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Agility, like other canine sports, benefits dogs both mentally and physically. It provides exercise to keep them fit and healthy, and it reduces boredom-related behaviors, including digging, barking and destructive behaviors around the house.
Dog agility training can improve your dog’s sociability in addition to its physical and mental benefits. Going to practice and competitions allows dogs to meet new people and pets. Because your dog receives so much positive reinforcement at agility events, he can grow more confident in new situations and with strangers.
Agility classes are an excellent place to begin if you are new to the sport. But you can also buy dog agility equipment online, and easily make practice courses and obstacles at home. If you’re interested in agility sports, here are a few skills you can teach your dog.
Dogs lack body awareness. The rest of their body just follows where their front paws lead. However, with obstacles such as the dog walk, your dog must be aware of where each paw is placed. There are numerous techniques to help your dog become more aware of his surroundings. First, train them to perch on various objects. Encourage him to interact with an upside-down sturdy box, plastic bin, or even a footstool. They can stand on it with one or more paws, leap on it, or even sit on it. This is excellent practice for using the pause table. Climbing inside items will also help him consider his body position. Turn the box or container over and encourage them in by rewarding any exploration until they’re willing to fit their entire body inside. Make a line of boxes and train him to crawl or step through it. Finally, stepping through a ladder will make your dog analyze each step. With a food incentive or a hand touch, urge them to step through the rungs of a ladder flat on the ground. Once they’ve gotten the hang of it, see if you can get them to pick up the pace.
Agility is a team sport. A dog does not know which obstacle to take next while running around the course without assistance from his handler. Your agility dog must learn to concentrate on you in the face of distractions and interesting conditions. You can increase your dog’s attention by teaching him to make eye contact with you on cues such as “Watch Me” or “Look.” Begin in a quiet place where you are the most interesting thing around, then gradually progress to more distracting locations.
Start with the bar on the ground for smaller breeds. For large and medium breed dogs, keep the bar 1 or 2 inches off the ground. Teach your dog to leap by keeping him on a leash and preventing him from going around a hurdle. Give each jump a different command. If your dog will not cross a hurdle, practice in a narrow corridor. Make a tiny jump with your dog on one side and you on the other. Your dog should have no choice but to jump forward. Encourage your dog with treats and praise. Your dog will soon be a confident jumper with a little patience and positive reinforcement.
Tunnels are typically a simple obstacle to teach. Begin with a short tunnel that your dog can see through to the other side. Prepare someone on the other end with some treats or a favorite toy. Bring your dog to the tunnel, say “tunnel,” and have your helper start calling it and offering treats. If your dog is apprehensive, throw some treats inside. Most dogs will soon pass through to the opposite side. As your dog gains confidence, you can progress to longer and curved tunnels.
And there you have it! Find joy in the bonding experience that agility training provides for you and your dog. Have fun with it, and so will your dog.