Dog agility – what is it?
Dog agility is a canine activity which has been around in the UK for more than forty years. It started when horse jumping competitions were finishing and some people decided to give their dogs a run around the course and over the jumps. Since then it has developed into a really popular worldwide sport.
Why am I writing about it?
Well, I’ve trained a range of dogs of my own and instructed many, many others in the sport and its something that I am really passionate about. But that’s not really why I decided to introduce the topic here. This site is about active dogs and agility is really one of the best ways of occupying active dogs (and their owners!) both physically and mentally. It focuses in on dogs natural abilities and desires to run, jump and negotiate obstacles and it teaches them confidence and control. I’m going to focus on introducing the dog agility jump in this article, which is something that you can make yourself at home quite easily and you can have a lot of fun teaching your dog how to jump. You might decide that agility is something that you want to look into in more detail, or you might just enjoy giving Fido a cool workout in the garden!
A quick word of caution, young dogs bones and joints are still developing long after they come home to live with you, so it is important not to place undue strain on them until their bodies are fully developed. With this in mind I would not suggest attempting the jumping exercise described in this article until your pup is at least 12 months of age. There is, however, nothing to stop you from developing the fun and control elements by simply placing the pole flat on the ground and letting him run over it, gradually increasing the height from the ground as he gets a little older.
The ‘jump’ doesn’t need to be like the one in the picture, it just needs to be a pole balanced on each side on something like a brick or a box. It is important, however, that the pole will fall easily if the dog kicks it. The picture below is something I just put together in the garden, that is more than enough to get started with.
Introducing your dog to the jump
‘Jump, this is Fido, Fido this is jump, pleased to meet you’ …. I would take your dog to the hurdle, let him have a good look around it, sniff it, etc. Once he’s happy with this new item that has appeared you can start to teach him why it is there. Firstly I would decide whether I was going to reward him with toys, treats, praise, or a combination. If its toys then I’d simply hold his collar in front of the jump and toss his favourite chase toy over the pole. Once you are sure he is focussed on the toy release him and if he goes over the pole give him tons of praise. If he goes around, or under (keeping the pole low to begin with should reduce the chances of this, unless you’ve got a limbo dancer on your hands!) don’t make a fuss, just go back to the start and take him a little closer to the pole before chucking the toy. Once he has done it correctly a few times and gotten tons of praise from you he will soon realise what this new game is all about.
Moving on up
Don’t be in too much of a hurry to move the height up, its much more important to get confidence in the jump first. Once he is happily running over the pole to get the toy (or treat if your pal is more food focused) you can mix it up a bit. Try running alongside him as he jumps, both left and right side, so he doesn’t become to dependent on your positioning. If he has a good recall you can leave him on one side of the jump and call him over it to you, again rewarding with toy or treat and heaps of ‘good job’s from you.
As with all training I strongly recommend little and often. You’ll be surprised how tiring this will be for your dog, especially at first, as he is flexing that brain trying to work out what it is that you want from him. Don’t be fooled into thinking that five minutes of jumping isn’t much physical exercise, he’s getting a ton of mental stimulation too.
Well, if, like me, you get the bug for doing this fun stuff with your furry friend then there are formal classes, competitions, as well as just moving on having more fun in your own garden or local park. I’m going to write some more articles for those who decide that they’d like to do a bit more in coming weeks, so stay tuned!
As always, I’d love to hear how you get on, feel free to drop comments or questions in the space below, and if you have any questions, just holler!