It is often said that “a busy lad is a happy lad.” That rings true for dogs as well. You’ve probably seen it on Animal Planet– dogs running through tunnels and over teeter-totters at break-neck speed. This is a wonderful canine sport called ‘Agility’. With time, patience, and most any dog, you could be running agility too. It is a great bonding sport for you and your dog, provides an aerobic workout and can even provide a venue to address behavior problems from aggression toward other dogs to lack of confidence with strangers.
It may be easiest to start with a young dog (6 months to 2 years is ideal) but any age dog can learn agility. The only definite requirement is that your dog be sound, so a trip to your veterinarian is the first step. Beginning/Introductory classes are offered at local training centers including Canine Sports and Recreation in Dexter, Northfield Dog Training Center just west of Ann Arbor and the Ann Arbor Dog Training Club which meets in Whitmore Lake.
During the early classes, your dog will learn to run with you and how to go through or over the obstacles presented. Concurrently, you will learn how to cross in front of or behind your dog to direct them over a pattern of obstacles in the desired order. As you progress to more advanced classes, you will perfect a working relationship with your dog wherein slowing your pace and turning your shoulders or looking toward a specific obstacle will cue your dog which obstacle to take.
Although any breed of dog can run agility, many breeds provide specific challenges. Hunting breeds can get distracted by smells and it may be a challenge to keep their attention on the course. Terriers and Nordic breeds may be less motivated by the sport alone and require more food reward to keep them interested. Herding breeds tend to excel in speed and train easily to this sport but their enthusiasm can be a challenge in itself with jumps knocked down and dogs taking extra obstacles which are not requested (going ‘off course’).
Height of jumps and time allowed to complete a course are determined by the height of your dog. In novice (beginning) level competition, you and your dog are allowed a couple mistakes and a course with fewer obstacles in more of an obvious path. In highest levels, the courses are more complicated with sharper turns and more obstacles. Also, any mistake (hesitating before an obstacle, going past an obstacle, etc.) is an elimination (no score).
Competitions are held locally at all of the above mentioned training facilities. You can check their websites for upcoming agility trials. Stop by one and see the ‘crazy agility people’. I am a proud card carrying member of this club and you may find yourself inducted before you know it!
-Janet Figarra, DVM