I have a much-adored but slightly challenging at times retriever called Alfie who can run for hours and come home still hyper and ready for more. I needed something to exercise his brain, give him a job to do. I was up for a new challenge so we gave dog agility a go and now I am hooked! This is our take on the sport from a newbie’s perspective.
How hard can it be ….. ?
I will give it a go I thought. If I’m honest it was the lure of the rosettes that spurred me on. I loved watching the agility at Crufts on the TV, the handlers always made it look so easy- the dogs effortlessly flowing around the course. Dog and handler in perfect unison. Everything all under perfect control. How hard could it be…..?
Okay fast forward a few years and let me tell you -dog agility is much, much harder than it looks. It’s fast and furious and you have to think about a load of different things in a really short amount of time but it’s very addictive and so much fun! It also is relatively cheap to get into, is open to all ages and abilities and most breeds of dogs, and will give you an amazing bond with your dog. You will probably even get fit in the process too!
Taking the plunge
Trying to learn something new can be hard work. A few years ago, when my dog was around one year old, I took the plunge and joined my local agility club and that was the start of it all.
Like anything new it’s all about building foundations, working on the relationship with your dog. This foundation is the building block for all that will come and keeping it all fun is the name of the game. I learned how to engage through play with Alfie, keeping things positive. Not only were we having fun but my dog was beginning to listen to me as well. Even though I felt we were breezing through the foundation stage it is setting the stage for all the future training and competitions to come. Encouraging your dog to try new games and exercises confidently really shapes their attitude for agility.
As the first weeks at training went by and my understanding of the sport started to slowly develop I knew I wanted to compete, albeit at a local level, and I really wanted one of those rosettes! However, the focus at training was always on fun rather than performance.
What Dog Agility means for me
Dog agility is challenging but oh so addictive. I love what and who this sport has brought into my life. I work hard but also laugh hard during training. It is so rewarding . When I train it’s my time away from everyday life. I can focus on just one thing, and in a world of multi-tasking, I am so grateful for this space. It helps to keep me fit both physically and mentally and I am still learning strategies to help me memorize courses! Best of all it has built a strong bond between me and my dog.
What dog agility means to my dog
My dog is never as happy as when we pull up outside agility training.
It has given him a ‘job’ to do, a focus, and all that brain work tires him out like nothing else. It has helped my dog bring his focus back to me both in and outside of training.
Alfie is super dedicated when training. He has certainly taught me something about my commitment level but I think the best thing is that we are learning something together . Keep the focus on fun rather than performance
It’s all about the Journey
It’s all about the commitment. It’s great when it’s all going well but like everything in life you have to dig deep when you hit a block and maybe look at the training from a slightly different place.
As I started to really get into dog agility, I did buy some equipment for home so I could get some practice in between lessons. I started with a tunnel, as we needed lots of practice with this in the beginning, and then added in some homemade jumps from PVC pipe equipment. There is lots of really durable relatively inexpensive equipment online .
Agility really is awesome
Here are a few tips I have found useful when I was first starting out :
- Find a good trainer/ club who uses positive reinforcement.
- Go along to some agility shows local to you. I took my dog along to a few to get him used to being around lots of other dogs in a calm way before we started competing. I have always found the atmosphere to be fun and friendly. Use this show calender to find out about what's going on in your area www.agilitynet.co.uk/clutch/shows.htm
- You do not have to have a border collie to do dog agility! Although they are clearly masters of the sport I have been amazed at all the different size and breeds of dogs at shows. Look out for the toy breed Papillon. They really hold their own in both agility and obedience.
- Agilitynet is the go to place for anything agility related. It really is a great resource with loads of helpful information from equipment sales, rescue dogs looking for new homes to starting up agility advice and the all important show diary. www.agilitynet.co.uk
- When you first start out you can make jumps from PVC pipe equipment . I found this useful : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cvXyZuobH3Q
Over to you
Let me know what got you into dog agility and what you found useful when starting out.
Next time : Tips on toys I have found useful to build motivation.