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.
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.
According to the USDAA, there are over 150 breeds of dogs, including mixed-breed dogs, involved in agility. Some breeds, like the Australian Shepherd and the Dutch Shepherd, are known for excelling at the sport. However, you should not let the fact that you have a Golden Retriever or a mixed-breed dog stop you from trying it. If your dog is playful and energetic, it will probably enjoy agility training.
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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.
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Most training schools are happy to allow you to attend and observe (leave Fido at home for this) a class or two to be sure the style of instruction fits with your beliefs. Dogs learn best through progressive reinforcement training; rewarding the dog for making the right choice and withholding rewards, or ignoring the dog for making an incorrect choice.
Most people don’t have a problem being very clear about when they are unhappy with their dogs, but, they often ignore the good stuff. Big mistake! Make sure you give your dog lots of attention when he’s doing the right thing. Let him know when he’s been a good boy. That’s the time to be extra generous with your attention and praise. It’s even okay to be a little over the top.
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