Introduction to Dog Agility
Some basic obedience training is necessary before commencing agility training. At a minimum, the dog must be able to sit, down, promptly come when called off-leash, hold a brief stay, maintain control around other dogs, and accept handling by strangers. Off- leash heelwork is a big plus but not required. In addition, a trainer/handler that has encouraged their dog from puppyhood to play fetch will have a distinct training advantage over someone who has not.
Initial agility work begins by introducing the dogs to low and/or smaller versions of the obstacles. The height and/or length of the equipment is slowly extended over several training sessions to their full competition forms. Dogs at this stage of training require physical 'spotting' similar to gymnastics training while they develop the necessary skill and confidence on the obstacles. Leashes are usually quickly dispensed with as they may become entangled on the dog and/or equipment. Techniques or collars that apply physical corrections of any type should not be used; they are disruptive to maintaining balance & physical coordination (and may therefore lead to injury) and will slow down the dog's opportunity to become physically and mentally confident in his ability to negotiate the equipment safely. Physical handling and spotting techniques are often supplemented with food, praise, and fetch/tug type objects that both lure and reward the dog to perform the equipment.
Once the basic obstacle work is learned, the dog enters the next phase of training. During this time, the handler works to gradually condition the dog to higher jumps and obstacle heights, and to develop a working 'command vocabulary' of both verbal and body signals necessary to direct the dog off-leash around an agility course. A well- trained agility dog learns to respond instantly to commands directing him to perform specific obstacles (when obstacles are placed immediately adjacent to one another) as well as commands causing him to run faster/slower, turn left/right and veer away from/closer to his handler. At the highest levels of agility competition, it is possible to see dogs that are able to perform these commands and maneuvers instantly and accurately even when working at full speed several yards away from their (much slower) handlers.
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