Why is Obedience Training Required for Beginner Dog Agility Classes?

Chihuahua Learning Agility
This little Chihuahua is focused on the equipment. She is used to learning in the presence of other dogs because she graduated from a group class before trying agility.

A frequently asked question here at Crossbones Dog Agility is, “Why does my dog need to take a group class before starting Pre-Agility?”

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.”

Teaching your dog basic manners around the house is a great foundation for Pre-Agility. But before your dog comes to a distracting new environment (a horse barn) with unfamiliar dogs running, jumping, and playing nearby, we need to set your dog up for success by making sure they can learn new things under these conditions.

It’s Not Playtime

It has been my experience that most dogs who have not attended a group training class before have an expectation that if another dog is present, clearly it must be puppy playtime.

But in agility class, dogs don’t interact with one another. This is frustrating to dogs that desperately want to play. They often respond by vocalizing and lunging toward the other dogs. The other dogs in class perceive that behavior as anything from distracting to frightening.

Dogs in Agility Class
All of these dogs are working in close proximity to each other in an unfamiliar environment, but they’re reasonably focused on their owners and ready to learn.

It can also be a frustrating experience for the owner! They expect to start training their dog to perform agility, but their dog is too distracted to learn anything new. (It’s like trying to teach math to a child attending the circus!)

All of this can be avoided by only letting dogs into class that have proven, through participation in a basic group training class, that they can focus and learn around other dogs.

Find a Group Dog Training Class

If you’re looking for basic obedience or puppy training classes in Rhode Island, find a trainer near you who uses clicker training and positive reinforcement. We recommend Pat Inman at Your Courteous Canine in South Kingston and Heidi Palmer McNeil at Pooch Pawsitive in East Providence. (If you’re a clicker trainer in Rhode Island teaching group classes and would like to be added to this list, let me know!)

(Photos in this blog post were provided by Katie Rogers at Smiling Wolf Photography. Thanks, Katie!)