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Dog Agility Training – Specific Skills

Dog Agility Training – Specific Skills

Specific skills will include:

Begin with the easiest obstacles which are either tunnels or simple jumps. Be patient, persistent, consistent and positive. Never scold your dog if he doesn’t do it right; only reward him when he does. He’ll catch on, and probably more quickly than you might expect. One thing to keep in mind is that your dog may become confused if you keep going once he’s done it right, so end each exercise with a treat once he’s gotten it, and move on to something else.

– Use your imagination to simulate the obstacles before introducing your dog to an actual course. For example, the “dog walk” can be simulated by elevating a board a few inches off the ground. Walk your dog over the board a few times on-leash, rewarding him with a treat each time he does. Then place him on one side of it, with you on the other, and give the “Here” command. If he comes by walking on the board, reward him. If not, take him back to the starting point, and walk him over it again, then try again off-leash. For hurdles, just a piece of pipe on the ground is a good beginning. For tunnels, a cardboard box with the ends cut out will do. Entice him through it with a treat.

Contacts are those marked zones on the contact obstacles listed above. The easiest way to train contacts is to put a treat somewhere within the contact zone and then direct the dog to it. Be careful on this – your body language can have a lot to do with your dog’s performance, so pay attention to how his actions differ depending on what you’re doing with your body. Some trainers have found that if they lean forward, the dog will rush through the obstacle, often missing the contact zone. For these dogs, you may find it crucial to be sure you stand up straight or even lean backwards. A “hit it” command is used by some owners to get their dogs to touch the contact, while “target” is popular with others. The word is not as important as the concept and consistency.

Sequencing is putting individual obstacles together in a sequence. Go slowly on this at first so your dog does not become fatigued. Try putting two or three obstacles together and directing him through. Only add more, one at a time, when he can easily and without being distracted, navigate all the obstacles in order. This will obviously take some time. Be patient, never scold, and always praise and reward your dog when he gets it right.

Call-offs are a combination between obedience and agility commands. They mean being able to instantly call your dog off an obstacle, regardless of where he is in the course. A strong “Come” command can be used for this purpose, but be careful not to overuse it, as that will weaken its power and effect. Save call-offs for when they’re really needed. Use a long leash in the beginning, and set up situations to show the dog that he must immediately stop whatever he is doing and come to you when you give the command. When he drops the ball, stops drinking, or whatever else he’s doing and comes to you, always praise him exuberantly, and give him a reward that is much better than whatever he left behind. This will help to cement the idea that coming to you is a very good thing.

Pass is a command meaning “Don’t get on that one, we’re going somewhere else,” and is important especially in directing your dog through unfamiliar courses. Set him up by deliberately tempting him with an obstacle, then getting him to pass it up. Use a leash if necessary, and praise and reward him when he does “pass” it up.

Easy is another crossover command, and means “slow down.” You’ll want to use this if your dog gets too excited, especially on contact obstacles, and wants to go faster than he should, possibly missing the contact.

Working from both sides is fairly self-explanatory. Since courses differ, you will find you need to direct your dog from either side, and you will need to train him to accept this without hesitation. Clearly, the only way to do this is to consistently vary the side you are on while working on other commands so that your dog learns to accept your direction regardless of your position.

Eventually you’ll need to expose your dog to an actual agility course if he is to progress in the sport. Ask at your local pet store or veterinarian’s office, or check the yellow pages or the internet to locate those near you. They may be standalone courses, or part of a training facility that teaches agility. Even if you’re not interested in signing up for classes, some schools will rent out the facility for practice for a certain amount per hour or fraction of an hour.

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