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Introduction to Agility

Can my dog do agility?
Baby steps in training
Basic Do's and Don'ts

Overview of the obstacles
Training Tips for each obstacle
What to Call Each Obstacle

Help with dogs that are slow, scared, stubborn and crazy!

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General Rules

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Basic Do's and Don'ts

There are some basic rules of agility training that will go a long way to starting off on the right paw. The first one is to have fun! If it's not fun for both of you, then something is wrong. Here are some more rules:

1) ALWAYS be positive. Make your training sessions shorter if your dog gets tired or disinterested too quickly, and end on a positive note. If your dog consistently remembers agility training as the best time of his life, he'll want to train longer and please you more.

2) NEVER say "No". Or we should say rarely. If your dog doesn't do an obstacle correctly, say in a positive voice, "Oops, let's try this again", and go back to the beginning. If your dog still doesn't do it right, don't scowl or act all disappointed. Your dog will pick up on your mood and either "freeze", or keep making the same mistake. Try not to let your dog fail more than 2 times in a row. It's better to take some baby steps backwards. If your dog keeps knocking the bar, lower it. If he keeps skipping a weave pole, go slower and guide him better. That way, you're dog will remember "succeeding", and not develop a bad taste for agility. The only time you should say no to your dog is if he gets aggressive towards another dog. It's also a good idea to get your dog used to not going to the bathroom while you are training him. You will literally be "eliminated" in an agility trial if this happens (no pun intended). So even when training at home, it's a good idea to walk your dog around saying "go potty", then when you enter the "training area" of your yard, discourage your dog from eliminating.

3) ALWAYS be clearly expressive. This is hard for some personalities, but your dog cannot guess what you want. If you are overly shy about this you will find your dog going through the wrong obstacles, because obstacles are not always in a nice "line" at agility trails. They are sometimes set up in a "trap" form to make it more challenging. Body language is very important to your dog, who is picking up on everything. You may say with your mouth "tunnel", but if your body is turned more towards the jump, chances are your dog will get confused and either pass the tunnel or take the jump. Also don't expect your dog to figure out your body language at the last second. This is probably the biggest challenge to agility training - being ahead of your dog enough to clearly show him the next obstacle. Many dogs run so fast to make this really hard to do!

4) ALWAYS give praise for a job well done. This includes giving treats or a favorite toy after doing an obstacle correctly. Then, as your dog seems to have no problem doing an obstacle correctly, add another one, then give the praise and reward. Pretty soon you'll be able to do a whole series of obstacles before giving the jackpot. But if your dog seems to be slowing down or gets easily distracted, go back to giving praise and treats after just one or two obstacles. The key is to keep your dog interested so he will run even faster!

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Basic Rules
This is a similar list, but said a little differently!

Rule #1 ) HAVE FUN!

Rule #2)  OBEY RULE #1.  Agility training should be fun for both you and your dog. When you make a mistake, don't get upset at yourself. If your dog makes a mistake, just say "oops" in a friendly tone of voice, and try again. 

Rule #3)  FOOD! FOOD! FOOD!  Dog's are motivated by rewards. Find out what      your dog likes best, either treats, a ball, a tug toy - and pour lavish praise and treats on him when he does an obstacle or sequence of obstacles successfully.  Continue to treat him with extra-special "jackpots" for every new and increasingly difficult thing your dog does.  Make sure he is hungry when he comes to practice.

Rule #4)  PRAISE! PRAISE! PRAISE! Along with your food or toy, verbally give your dog LOTS of praise in an excited happy voice. The higher the pitch, the sillier and more excited you act, the more your dog will be thrilled and want to do better!  

Rule #5)  NO NO NO's!  Try not to ever say no to your dog on the agility course.  Agility is NOT about forcing your dog to do the obstacles, but to MOTIVATE him to do it willing.  Reserve the word "no" and other stern corrections only for the following:

  • Aggression towards another dog or handler.
  • Going potty while you are working him, especially in or on an obstacle.
  • Blatant disobedience, including not coming when called (do not mistake confusion or not hearing you with outright disobedience)  But even then, try to remedy the situation with positive training methods.

Rule #6)  THINK SAFETY.  Do most your jumping exercises, especially in the beginning stages, at a low level, preferably below your dog's chest.   This will prevent unnecessary strain on your dog, and prevent injuries.  Make sure your dog is warmed up before intense practicing. Try to discern whether your dog might be tired or not feeling well, and make adjustments accordingly.

Rule #5)  KEEP IT SHORT.  Dog's learn better with short frequent sessions, rather than long drawn-out ones.  ALWAYS end your session with a happy memory for your dog of a job well done.  If you need to, take a few steps back until your dog does something correct, then praise him lavishly, and end your session.

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