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Congratulations! You want to start agility training with your new (or old) dog! There is one problem, though. There is so much information available, and you don't know where to begin! Aussies are some of the smartest dogs, and are fabulous at agility, but only if trained properly.
Before starting agility training, check out some videos online. A lot of the dogs that you will see are Australian Shepherds, but all dog breeds can do agility. You will also want to visit some trainers near you that have agility training equipment available. If you decide to train by yourself and join a club later, that's great! Just so you know, it will take more time and patience than using a trainer, but it will also cost less money overall.
If you decide to go with a trainer, the most important thing is finding the right one. Positive reinforcement is key, as well as the place you will be practicing. An ideal location would be an indoor gym a few minutes away from you, but that can't always happen. If you plan on doing this seriously, you will need to have an indoor gym that you can train at year-round. If you plan on doing this as a fun hobby, the location doesn't really matter.
The one thing that I cannot stress enough is either finding a positive trainer, or learning to be positive yourself! If you have an upbeat energy while practicing and make the training fun, your dog will perform better, and have more fun doing it! Before you even begin stretching, you have to have a great relationship with your Aussie. I spend a quarter of the time I'm practicing just petting my black tri, Sugar, and tugging with her rope toy.
Once you've read this far, you probably know whether you want to use a trainer for your dog or train him (or her) yourselves. Most trainers will hold classes once a week. I would suggest taking as many classes as you can, but while still taking the time to have extra fun with your dog as much as you can. If you decide to train your dog yourself, you can continue to read this article.
First, you're going to want to have a good relationship with your dog. I would highly suggest playing tug or spending a few minutes petting your dog before each training session. There are just a few dangers to agility training that any dog owner interested needs to be aware of.
That's basically it, but I would also suggest talking to your vet before getting serious with any dog-sport. Also, if your dog has already learned sit, lie down, and stay before he is a year old, you can set up poles (they're only about an inch high) on the ground and treat your puppy every time he jumps over them. This is about all you can do before your dog can start actually training, but you'll also want to introduce your puppy to all kinds of dogs and people. Even though agility runs are only with one dog, there are barking dogs in crates waiting everywhere. There are also people cheering you on and people that will watch and make sure your dog doesn't jump over a contact, etc. "Focus" is a good trick to teach because of this.
Before we actually start agility training, choose a good motivation for your dog. You can't use treats during an official run, but that's a lot farther down the line. You can either use treats (I would suggest using kibble or small training treats), a tug toy, or encouragement! A lot of dogs will run just because you're running and calling their name.
Now that's been a lot of buildup, but once you and your dog are ready, let's begin!
When starting agility training you can get some rocks and sticks. If your dog doesn't like agility training or is terrified of the equipment, this is a good place to start off. It also doesn't cost anything, so you don't have to spend money on something your dog might not be good at. Once you have those, place the rocks a few feet apart on the ground, and place the stick on top of them. The "jump" should only be a few inches above the ground. Start off by using your motivation and luring them over the jump.
When you are ready you can get inexpensive agility equipment that you can set up in your yard or nearby park. You can get just about anything you would need at places like Affordable Agility or visit our associated Australian Shepherd Lovers Agility Equipment Store here.
I would suggest keeping your dog on a leash, but never pull your dog over, under, or through an obstacle. The leash is used just to make sure your dog doesn't wander off. For the sake of the instructions, I'm going to say I use kibble as a motivation. I actually do! Depending on your dog, all of this could be very different, and this is just a general guideline. Step over the jump, and keep the leash loose, but not loose enough so that your dog can go around it. If your dog is having trouble or is scared, place the stick on the ground. Once your dog hops over, make a big deal about it, so next time they're happy to do it!
Continue checking here for more help with learning agility training! Good luck!
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