If you have a high-energy pooch, you’ve probably walked him around the same blocks so many times that you dream about your daily path. Why not dial up the fun with an activity that provides you both with more physical and mental stimulation? For a lively way to strengthen the bond with your dog, few things beat agility training.
What Is Agility Training?
One of the fastest growing canine sports in the United States, agility is a fast-paced, timed obstacle course that puts you and your dog to the test. It challenges your dog’s athletic ability and concentration as he leaps hurdles, barrels through tunnels, zigzags through lines of poles and clambers over seesaws. Agility also tests your capacity to guide your dog, providing some aerobic exercise in the bargain.
Those of you with a competitive streak can go against other teams at your experience level, from novice to master; or, you can choose to participate recreationally. While the rules vary depending on the organization involved, points are generally given for speed and accuracy but subtracted for faults.
A “Sport for All Dogs”
Almost any dog can participate in agility competition, with more than 200 breeds — including mixes — currently competing, according to the United States Dog Agility Association (USDAA).
Today, the most common breeds seen on the course include herding dogs such as border collies, Shetland sheepdogs and Belgian Tervurens as well as Labrador retrievers, golden retrievers, Welsh corgis, cocker spaniels and even petite papillons. And some Jack Russell terriers can’t seem to contain their enthusiasm for the sport.
Is Agility Right for Your Pup?
One of the primary prerequisites of the sport is basic obedience. Your dog should have mastered commands such as sit, stay and come. Dogs that are happy to follow commands tend to be more successful at agility than those with a more independent nature.
While athleticism is a plus, it’s possible to gradually work your couch potato up to a more active level, barring any underlying physical limitations. Socialization is another issue: because there can be hundreds of dogs, handlers and spectators at these events, your dog should be comfortable with crowds and not easily distracted by barking dogs and cheering fans.
Start with a Veterinary Exam
Before you put your dog through the paces, ask your veterinarian if your dog is physically capable of this level of exercise. Dogs with underlying orthopedic conditions, such as hip dysplasia, may be better suited to more low-impact activities like swimming.
Overweight dogs may need to lose some weight first to reduce unnecessary stress on the joints. And flat-nosed brachycephalic breeds such as bulldogs that are breathing-challenged and overheat easily might be better off with regular walks during the cooler parts of the day.
If you have a young puppy, now may be the time to work on obedience and save the high-impact agility exercises for later, once the bones have fully developed.
Your veterinarian can also make sure your dog’s nails are trimmed to help reduce the risk of foot and toe injuries.
Be a Spectator or a Handler
To see agility at its best, check out any number of competitions held across the country. Or contact the USDAA to locate a community class for you and your dog. Do your kids want to be involved? No problem. Do you have a disability? Chances are, you can be a handler, too.
What are you waiting for? Agility can be a great way to challenge your pet’s mind and body (not to mention yours, too), while deepening your relationship. That’s what you’d call a win-win.
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