So you'd like to try agility.......?
by Julie Peach
What do you need?
First of all you'll need a dog (it's kind of compulsory).
Your dog will need to be fit and healthy and not over weight. He or she will need to be over 12 months old although some clubs do offer foundation work for puppies over 6 months old. S/he will need a reasonable standard of obedience to include a solid recall and some clubs may ask you to undergo an informal obedience test before accepting you.
Most clubs train in small groups with the option of 1 to 1 training.
You don't have to be Lindford Christie to enjoy agility but you will need to put a bit of effort in. You and your dog will be a team.
Finding a club
The best way is by word of mouth. This way you will have a good idea of how the club operates and their training methods. If this is not an option then www.agilitynet.com has a list of clubs in your area. Click on the name of the club for more information.
Agility clubs tend to fall into three categories
1) For handlers/dogs who are aiming to compete, these clubs are usually reluctant to accept people who want to do it “just for fun”.
2) A club that will teach to competition standard, but generally doesn't mind if you do or if you don't.
3) A fun agility club. Well, all agility should be fun so I am always a bit suspect when I see this and can't help wondering if it's a bit of a cop out. Do they actually teach agility or is it just a mess around?
Agility is becoming more and more popular so don't be surprised if clubs have a waiting list. With this in mind, it is worth putting your name down for a place before your puppy is old enough to join. As with any new training club I would advise you to go along and have a look at a session before you join. This way you can talk to the people in the class as well as the instructors and you can decide if you like the way they train. Unfortunately, the old fashioned and out dated “you'll do it because I say you will” method of training is still alive and well in some clubs.If you don't like what you see then walk away. This is your dog – you decide what happens to it.
Preparing for your first lesson
Bear in mind that agility is usually trained outside, in a field and we can't rely on the weather. I was once told that there is no bad weather just inappropriate clothing. Get yourself some comfortable trainers/running (not spiked)/hiking boots or shoes and in the wet weather football boots are a good idea. You can't run in wellies and open toed shoes are a no no. Take a waterproof coat with you as well, just in case.
Your dog will need to be on a lead but will may not be allowed to wear a collar or harness when working on the equipment (or may need a collar with no dangly bits, i.e. the dog tag). Slip leads are a good idea if your dog walks well on a lead or a collar with a quick release clasp is good. Take some treats and a toy with you to keep your dog focused on you. It usually takes 6 – 8 weeks before the agility becomes more exciting than anything else in the field (excluding rabbit poo!).
You may want to take a drink with you both for you and your dog depending on the facilities of the club. Ah, the facilities. Some clubs train in fields in the middle of nowhere so don't be surprised if there are no “facilities”!
OK I'm here. Now what?
Obviously, all clubs are different in the way they train. Generally, the first few lessons will be spent teaching your dog to do the equipment properly and above all, safely. At the same time you'll be taught basic handling techniques. Don't be disappointed if your dog refuses to do or doesn't like some of the equipment – only a fool rushes in! S/he has lots of time to gain confidence and will soon be diving through tunnels and blasting across a dog walk.
Over the years I have been to quite a few different clubs and too many competitions. Agility people tend to be a very friendly lot and I have always been made to feel welcome wherever I've gone. I have made many friends through agility and gained a good social life. Through agility my dogs have lived the lives I believe they should have, running, jumping, playing, stress-free and happy. They are mentally and physically stimulated and very obedient. We are a team and there is a truly special bond between us.
There is more to this sport than just running a dog! Enjoy!
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