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.
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.
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.
AKC Canine Good Citizen (CGC) evaluators are another class of dog-training professionals. AKC CGC Evaluators may or may not be trainers or behaviorists, but are certified by the AKC to evaluate dogs in the Canine Good Citizen test. Training other behaviors and getting a dog used to being alone, for example, can help reduce separation anxiety. The root cause, however, would likely need to be determined by a behaviorist, who could then refer you to a trainer if he or she was not able to help with the training issues.
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.
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.
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.
Changing behavior takes time. You need to have realistic expectations about changing your dog’s behavior as well as how long it will take to change behaviors that you don’t like. Often behaviors which are “normal” doggie behaviors will take the most time such as barking, digging and jumping. You also need to consider how long your dog has rehearsed the behavior. For example, if you didn’t mind that your dog jumped up on people to say hi for the last seven years and now you decide that you don’t want him to do that anymore, that behavior will take a much longer time to undo than if you had addressed it when he was a pup. Remember it’s never too late to change the behavior some will just take longer than others.
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