How to Get Your Dog Started in Agility

Does your pooch run like the puppin’ wind, or bound around the dog park like a bunny? Maybe she gets the zoomies on the daily, could play fetch forever, or has so much dang energy that neither of you know what to do with it. If you’re open to some running, too, agility could be just what the dog-tor ordered.

How do I know if my dog is a good agility training candidate?
Before mastering those weave poles and A-frames, your four-legged athlete’s gotta know the “sit,” “stay,” and “come” basics, and feel chillaxed around other doggos. There’s no need to have an AKC-certified or long-legged pup. All breeds and mixed-breeds are welcome to pawticipate. Even basset hounds:

This looks fun as heck. What’s the best way to get started?
Pupper needs to have some rock-solid foundational skills first, and the best way to build’ em is with a training group. Annelise Allan, owner of Agile Canines Training School in St. Louis Park, Minn., recommends finding an agility school with a foundations program focused on “building teamwork, handling skills, impulse control, and distance skills using exercises that can be done with boards, cones, and plastic lids” so teams can train at home, too. Agility students at Agile Canines start as young as 4 months old, and spend about 9-12 months learning and honing these skills and the off-leash dog-human relationship before starting obstacle training.

Stacey Hawk, owner and head trainer at Hawk City K9 in Chicago, says the comfort and safety of the canines should also be prioritized. “So much of agility training is focused on teaching the handler new skills and concepts,” Hawk explains. “When dogs are more comfortable, the human part of the team is in a much better position to learn. Safety is and always should be the number-one priority.”

We’re totally in. Where can my dog and I learn?
So many places! You can find a training group near you by using the United States Dog Agility Association’s group locator tool. The North American Dog Agility Council also offers nationwide lists of agility trainers and clubs. Because different groups train in different ways, Allan recommends checking out a few to find the best fit for you and your pooch.

I want my dog to compete someday. What’s the time commitment like?
Ideally, the two of you will train three to four times per week for the first two years. The key is to do your homework in between sessions to make new skills old hat on the double.

I don’t know if competition is right fur us. Are there still benefits for my dog?
You bet, and for you, too! It’s a huge confidence-builder, and great for both mental and physical health. Hawk has two 17-year-old canine students who have been attending agility class once a week their whole lives. “Their owners swear it’s what keeps their dogs young at heart!” she says. Agility also makes your relationship with your dog stronger than a KONG. “The mental training tires busy young dogs out more than fetching a ball does,” Allan adds. And as we all know, a tired dog is a happy dog, and also a dog who’s less likely to chew up your shoes.

how to get your dog started in agility
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(Top photo: Anitra Francis’s 7.5-year-old rescue pup, River, has been an agility dog since she was 2 years old. Photo by Skye Priesz.)

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