Assessment for Agility Training
A veterinarian who competes in obedience and agility would include the following in the evaluation of a performance dog:
First, a good general physical. Carefully evaluate the eyes. Check the heart for murmurs, arrhythmias and pulse deficits. Evaluate general weight, condition and muscling. Examine joints with an emphasis on the hips,stifles, and elbows. Watch the dog move to evaluate any conformational or structural abnormalities which might suggest or result in performance problems. Ideally one should watch the dog jump once or twice.
Depending on the dog's age and breed, x-rays of the hips, elbows or spine, and an evaluation by a canine opthalmologist might be indicated. Routine annual blood profiles might be indicated after seven years of age.
Ideally one should find a veterinarian who is familiar with the sport and with performance dogs, has some idea how to evaluate structure, enjoys working with these dogs and is willing to research what he or she doesn't know.
Look for a dog-person experienced in evaluating gait and movement, or go to a Chris Zink seminar to get the extra information. Dogs might be more injury prone due to poor angulation, which can help when making a decision on what activities may be appropriate for your dog.
(Rebecca Golatzki, DVM)
With more and more people coming into agility, clubs need to think about how to weed out some of the dogs and handlers that are not yet prepared to begin training:
Require that the team pass an assessment class prior to beginning their agility training. The team will have far more fun in their agility endeavors if they already have some basic obedience (team work) preparation before they begin. Not to mention the comfort level of the existing members as you bring new dogs into the practice sessions.
Agility training is often held in very close proximity to other dogs and handlers; manners are an absolute must from our canine friends! They must be neither people or dog aggressive.
This assessment class isn't at all hard to pass; most clubs do not require a perfect obedience performance, and only expect to see that the "team" has some basics of team work which is so helpful before beginning agility training.
Use a 1 - 5 scale to determine the level of responsiveness. Those who don't pass are asked to take a basic obedience class, or further socialize their dog and then revisit for a later agility beginners class. Those that are iffy are given home work assignments before they return to the class.
The first exercise is a sit or down at the handler's option. You're just looking for some prior experience in training from the team. The handler should have been working on something prior to coming for agility training.
The 2nd exercise is a come-fore. With the dog on leash the handler moves out until the dog is at the end of the leash ahead of the handler. The handler then calls "come" and backs up. Once again, you're looking for the level of responsiveness of the dog to the handler. That helps to determine the placement of the students in their class. Dog/handler teams can be placed into a class relative to their experience.
The the assessment team (usually 3 members) invites the dog to visit and pets the dog if it will allow the contact. Since so much of beginner training involves a helper who holds the dog it is important to know if the dog will accept such handling. A reserved or tentative dog is acceptable, one that growls or is overtly fearful is excused. The handler is asked to further socialize the dog or enroll in a local obedience class.
Then divide the students into 2 groups. The dogs are placed in the off-side position (not heel side). The two groups are lined up facing each other and with the dogs on the inside path and the handlers on the outside path they then jog toward each other so that the dogs pass by each other. Then send them by each other. The curious dog, or the inviting to play dogs are not faulted. The dog that growls or lunges at another is asked to be further socialized or join a local obedience class and to revisit for a later beginner agility class.
There is then one final phase for the team to pass. Off lead the dog and handler then jog around the park with the handler darting to and fro, clapping and calling the dog to join in the fun and follow the handler around. Often you have to demonstrate this portion.
What you're looking for here is responsiveness to the handler once again, but also the ability of the handler to call the dog off the general membership and their dogs if the dog decides maybe that group over there looks more interesting than the handler. You can do this assessment while there is a class or two already underway so the invitation to join another group is strong.
Remember, this dog has already passed the static people or dog aggression phase of the test before being allowed off lead. That way if the handler is not able to call the dog off you won't experience some awful accident if it bounds into the crowd ignoring the calls of its handler.
This type of assessment should help to keep your classes peaceful and full of fun for everyone!
Sometimes telling someone their dog needs to lose weight just isn't enough. A lot of us tend to personalize our dog's feelings and find it nearly, if not totally impossible, to resist their pitiful begging looks! Putting them on a diet is hard! In beginner agility classes the instructor can talk to the class about physical checkups and conditioning for agility dogs, teach stretching exercises and talk about exercises they can do with their dogs that will prepare them physically for competition. Then weight control can be addressed.
Most of us want our dogs to be healthy and lean, but sometimes we just don't know how to get them that way and keep them that way, even when it may be critical for a dog's health. Dr. Chris Zink PhD. DVM. has a method for letting dogs have all the food they want without gaining weight:
To check our dog's weight we need to feel two locations on his body. The first location is over the ribs and the second is over his hips. To check the ribs, stand beside your dog facing its tail (or stub if you have a tailless canine). Take your hands and hold them in front of you and spread out your fingers. With thumbs touching, reach down and place your hands on your dog. Your thumbs should lay on its backbone and your fingers on the rear of the rib cage on each side of the dog. Now without pressing your fingers into the sides of the dog, move your hands back and forth (from the rear to the front and visa-versa). Can you feel the dog's ribs under your fingers without pressing? If you can then it looks like your dog is in good shape. Just like people, different types and sexes of dogs can carry extra weight differently. So check those hips. Run you hand over your dog's rump. There should be two small bumps over each hip. Can you find them without digging around? If so, your dog is probably at a good weight. Can't feel a thing? Then it's time to skip Baskins and Robbins for a while!
There is no need for you to starve your dog to help it reach its optimal weight. The secret? Vegetables. Canned pumpkin, to name one. Most dogs love the canned pumpkin and it's good for them because it's high in fiber, low in calories and high in vitamins. Start by cutting back your dog's food rations. By whatever amount you cut back their normal rations, give them twice as much canned pumpkin. Use "Solid Packed Pumpkin" not the pie filing pumpkin mix! If you cut back your dog's rations by half a cup you give one cup of pumpkin. If you want to make your dog think it's hit the jackpot instead of dieting then you can also add other vegetables. Veg all, green beans, peas are just a few that most dogs like and will readily eat. To help keep the weight off when you use food as a training treat, you can use raisins, carrots pieces, rice cakes, bits and an occasional bite of roll-over or bil-jac.
After presenting these ideas of Chris' to a class, the handler of an overweight dog may seek you out and ask for more details on how to get their dog started on the diet. It gets the point across without putting any one person on the spot and quite often some that thought their dog's weight was ok find a few extra pounds that could be lost!
Our club decided to run a Pre-Agility class as a prerequisite to membership. We use the class as an assessment for new members and it has so far worked great!
The class was designed because we felt that there were certain things that you "didn't" learn in a regular 8-week agility class that could be put in a 8-week Pre-Agility class separately. We also felt that if people didn't know anything about agility and how much work it is to take a "pet" and turn him into an agility dog (with no prior training), that this class would separate the true enthusiast from the wishy washy wannabee's. When people realize how much there is to work on outside of the obstacles, they really get an eye opener.
We open the class up to members of the club (at a discount) and new people who would like to become members. We give non-members completing and passing the class (the assessment of the dog must be acceptable) a rebate back on their yearly membership to the club.
Here's an idea as to what we included in the eight weeks. We really stressed "HOMEWORK" and that they must get into the habit of spending 10-20 minutes a day with "Fun Games" and exercises at home to make this class work.
We give out Homework Sheets for each week and always did some review. One of the things stressed the most was to teach yourself to "play" with your dog. Most of the people didn't have a clue as to how to play OR said that their dog didn't know how to play. We spent a lot of time getting them to "Have Fun" with their dog.
We also stress NO negative, physical or verbal corrections in class - All motivational. Here's a brief breakdown.
- Attention Exercise
- Jump Exercise using poles on the ground and broad jump boards on their sides.
- Formal Vocal
- "Let's Go" (basically a loose 'heel' position - left side)
- Right Turns - using a toy and turning to the right and throwing the toy out in front
- Go Touch - this is the start of the utility "go out" but is easy and fun, fun, fun to teach to any dog plus you get instant results.
- Recall Over The Jumps
- Table - just getting the dog to jog up to the table and hop on (12" table) No down.
- This Side - opposite of 'heel' working on the right
- Easy - starting from a jog, give command and slow down & reward
- More Jump Exercises
- Bar Jump set at 12" or lower
- Left Turns
- Add "Down" to Table
- Switch Sides - go from "Let's Go" on left to "This Side" on right
- Send Away - to a target on the ground about 4 feet away
- Go Around - go around a barrel or post
- We start to work more on refining the week 1-5 exercises & adding the table to a jump chute and using a send away as well. We also teach the "down" side of the dog walk with the board on a 12" table and working on the contact zone. We also taught a pipe tunnel at the end to give them a taste of what it's like to come and keep them excited.
All in all the "play" thing was the hardest to teach the beginners and the die hard obedience people who were being too harsh. All exercises were done ON LEASH or tab and only one dog at a time EVER off leash. We worked very hard on proofing the recalls and improving jumping technique as well as talking about weight and health in general.
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