Agility training and competition provides an outstanding physical fitness routine. Dogs and handlers rely greatly on verbal communication and body language, training strengthens their bond. A high energy dog especially benefits from agility training, as his energy is concentrated toward both figuring out and physically negotiating the obstacles. A shy or socially awkward dog may also gain confidence from having an opportunity to explore new equipment and people in a protected, fun and upbeat environment.
In 1977, John Varley, a man who was no stranger to equine show jumping, assigned himself the task of creating a brand new form of dog show demonstration. His intention was to fill show rings left empty between the obedience championship and group judging at the Crufts Dog Show in England. Varley assembled a team to create events adapted from horse jumping. Agility has evolved into a highly competitive, timed sport where dogs receive scores based on a point and fault system.
The foundation for any dog agility training is obedience. Your dog needs to know and obey basic obedience commands, including sit, down and stay. Agility training is a great way to help socialize canines so they feel comfortable around other dogs and people in crowded or noisy environments. You need to recognize and avoid any anxiety that your dog may experience in these situations before taking him to a public event. Using positive reinforcement and working with an agility instructor may help alleviate any anxiety in the dogs or the handlers.
Dog agility obstacles include jumps, tunnels and contact obstacles. Jumps include the winged single jump, hurdles, spread jumps, panel jumps, broad or long jumps and tire jumps. There are basically two tunnels used in agility: one is a flexible vinyl and wire, the other is a barrel-like cylinder with a collapsed fabric tube attached to one end. Finally, the agility contact obstacles include A-frames, weave poles, the dogwalk, seesaws, crossovers, pause tables and pause boxes.
Agility training fulfills the prey drive that naturally lives within our dogs. While pursuing prey in the wild, dogs must navigate a variety of obstacles, such as fallen trees, steep embankments or narrow passageways. In agility training, dogs learn the reward for completing the course is a treat or favorite toy, so they will naturally finish it as quickly as possible. In this way, trainers plan agility courses to fulfill the natural hunt and chase desires. Agility also provides an outlet for excess energy, especially in hyperactive dogs, by challenging their bodies and minds. This activity strengthens muscles, improves coordination and increases endurance for canines and handlers alike.