It has been quite the year for me and Dan. It was just about a year ago that we moved our agility program to its current home, Once In A Lifetime Farm in Smithfield, RI. Two months ago, we expanded our dog training business, Spring Forth Dog Academy, to Providence, RI and have been very busy there!
It’s time for us to make a change to our agility classes to better reflect what our goals were when we started teaching classes.
Making a Change
As a student, my biggest problem with agility training classes was the lack of feedback or instruction away from class. I paid for six hours of class and that was all I got. No one was there to answer my questions between lessons, or give me feedback on my runs at trials, or make sure I did my homework well.
I grew up riding horses, where lesson programs are much more “inclusive.” Your trainer doesn’t just teach your weekly lessons, she coaches you at shows and helps you find a horse to lease or buy. I wished for an agility training program that mimicked that, but nothing like this existed a decade ago when I got into the sport.
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
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)
Take a bow
Backing up (train this from a stationary position – do not step into the dog)
I am often asked if I offer a puppy agility class.Potential students want to know how young is too young. The myth of “puppies need to be six months old to begin training” persists. It’s not true for basic training, and it’s definitely not true for puppy agility.
Puppy Agility: Safety First!
Well-meaning veterinarians often advise their clients to wait until their dogs are “done growing” before starting agility classes. The thought is they might damage their growth plates due to excessive trauma or impact. It’s absolutely true that puppies should wait until their growth plates are closed before learning to jump, weave, or perform the teeter. But what these veterinarians are missing is that a good foundation agility class doesn’t focus on jumping, weaving, or contacts.
Bear in mind that I’m talking about foundation agility classes. I define that as a class which builds a “foundation” with the goal of enjoying the sport for years to come, and possibly even competing. My Pre-Agility class falls into this category.
I am not talking about “pet agility” classes designed to be a one-time, four- to six-week exposure to the sport. In many cases, these classes are taught by instructors unfamiliar with the sport of agility who may unknowingly push youngsters too soon. Continue reading →
Dog agility training is beneficial to reactive dogs for several reasons. Here is what I have learned from introducing a variety of fearful and reactive dogs to the sport of dog agility over the past several years.
Agility builds the dog’s confidence with strange objects. Most reactive behavior is based in fear, and fearful dogs are often unsure of certain inanimate objects, not just dogs or people. Reactive dog agility classes carefully expose these dogs to objects that are tall, noisy, unstable, and generally just different from what the dog typically sees at home.
My recovering reactive dog, Finch, has blossomed thanks to agility training. Specifically, he really enjoys climbing on things. Right now the table is his favorite obstacle. When we go out on walks, I watch for things that are safe for Finch to use as tables, such as large rocks, hay bales, and picnic tables. From these vantage points, he seems to be more confident, and incorporating them into our training sessions keeps him happy and relaxed.
It’s a good question. Most owners who are interested in joining a beginner dog agility class are devoted to their dogs. They have taken the time to teach them basic manners in their home and neighborhood. Many have taken training classes with their previous dogs, so they feel like they know the basics and are ready for more.
In my experience, there’s one big flaw in that approach. Ask yourself:
Has my dog routinely practiced focusing on me and performing basic manners (sit, down, come, stay) in the presence of other dogs?
If you haven’t taken a group training class, the answer is almost always “probably not.”
Does your dog get distracted when you stop to listen to your agility instructor? This is a bad habit that can quickly become a part of your dog’s agility performance. Fortunately, it’s easy to prevent this from becoming a big problem. Here are five ways to prevent your distracted dog from rehearsing unwanted behaviors like wandering off, sniffing, or leaving you to play with other dogs.
#1: Pack a Snack
With a little bit of pre-planning, this is an easy way to keep your distracted dog from taking off. Prepare a Kong, or pack a bully stick, pig ear, rawhide, or other high-value snack for your dog to enjoy while you receive instruction or walk the course.
Beginner agility classes vary greatly from one training center to another. I have been answering a lot of questions about what goes on in this class, so here’s an unofficial FAQ for Pre-Agility!
Our Pre-Agility class meets weekly for one hour, and you have eight weeks to attend six classes. This flexible attendance policy means you can skip a week or two if you’re unable to make it to class, or you can be an over-achiever and attend for six consecutive weeks. It’s up to you!
Hello and welcome to my blog! I’m really excited to have a new place to write. I want to dive right in and introduce myself so I can start sharing my experiences with all of you.
My interest in dog agility started when I was just a kid. My mother gave me the book The Soul of the Silver Dog by Lynn Hall, which is a fictional tale about a Bedlington Terrier who learns to do agility after going blind. That was my first introduction to this great sport. Shortly after that I started watching it on television and I was hooked.
At the time my childhood dog, an English Springer Spaniel named Tessie, was about two years old and had never been to a training class before, but that didn’t stop me from encouraging her over broomsticks and under lawn chairs for pieces of leftover hot dogs. We found a local outdoor agility class that required us to take her to an obedience class first. By the time we finished that prerequisite, winter was coming and agility classes were done for the season.