If you're looking for a way to:
Solve behaviour problems
Exercise your dog in a way that will tire his body and mind
Improve off-leash reliability
Become better at training and communicating with your dog
Build a strong bond between you and your dog
Gain a really cool skill to show off to the uninitiated masses
Have a hell of a lot of fun
Then agility might be right for you!
Agility training is all about building a common language between dog and owner. It teaches you to use body language to communicate clearly and effectively.
Exercise to improve behaviour
Have you ever taken your dog for a long run, only to bring him home and find that he’s actually more hyper and crazy than when you started? That’s because vigorous exercise is good for Fido’s body, but it does nothing to exercise his brain.
Boredom is the leading cause of behaviour problems, because dogs were bred to WORK. All this sitting around at home with only a daily walk or run does not a happy dog make. They need some kind of challenge, or they’ll find their own. And it’ll usually be something like digging up the yard or barking incessantly at all who dare pass the front window. Agility provides the perfect combination of physical exercise and mental stimulation to keep Fido entertained and out of trouble.
But wait, there’s more! Agility gives you something cool to do with your dog. This is important if you have a hard time getting your dog to do what you say. It teaches Fido that you are lots of fun and worth listening to. Compare this to another common activity for dogs: the dog park. At the dog park, you let him off leash and he goes off to do his own thing. Returning to you is no fun because it means he has to go home. You’re not Fido’s best buddy. You’re his chauffeur.
What exactly IS agility?
Dog agility involves up to 20 obstacles, on a course designed by the judge, against the clock. They run off leash with no food or toys as incentives, and the handler can touch the dog or obstacles.
The fastest clear round is the winner, faults are incurred for all errors as well as exceeding the course time, and there are several ways of getting eliminated. Most people's first view of agility comes from the coverage of Crufts and competitions held at Olympia Horse Show, but there are more than 300 licensed agility shows held annually and numerous special sponsored events which take place nationwide.
If you don't want to compete you can still train - most clubs will have a mix of competing and non-competing members. Many just attend classes every week to enjoy and strengthen the bond with their dog. But be aware that a lot of handlers started out doing it just for fun! Agility can become a real addiction. It's fun, friendly and keeps you and your dog in tip-top shape.
Can my Portuguese Water Dog join agility?
Herding breeds like border collies are the masters of this game, which is why you’ll see a ton of them, but they’re not the only players. Portuguese Water Dogs can have a real knack for agility.
The only way to find out if your dog has got what it takes to do agility is to have a go. Dogs that don't love agility are few and far between and to keep it that way, it's important to start right. Find a good agility club where experienced instructors can teach you everything you need to know.
Learn in a controlled environment that facilitates good training practice on agility equipment that meets safety criteria. To locate a club near you with a beginner‘s class, look on the Agilitynet list and get in touch.
What if I’m too young/too old/too out of shape?
There's no such thing in agility! This sport is open to people of all ages and athletic ability. I’ve taken classes where some of my fellow students were school children, and others were retirees. At any given trial you’ll find junior handlers, veteran handlers, and everything in between.
As far as fitness and physical ability goes, again, agility is open to all comers. In competitions, I’ve seen everything from people in motorized scooters to Olympic gold medalists. Being in shape is definitely a plus, but it’s not a requirement. Of course, agility can come with the added bonus of getting you in shape.
To start with all dogs are measured and compete according to their size, small, medium or large. This determines the height of the jumps.
Agility classes feature 'Jumping' courses and 'Agility' courses. Each course has a variety of agility obstacles, however jumping courses do not require the dogs to undertake the see-saw, dog walk or 'A' ramp obstacles.
An agility competitor and their dog advance from Grades 1 - 7, Grade 1 is the lowest level and Grade 7 the highest. Progression from Grades 1- 5 can be achieved by winning one Agility class or three Jumping classes at the relevant grade. To progress from Grade 5 will require a minimum of 3 wins at Grade 5, one of which must be an agility class. Progression from Grade 6 will require 4 wins at Grade 6, two of which must be agility classes.
A first prize or other prize win are those gained in standard classes at any Kennel Club licensed shows. Only a first place with a clear round completed within the course time set by the judge will count towards grade progression.
For a win to count you must get the fastest clear round against all dogs in the class.
How to Get Started
If you want to take classes, watch an agility trial, or just find local people who can introduce you to the sport, finding a training club is your best bet.
Going it Alone
If you don’t plan on competing (that’s what they all say!), making some of your own equipment and training your dog on your own can be a lot of fun.
Important: Avoid letting your puppy or teenage dog jump over any obstacles. At this age, a dog’s bones are not fully developed. Jumping can seriously damage joints. For small dogs, joint maturity is at about one year old. For larger dogs, 18 months to two years. Check with your vet before you start agility training.