Hoopers or agility?
I have already talked about Hoopers as a dog activity, but I thought I would put a more personal spin on this activity once we had started training Quin. I say ‘we’ because my husband Chris is going to be responsible for this bit of training! He injured his knee a few years ago running Luna in agility and had to retire. Hoopers is great alternative for him to try.
I am indebted once again to Emma from Beancroft Agility, Scentwork and Hoopers, who started teaching Hoopers last year. It’s a great way to get Quin ready for agility, without impacting his joints too early. And who knows? We may decide that Hoopers is more fun anyway!
There are four main pieces of equipment in Hoopers: hoops, tunnels, barrels and mats. Once the dog understands the need to look for these items and run over, through or round them, they can really get going! So as with so many aspects of dog training, you start by teaching your dog that these things have ‘value’. In other words: Do this and you get a reward!
It is amazing, watching dogs learn. Especially dogs of different shapes, sizes, breeds and ages. You can teach an old dog to do hoopers. They will still ‘work’ for a reward. Well you will still work for a reward, won’t you? (I’m talking about chocolate.)
You can start by ‘luring’ the dog to go through the hoops or tunnels, but it is much better for the dog to figure out what is required and then get a reward for doing it. This is called ‘shaping‘. You need to set the dog up to succeed, by standing right next to the equipment and look where you want the dog to go, rather than looking at the dog. When the dog moves, you throw the food where they are going. And again.
Once the dog understands that they must look for the equipment, you can start to build up simple sequences. It doesn’t take long for this to happen – a few weeks – but you must be patient and consistent. Keep rewarding!
Hoopers courses are fast and flowing, along smooth lines, with curves rather than sharp turns. It’s about the dog moving easily and with minimal impact. It’s also about you being able to direct your dog from a distance – no running required!
Young and old dogs
Whether or not you do plan to go on to do agility, hoopers is a great way to engage a lively young dog. You need to be able to set them up and move away, so a good wait is essential. Ideally, they should be motivated to play with a toy as well, so that you have plenty of ways to reward. It is exciting! It is a useful way to build fitness and control whilst moving at speed.
For older dogs, it’s a great way to ease them into retirement from agility. Up till now, people retiring old dogs from fully competing to entering an ‘Allsorts’ class. This still involves jumping though, albeit at a lower height. Hoopers uses many of the skills learnt in agility, but without the twists and turns, or the impact. And if you only have an older dog, it’s not really worth going to an agility show for a couple of classes, with no grades, or rewards for places.
Left and right
One of the skills you do need to teach a dog for hoopers (and agility) is left and right. Did you know that dogs know left and right? In order to teach it, I find it helpful to start by telling them ‘left’ or ‘right’ as they come to a turning on a walk. If it’s a route they know and you give the command as they turn, they begin to associate the two things together.
Amazingly, if you practise this often enough, when you shout ‘left’ or ‘right’ your dog will then turn in that direction. You’d better just hope you shouted the correct word! Having a good range of commands will help you work your dog from a distance, which is one of the key aims of this activity. This in turn will really help you when you make the switch to agility. Of course your old agility dog will ace this aspect of hoopers!
Canine Hoopers UK do run competitions, but as the sport has only being going for a few years, these are not widely available. The nice thing about these competitions though is that, unlike in agility, they are quiet affairs, with a great deal of effort being made to help young or reactive dogs.
Hoopers can be seen as ‘a bit tame’, compared with some dog sports, (agility again!) But it is still fun to work with your dog to achieve a range of different goals. There are levels to work through and rewards (rosettes) for doing so. Whatever you do, it will be fun with your dog!
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NB: I am not a dog trainer, or a dog behaviourist, just a dog breeder and owner. I can only offer my opinion, based on my experience.