. Your dog should have nowhere to go but forward over the jump. Encourage your pup with treats and a happy tone of voice. With a little patience and positive reinforcement, your dog will soon be a confident jumper.
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.
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.
The fur is flying, the noise is at a decibel I've never experienced before and the desire to win is so thick you can feel it. This is agility competition for dogs and Fiona, my soon to be athlete, and I are on the sidelines of an agility competition taking notes. Dogs of every breed, size and shape are jumping hurdles, running up A-frames, scampering across elevated walkways and diving through tunnels. So as not to get lost on the course, each dog is in constant eye contact with their owner who gives directions through hand signals and one-word prompts.
Clicker training, a common form of positive reinforcement, is a simple and effective dog training method. Although it is still fine to train your dog without clicker training, many people find it helpful. With clicker training, you can easily and effectively teach your dog all kinds of basic and advanced commands and tricks. It's fast and easy to learn how to clicker train your dog