Here at 3 Lost Dogs, we’re all about giving dogs jobs. Boredom is the leading cause of behavior problems, because dogs were bred to WORK. All this sitting around at home with only a daily walk or run does not a happy dog make. They need some kind of challenge, or they’ll find their own. And it’ll usually be something like digging up the yard or barking incessantly at all who dare pass the front window. Agility provides the perfect combination of physical exercise and mental stimulation to keep Fido entertained and out of trouble.
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.
Prong collars (also called 'pinch collars') are a series of chain links with blunted open ends turned towards the dog's neck. The design of the prong collar is such that it has a limited circumference unlike slip collars which do not have a limit on how far they can constrict on a dog's neck. The limited traction of the martingale chain combined with the angle of the prongs prevents the prongs moving close enough to pinch. The collar is designed to prevent the dog from pulling by applying pressure at each point against the dog's neck.
Basic or beginner's obedience is typically a short course ranging from six to ten weeks, where it is demonstrated to the handler how to communicate with and train the dog in a few simple commands. With most methods the dog is trained one command at a time. Though there may or may not be a specific word attached to it, walking properly on a leash, or leash control, is often the first training required prior to learning other commands.
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.
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.
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.
The best type of dog training for both you and your dog depends on the outcomes you hope to achieve. If you want your dog to learn agility training, go to someone who specializes in those techniques. Regardless of whether you want your dog to learn basic behavior or competitive-level tricks, the majority of dog training is actually about training the owner how to communicate with their dog. Most professional dog trainers agree that a model of training based on positive reinforcement breeds a happy, healthy, well-adjusted dog. The alternative to positive reinforcement training is using force or aggression techniques like physical punishment or shock-collar training to get the dog to do (or not do) a behavior. While the dog may learn how to behave as you direct, it is also learning to communicate with force and aggression, and will in turn use those behaviors on other dogs (or people) that are smaller or weaker than it is. Before signing up with a dog trainer, meet with the trainer and ask for references. Watch the trainer interact with your dog, and make sure they treat your dog with patience and firm kindness. Ask them questions about their training methods:
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.
Seesaw: This obstacle looks just like what you might see on a playground, with one plank supported in the middle, so that either side can be lowered toward the ground. The dog will start at one end and walk to the other, while the plank shifts with the dog’s weight. Some clubs require that this obstacle have grips or treads on them, as a safety measure.
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.
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.
"Pamela's approach to dog training is one of the only few in Dallas that does not use treats to train. With this approach, your dog not only listens to you better, but longterm wise they won't keep looking at your hand or for the nearest bag of dog treats nearby to determine if they should listen to you. This has taught my dog to fully understand my commands better and build a better relationship and bonding experience between her and me based on praise training. My dog now listens to me without having to have any treats on hand or nearby."
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