Australian Shepherds are extremely high energy, intelligent dogs who excel at the sport of canine agility. Working with an Australian Shepherd takes drive, focus, and patience. They are extremely trainable, but keeping their attention is a challenge. Approach training as a game and make it upbeat, fun and exciting.
Your Australian Shepherd must be intensely schooled in obedience before beginning agility training. Agility training and competitions are conducted off leash, and you must be able to control your dog. She especially needs to know the commands "sit," "stay," "down," "wait" and "come." If you can't train your Australian Shepherd yourself, contact a local obedience trainer. A trainer will guide you through the process while giving you the skills to continue training your dog yourself.
While there are several approaches you can take to training your Australian Shepherd to do agility, such as clicker training, lure and reward or traditional, a positive approach will keep your Australian Shepherd engaged and focused. Clicker training usually works well by showing these high-drive, speedy dogs exactly what they did correctly so that it can be repeated. In clicker training you "condition" the dog to the clicker by connecting the sound of the clicker to a treat. Then, the click can be used to mark behaviors that you want repeated, such as going up the A-frame or going through a tunnel.
Games will keep your intelligent Australian Shepherd's mind busy while at the same time offering a chance to practice agility skills. Teach your dog to weave between your legs, which will teach him to make tight, supple bends and work on his flexibility. Lure him through with treats in order to teach him what you want. Begin to fade the lure once he understands by only occasionally treating him. Send him up and down stairs, requiring that his paw land on every step in order to let him practice his "contact" points, which are points on obstacles that ensure a dog is mounting and leaving an obstacle safely.
Expose your Australian Shepherd to agility exercises slowly. Allow him to explore an agility course on his own. Never force him to try an obstacle that he's scared of. Instead, use a clicker to treat and lure him onto larger obstacles. Always ensure he goes slowly at first. Let him master one obstacle before introducing him to another. Give each obstacle a name, and use its name every single time your dog completes that obstacle. Consistency will help your dog learn quickly.
Training centers and clubs for agility abound. Ask your vet or a dog trainer where you can find an agility support group. An agility club offers its members support, comradry and a sense of team. Agility clubs often train, travel and compete together.
Since 2001, Kea Grace has published in "Dog Fancy," "Clean Run," "Front and Finish" and an international Czechoslovakian agility enthusiast magazine. Grace is the head trainer for Gimme Grace Dog Training and holds her CPDT-KA and CTDI certifications. She is a member of the APDT and is a recognized CLASS instructor. She's seeking German certification from the Goethe Institut.