Doing agility with your dog
Agility is my passion and one of the (many) reasons I have Border Collies. I loved watching it at Crufts growing up and when I got Sunny, it was always my intention to do agility with her. Little did I know how hard it would be! I’ve learnt more about myself doing agility than doing anything else in my life. Honestly.
I have written an introduction to agility elsewhere and I don’t really intend to cover that ground again here. I will just repeat the stated ‘objective’ here:
“Have fun with your dog! It is vital to remember this, because agility is hard! In competition, the objective is to get your dog round a course of 16-20 obstacles in the fastest time. Easier said than done!”
Don’t start too soon! I have delayed writing about it because it’s really important not to do too much too soon. It is a high impact sport and can easily lead to injuries for both you and your dog, if not done sensibly. You definitely do need a reasonable level of fitness yourself, especially if you want to get to the top level.
Your dog also needs to be able to move freely and easily. It’s no good going if your dog is overweight, or can’t run around for long periods. They should be around a year old when they start, so that their joints have had time to finish growing and developing. There is training you can do before you start, but the dog should not be jumping at all in their first year.
You need an experienced trainer, with a full set of proper equipment and ideally a good quality training area, either indoors or outdoors. I’ve always trained outdoors, but obviously you are then at the mercy of the weather, which can lead to weeks of training being lost.
How long does it take to learn?
I’ve been doing agility for 15 years now, but I only do a couple of hours a week. I’ve trained 5 dogs and all of them have had time off for puppies. Some people take to it really quickly, if they and their dog are young and fit. Other people get their own equipment, or become a trainer, spending many more hours per week training.
I’m a great believer in the fact that it takes 10,000 hours to learn a skill. That’s a long time; I’ve probably done about 1500 hours so far… Of course I am not the only one doing agility – it’s a partnership between me and my dogs. And they have NOT done ten thousand hours! Nor will they, sadly, because a dog’s agility career will last for ten or eleven years, at best. Enjoy it while you can.
What’s so great about agility?
Dogs love it. Generally. Some cannot see the point of expending effort just because you ask them to. Border Collies love to be doing something and they love to please you, so it is heaven for them. They love it so much that there are classes just for collies (NBC – Nothing But Collies,) and classes for everyone else (ABC – Anything But Collies). If you really want to avoid collies, you’ll need a small dog, as Border Collies come in all shapes and sizes – Large, Intermediate AND Medium!
I love agility because I am competitive, so I like the challenge of improving and measuring that improvement. If I’d known how long that improvement would take to achieve, I might have started doing something easier, like knitting.
Why is agility so hard?
Dogs can’t read numbers, so you have to tell them which way to go. Do you know your left and right? Can you run, wave your arms in a clear way AND shout directions? Are you able to remember a sequence of obstacles and work out which of the 8 possible ways to tackle these will work best for you and your dog? Do you run faster than your dog?
A year ago I went to an agility show, looking forward to demonstrating the skills I had worked so hard to acquire. The courses were set for the next level up, with skills that my dog and I did not have. I had no chance. It was an utterly demoralising experience. Last weekend I went to another show, full of dread and with no expectations. Busy bombed round, sometimes going over the right obstacles, but not necessarily in the right order. Aura and I perfectly executed the skills we had, over two entirely appropriate courses. We won. Twice. The satisfaction is indescribable.
Either way, the dogs had fun and I took the best ones home. Love my dogs. Love doing agility. Sometimes. Always grateful to my wonderful trainer, Emma Conlisk at Beancroft. For more information (and to enter a show) have a look at Agilitynet. Finally, for some real inspiration into what can be achieved, watch my amazing friend Sam Lane and her incredible Ninja Zippy.
Please CONTACT ME if you want to know more about me and my dogs? And feel free to COMMENT if you want to tell me what you think. If you want to know more, why not FOLLOW ME, by filling in your email address below? Then you will receive an email when there is a new post.
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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.