Dog Agility Training
Agility training involves more work than simple obedience training or behavior training methods but it is recreation that both a dog and its handler can enjoy.
If you have ever watched a dog agility trial, you know how much fun dog agility is for both the dog and his handler. Hard work to be sure, but rewarding teamwork nonetheless. If you are interested in pursuing this activity yourself, there are certain preliminary obedience-training activities you and your dog need to master before progressing to actual obstacles work. Positive training works best with agility as mastering the commands and successfully conquering the obstacles can be its own reward. Teach the correct behavior right off the bat and reward consistently. Incorrect behavior should be ignored; negative training techniques have no place in dog agility.
Since the pause table and pause box require a "sit" or a "down" for a period of five seconds (demonstrating the dog parent's control over her dog), these two commands are essential to dog agility. Your dog should also consistently come when called, particularly when off leash. However, not all obedience commands are necessary for dog agility training. The commands that your dog will need to know are "watch," "come" (off leash), "sit," "down," "stay" and "OK."
Your dog must learn a few other commands to be successful at dog agility. "Here" is intended to bring your dog closer to you to guide him toward the obstacle, unlike "come," which is used to bring your dog right to you, sitting perfectly. "Get out!" is the opposite of "here." "Rest" and "wait" are similar to "stay," the difference being that these commands are intended to trigger a brief pause on the contact zones on certain of the obstacles.
Early Puppy Training
Consult your veterinarian before starting your puppy on jumps as the growth plates in his legs may not have fused yet. He can be severely injured if he begins jump work before the plates come together. That being said, at age 2 to 4 months, you should begin teaching your puppy that you are the source of all good things, such as rewards. Introduce "come," "go potty" (for elimination prior to a trial!), "sit," "lie down" and "stay." Crate training is essential to familiarize him with his travel crate, then take him out in the car to fun places like parks to get him used to car rides. You can also begin walking him on unusual surfaces, such as ladders placed on the ground, to build confidence and play games such as walk the plank (over two cinder blocks) as preliminary work on dogwalk and crossover training. And don't forget to praise, praise, praise.
Intermediate Puppy Training
At 4 to 6 months, your puppy should have had all his vaccinations and will be protected enough for enrollment in a puppy kindergarten class as an introduction to socialization and exploration. Longer car trips are also in order; you can take your puppy to the pet store and to agility matches to acclimate him to other dogs and large crowds. Novice obedience training can be introduced at this stage for socialization and command work. Keep your at-home training sessions to a period of five to ten minutes each to accommodate your puppy's short attention span.
Advanced Puppy Training
At ages 6 to 12 months, begin to introduce your puppy to agility obstacles in their training configurations, but be sure to keep the configurations lower and less severe to avoid stress to his joints. Jumps should still be below hock level (the joint located on your puppy's back legs below the knee), and care should be taken that your puppy does not fall from any of the obstacles or get tangled in the chute. Mishaps could spook or injure him to the point where he will not be able to engage in agility activities.
Introduction to Dog Agility; Margaret H. Bonham; Barron's Educational Series, Inc.; 2000