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.
You can start training your dog before they're of age to compete. Begin by working on basic obedience and teach your puppy to sit, lie down, come, heel, and stay. Your puppy will also benefit from attending training classes where they will learn basic obedience and get used to working around lots of other dogs and people. Having your pet take and pass the AKC Good Citizen Test is a helpful step.
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.
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.
Certain breeds, such as Doberman Pinschers, German Shepherds, Border Collies, Labrador Retrievers and Golden Retrievers, have reputations as being easier to train than others, such as some hounds and sled dogs. Dogs that have been bred to perform one task to the exclusion of all others (such as the Bloodhound or Husky), or that have been bred to work independently from their handler (such as terriers), may be particularly challenging with obedience training.
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.
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.
Feed your dog a high-quality diet with appropriate amounts of protein. If your dog spends most of his days lounging in your condo, don’t feed him food with a protein level that is ideal for dogs who herd sheep all day. The money that you will spend on feeding an appropriate quality food will often be money that you save in vet bills later on. I recommend you always check with your veterinarian for the right diet for your dog.
Clicker training, a common form of positive reinforcement, is a simple and effective dog training method. Although it is still fine to train your dog without clicker training, many people find it helpful. With clicker training, you can easily and effectively teach your dog all kinds of basic and advanced commands and tricks. It's fast and easy to learn how to clicker train your dog