Beginner Dog Agility: What to Practice at Home

If you’re enrolled in a beginner dog agility class, you may be wondering what you can practice at home without any obstacles. Here are some ideas that will boost your dog’s understanding – no equipment necessary!

Click a Trick

English Springer Spaniel Learning to Wave a Paw
Finch learning to wave a paw.

Much like obedience training, trick training is an excellent way to improve your connection with your dog. Many of these tricks will improve your dog’s strength, flexibility, and proprioception (awareness of limbs), which is very important for dog agility training!

  • Spin in a circle (in both directions)
  • Sit up/beg
  • Take a bow
  • Backing up (train this from a stationary position – do not step into the dog)
  • Wave a front paw/shake paws
  • Crawl

Need more inspiration? You can’t beat Silvia Trkman’s trick videos! (They’re free on YouTube – although she does also have a couple of excellent trick training DVDs.)

Make Some Noise

One of the hardest obstacles in dog agility is the teeter (AKA seesaw). It’s challenging for a variety of reasons: it moves, it’s narrow, and it’s loud. Use clicker training to shape your dog to love the following exercises:

Can Tower: Use empty soda cans or other metal cans (with no sharp edges!) to build a little tower. Click and treat your dog for approaching, sniffing, and touching the tower with her nose and/or paw. When your dog knocks a can over, celebrate with a lot of praise and a jackpot of treats!

Push a Book: Similar to the tower exercise, stand a hardcover book up on one end and shape your dog to push it over so it makes a “thud.” Celebrate the noise!

Smack a Lid: This exercise is responsible for making my first agility dog, Tessie, comfortable with the teeter. Take a metal lid from a saucepan and flip it upside down. It should rotate and spin on its handle. Shape your dog to smack the lid with his paw so it moves and makes a strange noise. (If your dog is hesitant about the wobble board in agility class, this is a great trick to work on.)

When your dog becomes a pro at any of these exercises, set them up on a cookie sheet or baking pan so it makes even more noise!

Homemade Dog Agility Equipment

Tunnel: Teach your dog to tunnel under chairs. Plastic lawn chairs work great for this, because the legs aren’t attached to one another by any rungs. Start with just one chair, then put multiple chairs side-by-side. (This makes a great party trick – have your guests sit in the chairs!)

Dog Agility DIY Table
A sturdy cardboard box can make a good table!

Chute: If your dog is hesitant about the chute fabric, drape a lightweight sheet over your dog’s crate door so she must push through it to get out. Start with the fabric only partly covering the entrance, and gradually lower it so it becomes a longer tunnel. When your dog has mastered this, upgrade to heavier or noisier fabric, such as a curtain or a tarp.

Table: Building your own dog agility table isn’t too challenging, but in the mean time, take the seat cushion off of your couch and set it on the floor. (If you don’t want your dog on the couch, just cover the cushion with a particular sheet or mat so she doesn’t build an association with jumping on the couch cushion.)

Tire: Got a hula hoop lying around? ‘Nuff said. You can also fashion a makeshift tire out of cardboard.

Jumps: A word of caution here – please make sure whatever you use as a jump bar is displaceable, meaning it will fall away if the dog bumps into it. This is my objection to using brooms, mops, etc. as jumps. They’re a bit too solid.

If you don’t have the money or storage space for uprights, just get some PVC pipe at a hardware store, cut it into 3-5′ lengths, and experiment with things to prop it up on: cinderblocks, upturned flower pots, chairs, etc.

Remember to always practice dog agility exercises on safe footing, such as carpet or grass, not on slick or hard surfaces like linoleum, tile, concrete, or asphalt. Happy training!