There are many factors that go into choosing the right training school for you and your dog. Certainly distance is a consideration; however, convenience shouldn’t be the only factor that influences your decision. Other things like training methods, appropriate classes for your needs, compatibility of the instructor’s personality with yours, and certifications of the instructor should also play a role.
A-frame: The A-frame is a pair of planks joined in the middle at an angle so that they resemble the peak of the letter A. There are “contact” areas indicated by contrasting colors which are painted on the frame and dictate where the dog must step. The dog must go up one side and down the other, contacting the plank in the right places on each side.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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