Dog Agility

Agility

Weave PolesWeave Poles Dog agility is a fun sport for you and your dog. The goal in agility competition (called a trial) is to direct your dog through a course of obstacles as quickly as possible. Points add up for errors during the course (like missing an obstacle or knocking a pole off a jump) and, in general, the fastest time wins.

How to Get Started in Agility

Agility is a great sport for any dog. Whether you plan to compete or not, dog agility can teach dogs to focus their attention and become more confident. As the trainer, you learn how to communicate with your dog and learn to teach complex behaviors. There is a lot of information about dog agility. Bookstores have some books on agility, plus there are some great web sites devoted to agility. Here are my suggestions:

  1. Finding a local competition and watch the action! Clean Run provides a listing of upcoming agility events all over North America.
  2. Sometimes there are flyers at the trial for places to train and future events. Pick them all up and investigate later.
  3. If you think it looks like great fun (and it really is!), then try to find a local non-profit club that is offering classes. Dog agility clubs are run by dedicated volunteers, and instructors usually get paid for teaching. Ask your local pet store to see if they have any recommendations. Also if you attend more trials, you can ask competitors where they train (just don't interrupt them right before they're getting ready to run).
  4. Look to see when your local non-profit club has a beginners class starting and contact the club for more information. As with any dog training class, you should watch the class before signing up. Watch the instructors and look for lots of positive reinforcement used during class. Instructors should explain the method of training they're using and the ratio of students to instructor should be no more than 5 to 1.
  5. If it all looks good, then sign up and get going!

If you live in the Northwest, I highly recommend Rainier Agility Team. They offer classes in Redmond, WA and Kent, WA. There are clubs all over the world that offer classes. Go to The Dog Agility Page to find a club near you (plus a ton of other agility-related info). Classes should focus on training you for competition. Even if you don't plan to compete, it is the safest training plan for your dog and you. Besides, if you're like most people, once you get started you'll be hooked!

Help I'm Hooked!

If you've been bitten by the agility bug, then you must prepare for the next step: competition. Plan on training for a year before you enter your first trial. Your dog should be able to perform ALL of the equipment before you enter your first trial. I know, I know. You're in a big hurry to start competing, but trust me. You are doing yourself a huge favor when you wait to make sure your dog is confident on all of the equipment. Now that you have been training for awhile, it's time to test the waters:

  1. Find a local fun match. A fun match is a mock agility trial. It's great for practicing and for beginners to learn the ropes.
  2. Sign up for at least two runs. A run at a fun match usually lasts about two minutes. You can choose how you spend your two minutes.
  3. Warm up your dog and plan on doing something less difficult than you would do in class. For instance, if in class you regularly work on sequences of 6 or more obstacles, start your first run by performing 2-3 obstacles and quickly reward your dog Repeat sequences of 2-3 obstacles and/or start to add more obstacles to your sequence during the two minutes .
  4. If you were successful in the first run, try to make the next run a bit more difficult.
  5. Basically, you need to repeat this process, training in as many different places as possible until, you and your dog can walk up to the start line and successfully complete a 14-15 obstacle novice course.

Now, you're ready for competition.

Trials, Agility Organizations, and You

Trials in your area are usually sponsored by a local non-profit agility club and sanctioned for one of the national agility organizations like:

USDAA and NADAC allow all dogs (mutts too) to compete at their events. They have similar competition rules, but there are some differences. Talk to your instructor or a more experienced agility competitor to find out the differences. If you understand the basic rules, you'll be fine. You will need to join the national organization in order to compete at a local trial. Probably the hardest part is getting a premium for a future trial. The premium lists all of the classes you can compete in at the trial and usually include a form for joining the national organization. Your instructors can help you too. Tell them you are ready to try a trial and would like to know how to get a premium etc.

Once you have the premium, fill out the appropriate forms and prepare to mail them to the club that is organizing the trial. NADAC trials have an opening date. You can not send in your forms before the opening date. USDAA trials only have a closing date, so as soon as you fill out the forms, you can send them in. Agility trials are limited in the number of dogs who can compete in one day. Trials can fill up quickly and you may find out you didn't make the cut. When you fill out the form for choosing which classes to compete in, you want to keep some things in mind:

  • Sign up for the Starters/Novice (USDAA offers Performance I as well) classes only.
  • If the trial specifies Novice A and Novice B choose Novice A.
  • In USDAA, there are two programs: Performance vs. Championship. I recommend starting in Performance (because of the lower jump height) till you have more experience. Once you are feeling more confident, you can feel free to move up to the Championship program.
  • Do sign up for at least 2-3 classes for each day of the trial (or scale it back and compete for one day only--lots of folks do that). You can always sign up for all of the classes and then choose not to run in them if your dog is too tired or stressed during competition.

Good luck!

Useful Agility Web Sites

Agility

Agility Footwear

FunQuest Dog Sports

Rainier Agility Team (RAT)

Columbia Agility Team (CAT)

Sno-King Agility Club

USDAA

NADAC

Top Dog Agility