Start with basic commands and then introduce various obstacles one at a time.
Agility dogs are good at running up A-frames and through tunnels, scaling tire jumps and racing through weave poles. And they do all this while focusing on their humans, who provide them with verbal and physical cues.
If you have ever wondered how agility dogs learn to negotiate a course at top speed while taking direction from a handler, the answer is simple: a little at a time. Teaching dogs to do agility starts with them learning basic behaviors that can be transformed into running a course.
Agility dogs work off leash and at their handler’s direction, so knowing basic obedience commands is a must. Obedience also establishes your relationship with your dog, and teaches him to follow your commands.
Whether you teach your dog yourself or enroll her in an obedience class, your dog should have these commands mastered before she heads off into an agility career:
- Sit: The sit command is important in agility because your dog will have to sit when he comes to the pause table. The pause table requires your dog to go from full-speed ahead to a complete stop. He will have to sit for 5 seconds until you give him the cue to continue on the course.
- Down: The down command is also used at the pause table. The judge at an agility trial has the discretion of requesting the sit or the down. If the judge calls for the down, your dog will need to stay in this position for 5 seconds.
- Stay: Your dog not only needs to stay put at the pause table, he also has to stand still at the starting line until you release him to take the course.
- Come: Your dog has to reliably come when called in order to be successful at agility. After he’s finished with the course, he needs to come to you when you call him so you can leash him up.
An obedience class is the best place for your dog to learn these commands so he can learn to focus on you while other dogs are around.
It’s also important to expose your dog to the types of obstacles he will be facing in agility class. Dogs in agility are expected to go over tire jumps and bar jumps, through tunnels, and across A-frames and dogwalks. Invest in some of this equipment so your dog can get used to being around and on it, or find a dog park that has agility equipment set up that he can play on.
It’s best to start exposing your dog to this kind of equipment as a puppy. Nylon tunnels made for cats can be great fun for a puppy, and can help him get used to being inside a tunnel well before he’s ready for agility class. Encouraging your puppy to walk on a variety of different surfaces will also help him when it comes time to start learning agility. He might be less worried about the A-frame and dogwalk if he’s had experience walking on planks of wood and low walls when he was young.
Always make your dog’s encounters with agility a positive experience. Use treats and praise to encourage him to approach or enter an agility obstacle. Never use force or correction—you want your dog to have a positive association with all things agility.