Here at 3 Lost Dogs, we’re all about giving dogs jobs. Boredom is the leading cause of behavior problems, because dogs were bred to WORK. All this sitting around at home with only a daily walk or run does not a happy dog make. They need some kind of challenge, or they’ll find their own. And it’ll usually be something like digging up the yard or barking incessantly at all who dare pass the front window. Agility provides the perfect combination of physical exercise and mental stimulation to keep Fido entertained and out of trouble.
Second, it’s easiest to ignore unwanted behavior and reward an incompatible behavior. When Rover bites at your hands, he wants attention. He wasn’t born programmed to know that you want him to sit and ask nicely for attention, so you have to teach him. Instead of scolding him, ask him to sit. When he complies, reward him with a food treat, lavish praise and petting on him, or offer a game of fetch or tug.
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.
If your dog exhibits a behavior you don’t like, there is a strong likelihood that it’s something that has been reinforced before. A great example is when your dog brings you a toy and barks to entice you to throw it. You throw the toy. Your dog has just learned that barking gets you to do what he wants. You say “no,” and he barks even more. Heaven forbid you give in and throw the toy now! Why? Because you will have taught him persistence pays off. Before you know it you’ll have a dog that barks and barks every time he wants something. The solution? Ignore his barking or ask him to do something for you (like “sit”) before you throw his toy.
Agility first appeared in England in 1978, as essentially a half time show at Crufts. The creators based the demonstration on horse jumping competitions, intending to show off the dogs’ natural speed and agility. Dog owners and trainers looking for something new to do with their pets pricked up their ears and said, “Hey, MY dog could do that.” Thus the sport was born.
Tunnels: There are a couple of different types of tunnels used in agility competition. One type is a tube with a U-shaped bend that is made of joined rigid hoops. Another style consists of a stiff collar-like tunnel, usually only a few feet long, that has a length of fabric fastened to one end. The dog goes in through the collar portion and must find its way out from under the collapsed fabric portion.
Weave Poles: This one might be the most exciting element to watch a dog complete, but can be one of the most challenging to train for. If you’ve ever seen a ski slalom race, you already have a good idea of what the dog will need to do to get through this obstacle. Several vertical poles are set up in a row and the dog must weave its way back and forth between them in a snake-like fashion.
Dogs competing in dog sports, such as flyball, agility or Schutzhund, must be trusted in an open field, off leash and surrounded by other people, dogs, hot dogs, and flying discs. This requires more focused attention on the owner and a better recall than that found in most household companion dogs, and more advanced training than that required for formal obedience.
In competition, merely sitting, lying down, or walking on a leash are insufficient. The dog and handler must perform the activities off leash and in a highly stylized and carefully defined manner. For example, on a recall, the dog must come directly to the handler, without sniffing or veering to one side, and must sit straight in front of the handler, not at an angle or off to one side or the other. Training for obedience competitions builds on basic obedience training.
The leash or lead is used to connect the dog to the handler, lead the dog, as well as to control the dog in urban areas. Most communities have laws which prohibit dogs from running at large. They may be made of any material such as nylon, metal or leather. A six-foot length is commonly used for walking and in training classes, though leashes come in lengths both shorter and longer. A long line (also called a lunge line) can be 3 metres (ten feet) or more in length, and are often used to train the dog to come when called from a distance.
Dog training depends on the dog and how much homework the dog owner is willing to put in. Puppy training is similar to dog training in that the onus of the work depends on the owner learning new ways to interact with their dog. For a quick crash course, you can opt for a single, two hour smart-start puppy training consultation to teach you the ins and outs of being a new dog parent. You can learn how to manage potty training and what to do if the puppy experiences separation anxiety. As long as you’re willing to work on dog training a little bit each day, your puppy will quickly learn these new behaviors. If you’re not confident about training your puppy yourself, you can enroll in a 6- to 8-week puppy training course, with weekly lessons touching on everything from bite control to obedience. Puppies usually need to be at least three months old for group training classes. If you want more intensive one-on-one work, you can opt for private lessons. Some behavior problems can be resolved in one session if the dog owner learns and can implement new skills. In the case of more serious issues, 3 to 10 private sessions can typically correct challenges.