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.
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.”
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!
I put together this quick video of Strata and Spark working on some jump sequences at the barn before teaching my Competition level class at Crossbones. With a bit of luck, this will be my last iPad video production. I ordered a GoPro camera the other day and I’ve got my fingers crossed that it will arrive before I do any more sequencing at the barn.
The video shows Strata’s first time back at 18″ after taking a couple months off, then resuming training at 16″. And Spark, well, everything is new to him, being such a babydog. (He’s a year and a half old.) I trimmed out the beginning of the video when he insisted on cutting behind me to the wrong tunnel entrance about six times. He’s also started vocalizing a bit while he runs… uh oh… he better not become one of those “barkenstein” shelties!
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.