Agility training for dogs is a great way to increase your Aussie's overall obedience while providing her with an outlet through which she can release both mental and physical energy. Agility training is a valuable sport because it engages your dog's mind and teaches her to work in cooperation with you. First, let's cover exactly what agility is – and what it isn't. Then we'll get deeper into the type of obstacles your dog will face on an agility course, what you'll need to teach your dog agility and how to find a club near you where you can participate in organized agility events.
Agility training for dogs is essentially a sport in which your dog is required to run an obstacle course as fast as possible. It's big on dog-owner cooperation because you'll need to tell the dog exactly what to do at each obstacle, which is why is can be a great challenge for Aussies who seem to have “too much energy.”
As a competitive sport, there are two main elements to a dog's score when she runs and agility course. Those are:
That means it's not just a flat-out time trial. If your dog makes a mistake – either because she disobeys you or misunderstands a command – she'll be graded down. The winning dog is not necessarily the fastest or the most accurate, but the dog who can balance accuracy and speed.
So far you might think agility training for dogs sounds a little like a hurdle race or a steeple chase, but it's more complicated than that. There's a variety of obstacles your dog may be expected to negotiate on an agility course – they'll differ from club to club and course to course. Here are a few typical obstacles:
hurdles and jumps
weave poles (slalom)
These categories can be further broken down. For instance, there may be bar hurdles on a course which the dog is expected to jump over – but there may also be tire jumps which the dog must pass through.
Obviously for your dog to be a successful competitor in agility contests, you'll need to set a firm foundation in basic training. But you'll probably also need to introduce some extra training tools to improve the accuracy of her movements.
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One useful tool for agility training for dogs is the clicker, which creates a sound you can use to mark a desired behavior. A target stick is another tool which can be used to lure a dog – very handy for pointing out the path you want her to take. Of course, this is for dog agility training only – you can't take the target stick with you in competition.
How do you use the clicker? It's simply a matter of conditioning your dog to associate the sound of the click with a treat or other reward. To do this, just sit down with your dog and a bag of treats. Click, then immediately feed your dog a treat and give him lots of praise. Then repeat the process as many times as you like. You're not actually rewarding the dog for doing anything here – you just want him to know that when he hears that click, he's going to get a reward (that's how he knows when he's done something right). The clicker is useful for the high level of precision you often need when you're trying to get your dog to perform the complicated moves involved in running an agility course.
The use of the target stick is also fairly straightforward – you use it as a lure to show the dog which line to run. For example, when a dog comes to a jump, he doesn't always know it's a jump. He might think he's supposed to go under or around it. You can demonstrate that you want him to jump over it using the target stick as a lure.
Think agility training for dogs sounds ideal for you and your Aussie? The next step is to find a local club which hosts agility events. Finding your nearest Australian Shepherd Club is usually a good bet, although if you want to put your dog to the test against a range of breeds try searching for USDAA (United States Dog Agility Association) sanctioned competitions in your area. You can also get more information about agility traing for dogs at the American Kennel Club (AKC), the United States Australian Shepherd Association (USASA), Australian Shepherd Club of America (ASCA) and Canine Performance Events. If you're outside the US check with similar organizations in your home country.