There are a lot of great ways to provide fun and exciting kinds of exercise for both you and your dog. These activities are great for getting out of those old ruts when it comes to spending some time in much needed physical activity for your dog. Finding ways to provide exercise while also providing mental stimulation and something new for the dog to look forward to means that both the owner and the dog are more likely to stay involved and interested.
Agility training is a simple and easy way to provide a fun yet challenging training option for your dog. Agility training doesn't have to demand the very best of physical fitness getting started, and you can really move from where the dog is at physically to where you eventually want him or her to be. In addition you can easily start with simple make at home types of courses and move to the more challenging levels if you choose.
While many dog owners will move their pets into competitive types of events once they have mastered the basics of agility, lots of owners enjoy the sport but don't want to compete. Since the basic course is easy to construct right in your back yard, there is really no need to go onto more competitive options unless you are interested. The great thing about agility training is that you can construct your own course and even add non-traditional types of obstacles to give your dog a bit more of a challenge and a real change of pace.
The major consideration for dog owners has to be to keep their dog's safe when going through the course. Any type of elevated obstacles such as walks, a-frames or teeter obstacles need to be constructed with an eye to making them safe for the dog. This means adding non-slip treads to surfaces and also providing wide enough walkways and footing to avoid any possibility that the dog may slip or fall off of the obstacle. Starting low and slow and building up both in size and speed of the course is absolutely essential for both beginners and more advanced competitive dogs.
For basic agility the first step in training is to ensure that your dog has basic obedience mastered. This means that the dog should be able to come, sit and stay with either verbal or hand cues and also work off leash. If you are not planning on competing with the dog a leash can be used initially but the goal is to have the dog work through the course without any direct contact with the handler through either the leash or through touch. Voice commands or hand signal types of commands are all that is acceptable in competitive agility.
Agility training actually started in England at the famous Crufts Dog show. It wasn't highlighted at the show until 1978, but is one of the fastest growing types of competitions for dogs at any level around the world. The basic plan of a course for agility is sort of like a competitive horse jumping course with a specific sequence of jumps, obstacles, poles and tunnels that the dog must complete as fast as possible and without any refusals or mistakes. Dogs that do refuse an obstacle or simply ignore their owner are penalized in their score.
The basic types of obstacles include climbing or contact obstacles, jumps, wear poles and tunnels. Each obstacle is designed slightly differently but all are geared to challenge the dog's ability to respond to the owner and the course. The contact obstacles include the teeter, A-frame and dog walk, and are so named because the dog actually makes contact with the obstacle. The dog must go up and over or across the contact obstacle without jumping off. Each obstacle has a specific spot, known as the contact zone, in which the dog must step while completing the obstacle. The size of the contact obstacle will change based on the size and weight of the dog.
Jumps are fairly self explanatory but they dog come in various shapes and sizes, similar to those found on an equestrian jumping course. Jumps can have wings and sides or can be solid jumps such as a wall jump. The jumps can also be single wide or double or triple wide, again depending on the size of the dogs in the group completing the course.
Weave poles are well known in competitive horse events and require the dog to weave through a set of poles that are equidistant apart. Each dog entering the weave pole obstacle starts by going through the first pole closest to their left shoulder and continuing the s-shaped pattern until all poles are completed.
Tunnels can be soft and flexible or more rigid depending on the obstacle. The dogs have to enter one end of the tunnel and run through without doubling back. The handler can stand at the far end and call the dog through.
In competitions there is also a pause table somewhere on the course where the dog has to jump up and stop. The dog has to remain standing for five seconds before heading off to the next obstacle.
To get started you can enroll the dog in an agility training course or you can set up your own course. There are companies that sell the agility obstacles, but you can also create your own with a little bit of carpentry skills and creativity. You can also use naturally occurring "obstacles" in the environment as well. For example, many parks use wooden stumps placed about two feet apart for barriers between areas of the park. These can easily be a starting weave pole routine, providing room for you to walk with the dog through the poles.
Jumps can easily be constructed with light pieces of doweling or curtain rods and chairs, blocks or pails used to support either end. Use light materials that will fall or collapse if the dog accidentally hits the jump. Tunnels can also be constructed with hoola-hoops and cloth or even barrels with both ends cut out as a starting option.
Being creative in discovering what items you may have around the house that could be safely used as part of a dog obstacle or agility course is a great activity for the whole family. Painting wood surfaces on a-frames, teeters and walks with textured paint will prevent slipping and make these obstacles safe for your dog as they pick up speed over the course.