5 Important Tips for Dog Agility Training

Filed in Dog Training on January 11, 2022

Important tips for dog agility training

Training your dog in agility is a wonderful opportunity for the two of you to bond. It also provides much-needed exercise for high-energy dogs. Finally, agility teaches essential skills, such as how to focus on you.

You can train your dog the essential skills to complete this fun activity at home, with minimal investment. Once your dog has mastered the basics, they’ll get the most out of training with obstacles.

By the way, if you want a more in-depth agility course, Dog Endorsed recommends Dog Agility at Home by SpiritDog Training (Save 20% with coupon code DogEndorsed2021). I earn a small commission from any sales.

Here are 5 tips to help you teach your dog how to love competing in agility.

Tips for Dog Agility Training

1. Teach Your Dog to Pay Attention to You

When planning to train your dog in agility for the first time, it can be easy to focus on the obstacles. After all, all of the jumping, climbing, and running through tunnels is the fun part.

However, there’s one essential fact that new trainers often overlook: in agility, the handler tells the dog where to go. It isn’t necessarily obvious which obstacle your dog should do next.

In fact, courses are laid out so that dogs must focus on their handlers.

Your dog needs to concentrate on you so you can tell them which obstacle to complete. Doing obstacles in the wrong order is considered a fault in agility and will hurt your dog’s score.

Keeping your dog focused on you can be hard when you’re both trying to go as quickly as possible.

The first thing you should teach your dog when training agility (and arguably the most important) is how to keep their attention on you regardless of distractions.

Teach your dog a cue that means they should make eye contact with you. “Watch me” is a common and effective command. Start training when there are few distractions and gradually move up to highly distracting environments.

Only once your dog fully understands how to pay attention to you regardless of what else is going on should you use the command while your dog completes agility obstacles.

2. Make It Fun

dog on agility training course

Agility should be all about having fun. The most successful agility dogs come onto the field yipping their excitement, barely able to contain themselves. You want agility to be something your dog looks forward to.

Dogs that love agility more than just about anything else are the dogs that excel in this sport. To make training a great pleasure for your dog, follow these simple guidelines:

  • Keep sessions short. 5 to 10 minutes is appropriate for most dogs at the beginning.
  • Stop while your dog is still engaged. Regardless of how long the training session is, always stop training while your dog is still excited. This will make training a high-value activity for your dog.
  • Have fun yourself. It’s hard for your dog to enjoy training while you’re taking it too seriously and being critical of yourself. Laugh, be excited, and generally have a great time while training.
  • Reward copiously. Give your dog plenty of rewards for successfully completing an obstacle or even for trying. Use treats, a favorite toy or game, and your sincere and enthusiastic praise.

3. Teach Your Dog How to Move with You

Agility requires your dog to not only focus on you but move with you through the course. Teach your dog how to run at your side. Use your commands to have your dog pay attention to you and hold a treat or favorite toy.

Start out by running in a straight direction. Next, add plenty of twists, turns, and direction changes to make it challenging for your dog.

Encourage your dog to stay on one side of you, then train them to switch to the other side. Practice switching back and forth as well as running on one side.

Next, teach your dog how to run with you at a slight distance. This step is important so that your dog will learn that they’re still following your command to stay near while completing an agility course.

After all, they’ll have to go far enough out from you to go over the obstacle. Done correctly, this training will be a lot of fun and an enjoyable challenge for your dog.

4. Teach Your Dog to Interact with Objects

You can start training your dog how to interact with objects before you introduce agility obstacles. Here are a few objects you can teach your dog to interact with to form the foundation for agility obstacles:

Circe a Barrel

Agility requires your dog to make lots of tight turns in between obstacles. This skill can be taught with a simple barrel, trash can, or other large, sturdy obstacle.

Teach your dog to go out from you and around the obstacle before coming back.

It works well to shape the behavior by giving your dog a reward every time they move towards the obstacle. Eventually, they will circle it and come back to you.

Perch on Something

Use anything big enough and sturdy enough for your dog to stand on. Avoid perches so large that your dog can walk around on them. Encourage your dog to jump up on the object and stay still for a moment.

This helps train your dog for the pause table once they get on the agility course. It also helps your dog learn where their hind legs are.

This is important so that they’ll be better able to handle obstacles like the dog walk.

The Ladder Walk

husky on agility training

One of the most difficult things to teach an agility dog is how to be aware of each foot. One great way to do this is to place a ladder on the ground.

Then, have your dog walk through the rungs. Your dog will have to think about exactly where their hind legs are.

Start out slowly. Gradually increase the speed until your dog can run quickly across without touching any rungs.

Here is a video I found where they use clicker training to reward their dog to walk through the ladder:

A Wobble Board, Skateboard, or Something Else That Moves

One of the most challenging aspects of agility for many dogs is dealing with something that moves under them. They will need this skill to successfully navigate the seesaw.

A great way to start is to build a wobble board. Just place a piece of plywood on top of something small such as a brick or tennis ball. The goal is for the plywood to be unstable. You can also teach your dog to step on a skateboard or wagon.

Encourage your dog every time they make a move to interact with the object. Eventually, teach them to stand on top of it through the movement.

A Tunnel

Many dogs are fearful of going into a dark space, especially when they can’t see the end. You can easily build your own tunnel with a blanket and chairs. Simply drape a blanket over the chairs and encourage your dog to walk through.

In the beginning, make sure the end is clearly visible and keep the tunnel short. As your dog gains confidence, increase the length. Eventually, drape the blanket so that your dog won’t be able to see the end.

5. Introduce the Agility Course

Once your dog has mastered how to pay attention and move with you, and when they have learned how to interact with objects to prepare them for agility, it’s time to introduce the agility course.

It’s absolutely essential that you avoid teaching any bad habits as you introduce the course.

Dogs that are allowed to complete obstacles without being directed by their handler or who get accustomed to completing obstacles in the same order every time will have a difficult time unlearning these bad habits down the road.

Dogs that win at agility are rarely the ones that complete the course the quickest, but usually, the ones that complete it with the fewest mistakes.

The most common mistake, by far, is dogs forgetting to pay attention to their handler and completing an obstacle that they weren’t directed to complete.

Allowing dogs to complete obstacles without your direction is setting them up to make this mistake down the road.

Always practice the agility course in a different order, introducing obstacles randomly. Never allow your dog to complete obstacles without being directed to do so by you.

It helps to change up the order of the obstacles.

Even if the course remains unchanged, make sure that you’re changing the direction in which your dog completes the course.

Introduce distractions like other dogs, people shouting, etc. such as what your dog will experience on a real course.

Have Fun Training Your Dog in Agility

Agility is one of the most fun things you can do with your dog. With these five tips, you’ll be well on your way to training your dog to excel in agility.

Don’t forget if you want a more in-depth agility course, Dog Endorsed recommends Dog Agility at Home by SpiritDog Training (Save 20% with coupon code DogEndorsed2021). I earn a small commission from any sales.

A class will get your dog ready for the high-stakes environment of competitive agility. It‘ll also polish the skills that you’ve taught your dog at home.

About the Author

Coral Dawn Drake has been working with and training dogs for over a decade. She managed a private dog daycare, worked as a liaison at the University of Florida Small Animal Hospital, and has volunteered extensively with shelter dogs. Coral currently works with high-risk shelter dogs to socialize, help them to accept handling, and teach basic manners and commands. Many of these dogs have had minimal positive interactions with people and have suffered abuse and neglect. She teaches them that humans can be trustworthy. Coral has two dogs of her own, a Maltese and a Standard Poodle. She is currently working with her poodle on agility and competitive obedience.

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