Whenever you’re training your dog, it’s important to get as many family members involved as possible so everyone’s on the same page. If you are telling your dog “off” when he jumps on the couch and someone else is saying “down,” while someone else is letting him hang out up there, how on earth is he ever going to learn what you want? Consistency will be the key to your success.
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.
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.
At a basic level, owners want dogs with which they can pleasantly share a house, a car, or a walk in the park. Some dogs need only a minimum amount of training to learn to eliminate outside (be housebroken), to sit, to lie down, or to come on command (obey a recall). Many other dogs prove more challenging. New dog owners might find training difficult and fail to make progress, because they expect dogs to think and act like humans, and are surprised and baffled when the dogs don't.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
I've dabbled in agility with a previous dog, but this time I want to go to the show. My 10-month old sheltie is only a spectator now, but the look in her eyes tells me she's ready to become a contender. I've learned from the pros that the road ahead will be filled with training and hard work (for me and for Fiona), but the time spent developing our speed and skills will be rewarded by a canine-human bond rarely obtained in any other activity.
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.
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.
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