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.
Feed your dog a high-quality diet with appropriate amounts of protein. If your dog spends most of his days lounging in your condo, don’t feed him food with a protein level that is ideal for dogs who herd sheep all day. The money that you will spend on feeding an appropriate quality food will often be money that you save in vet bills later on. I recommend you always check with your veterinarian for the right diet for your dog.
Seesaw: This obstacle looks just like what you might see on a playground, with one plank supported in the middle, so that either side can be lowered toward the ground. The dog will start at one end and walk to the other, while the plank shifts with the dog’s weight. Some clubs require that this obstacle have grips or treads on them, as a safety measure.
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.
There is nothing inherently wrong with telling your dog “no,” except that it doesn’t give him enough information. Instead of telling your dog “no,” tell him what you want him to do. Dogs don’t generalize well, so if your dog jumps up on someone to say hello and you say no, he may jump higher or he may jump to the left side instead of the right. A better alternative would be to ask him to “sit.” Tell him what you want him to do in order to avoid confusion.
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.
Herding breeds like border collies are the masters of this game, which is why you’ll see a ton of them at trials, but they’re not the only players. Chihuahuas, pit bulls, huskies, hounds, even Great Danes. You name it, my dogs and I have probably been shown up by it at some point. Surprisingly, certain toy breeds like Papillons have a real knack for agility.
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.
Flat collars are commonly used in clicker training and other non-correction-based training, such as puppy kindergarten. They are also effective in training small dogs, however they tend to lift the dog off the ground when giving corrections while the dog is distracted or in high adrenal mode. They are typically made of nylon or leather, and fasten with a buckle or quick-release connection.
Head halters are an alternative to collars that works similarly to a horse halter. The halter fits over the dog's snout and behind its head (leading it to sometimes be mistaken for a muzzle). Halters reduce the dog's ability to successfully pull on the leash, but do not eliminate it. If the halter is used with a sharp jerk on the leash, neck injury to the dog may result, but used correctly head halters have not been shown to cause harm.
Once your dog is ready to start agility training, your best bet is to find a class or group in your area. The United States Dog Agility Association (USDAA) offers a directory for agility groups in each state, and many dog trainers offer classes as well. In the classes, you will be able to introduce your dog to the obstacles without the expense of buying or building them yourself.
Every dog needs to learn to walk on a leash. Besides the fact that most areas have leash laws, there will be times when keeping your dog on a leash is for his own safety. Learn how to introduce your dog or puppy to the leash, then teach him how to walk properly on the leash, even beside you on a bike. A loose leash walk teaches your dog not to pull or lunge when on the leash, making the experience more enjoyable for both you and your dog.