Watching the clever Border Collie, Tex, win the 2015 Westminster Dog Agility Contest or the whip-quick retriever, Joy, earn the large dog agility prize at the Purina Pro Plan Incredible Dog Challenge is enough to get your tail wagging, even if you don’t have a dog. The speed and discipline these canine competitors exhibit is inspirational. So, it’s no surprise that many pet owners get into agility training for dogs as a form of bonding and a fun way to exercise.
But wait, there’s more! Agility gives you something cool to do with your dog. This is important if you have a hard time getting your dog to do what you say. It teaches Fido that you are lots of fun and worth listening to. Compare this to another common activity for dogs: the dog park. At the dog park, you let him off leash and he goes off to do his own thing. Returning to you is no fun because it means he has to go home. You’re not Fido’s best buddy. You’re his chauffeur.
Dog intelligence is exhibited in many different ways, and a dog that might not be easy to train might nonetheless be quite adept at figuring out how to open kitchen cabinets or to escape from the yard. Novice dog owners need to consider a dog's trainability as well as its energy level, exercise requirements, and other factors before choosing a new pet. Very high intelligence is not necessarily a good thing in a companion dog, as smart dogs can require extensive daily mental stimulation if they are not to become bored and destructive.
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.
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.
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.
If a dog has a clean run without any faults, it’s called a qualifying run or a “Q,” and they’ll get points added to their official record. If they get a good score, they may also receive a placement ribbon. Winning a first place is a lot of fun, but in the grand scheme of things placements don’t matter until you reach high levels of competition. However, the Qs are important – with enough points, your dog will earn a title. A title is a certificate of accomplishment. As you earn each title you stick it to the end of your dog’s name, so Fido’s name can eventually start to look like Jonas’s. Very snazzy.
"Training with John gave me the tools to better communicate with my pup. He is very patient, and willing to work on specific problems or challenges with each person with whom he works. My dogs behavior has improved in all aspects, and our bond is stronger because he understands what is acceptable and what is not. Thank you for helping me get there, John."