Though the sport is relatively new, the skills involved have
long been used in training, conditioning, and confidence-building
for dogs. Obstacles used for agility aid in training police dogs, military
dogs and search and rescue dogs. Obedience trials include basic
jumps because the ability and willingness to negotiate obstacles in
the way the handler specifies is part of the definition of a trained
Here at Sequoyah Shepherds, we have
just begun our very first dog in agility classes. We are
hoping to trial her in both AKC agility as well as
Service Dogs of America (SDA). We have found that the dogs
really enjoy the challenges that agility presents for them and seem
to gain an immense amount of self-confidence when they are able to
"show off" their ability. We have also decided to start
incorporating puppy-level obstacles in our breeding program in order to
mentally and physically condition confident puppies. This will
help our puppy buyers later in life
because this early conditioning seems to really help young pups
face new situations. They gain confidence when required to walk on
unusual surfaces, or navigate new obstacles that they have never
seen before (i.e. tunnels). Each time that they successfully
"conquer" their insecurities they are lavishly rewarded.
Soon they begin
to look forward to the next great "adventure".
Getting Ready for Agility
Your dog must be prepared to begin
his/her agility classes. They must learn to:
1. Come when called. Agility courses are run off-leash,
and dogs get very excited. Dogs on the sidelines get excited, too.
It is important that all dogs be under control as well as easily returned
to control if they forget themselves momentarily. Some practice
settings may be unfenced. [See Come]
2. Sit and down on cue, and stay in either position until you
give the release cue. These exercises are used to “anchor” your
dog as well as establish you as your dog’s leader in a nonconfrontational manner. You need both this control and this
relationship for agility. [See
3. Be Dog and People
Friendly, even in a highly
exciting atmosphere. The perfect place to work on this ability
is in basic training class. At
SDA that is one of
the main parts of our weekly meetings. The dogs are given
ample opportunity to "visit" with each other as well as other
human members of SDA. They are allow to sniff each other
and often times seem to find new "friends" at class. They
meet so many new dogs that even the dogs that start out being
defensive about other canines being near, usually, begin to
greet new members with tail wags instead.
Many other basic training skills will help the new agility
competitor, but these will get you started. The joints of young dogs
are not mature enough for the stress of jumping, so puppyhood and
adolescence are perfect times to spend working on basic skills in
classes that also acclimate your dog to the atmosphere of dog
Check online and with clubs and trainers in
your area to find opportunities for training with your dog.
Kennel Club agility events are one option. The
Service Dogs of
America (SDA) is another option. I am sure that there are
many more so look around! The rules, the titles,
the jump heights and other factors differ from one organization to
another. Find the ones in your area with the rules that best fit
Consult your veterinarian about your dog’s age, health, and
conditioning for the agility activities you want to pursue. Agility
can be a fun activity for you and your dog on a casual level,
noncompetitively, with jumps set to easy heights for your dog.
But, Agility at the serious competition levels can strain a dog’s body,
(See GSD Health -- Orthopedic Issues) and it’s important to make sure your dog is suited for it. Your
dog’s welfare will always be your top priority. Make sure your
agility class instructor knows what your goals are.
The Best Parts
Agility encourages people to train with their dogs. The basic
skills needed to control your dog before you start agility training
are the same skills for handling your dog in public places. This
means you and your dog will be able to go more places together,
which creates a wonderful bond between you.
Dogs feel that the leader of the expedition—an expedition being
any trip beyond the house and fenced yard—is awesome! Taking your
dog places raises your dog’s opinion of you; that is, as long as you
use the good training and handling skills the two of you learn
together in class. If you behave in such a way that your dog feels
safe to be out with you, your relationship is sure to become deeper
and more rewarding.
The dog training developed by agility competitors is truly
astonishing. Because they combine accuracy with speed, creative
agility enthusiasts constantly develop innovative new ways to teach
dogs to take direction.
As has happened with dog training of all kinds, ideas developed
in the sport of agility are advancing work for other purposes, too.
Even therapy dogs and assistance dogs make use of directional
signals and verbal cues like those used in agility to maneuver in
We continue to learn more things dogs
are capable of, and how to communicate these tasks to our dogs. In
the process, we increase the ways in which dogs enhance human lives.
Make no mistake about it, dogs love being deeply involved in our lives, helping us, and
knowing they are important to us.
Agility is a fun form of exercise for people and dogs. It gives
you a reason to get out and train with your dog, on your own as well
as in enjoyable group settings with other dog lovers. In the
process, you and your dog become a great team.