Top Ten Tips on Agility

By Susan Schultz

1. Keep what’s important in perspective:
First goal: “Have fun!” Second goal: “Make friends”. Third goal: “Q!” (Q is for Qualify). Your Q’s will come and go, but your dogs and friends are forever.

2. The first thing I learned in agility class was to “Never say NO!”
Positive reinforcement with praise, toys, and snacks are the best way to keep your dog motivated. Your dog will quickly figure out what he has to do to get more of that praise and yummy snacks!

3. Encourage drive in your dog by using targets and sending him ahead of you to the target.
Place a snack on a clear plastic lid, show your dog where the snack is, then walk away. Then hold your dog by the collar, say “Ready…” and send your dog when you feel him straining against you. Gradually increase the obstacles between him and the target and then faze them out.

4. Teach your dog new obstacles or new techniques one at a time, going from simple to complex.
Consult with an experienced trainer on how to properly and safely introduce your dog to the equipment in order to avoid injuring your dog or creating problems that are harder to retrain. If your dog is having trouble with an exercise, then simplify it and try again.

5. Be aware of your body language.
The strongest signal to your dog is the direction your body is moving; second is where your hands and arms are pointing, and third is what your say. Usually if your dog messes up, it was because you screwed up by being late on the commands or by giving conflicting verbal cues and body language.

6. Train like you compete and compete like you train
Expect the same performance criteria during competition that you do during training. Use the same pre-run routines in practice that you use in trials to rev up a calm dog or calm down a hyper dog.

7. Prevent injuries with regular exercise, warming up, stretching, and cooling down.
Take your dogs out every morning for a fast walk or stead trot for 20-30 minutes to “elim-ber” (eliminate and limber). Warm up and cool down 3-5 minutes before and after each run. Stretch and massage your dogs’ legs and back after the warm up and cool down because it will help prevent sore muscles and injuries.

8. Find out what motivates your dog and use it to your advantage
Use their favorite snacks or toys to reward the desired behavior. Buy one special toy and use it only for agility training. Tug toys can be motivating for some dogs but should not be used with aggressive dogs.

9. Love your dog, but be the “top dog”.
Obedience is the foundation of all dog sports and Sit, Stay, Come, and Down are essentials for agility. Be consistent with your commands and don’t give a command you can’t enforce. Be the “top dog” by always being first, keeping the toys, and deciding when to play and quit.

10. Remember your first goal: “Have fun!”