Confessions of an Agility Addict
Written by: Helen King*
Have you ever watched dog agility on TV or in person and thought I could do that? Well you can!
Dog agility is one of the fastest growing canine sports on the planet. It is fun, fast and invigorating. The adrenalin rush is unlike any I have ever had and I used to ride show jumpers over huge fences when I was a kid! Agility builds a great bond between dog and handler, makes for a better house pet and gives you something to do in a very social setting without having to wear makeup or put on fancy clothes.
You may be thinking agility is a sport for young, fast athletes. NOT TRUE! I am 61, overweight (WAY OVERWEIGHT), had polio as a kid and now suffer from a mild case of post polio and three years ago I fell, broke my kneecap in half and have had two surgeries to repair it. I am in pain most of the time but a couple of Celebrex on the weekend and I am good to go. Once that adrenalin kicks in, all the pain disappears.
My husband is 73 years old and runs one of the fastest dogs in North America. He has a terribly bad back and neck and a painful knee but every weekend he is running around that agility field with two standard Poodles and a speeding bullet of a Border Collie.
Here they are in action:
I had a friend who was competing in agility into her 90s! There are people who are confined to a wheel chair that compete in agility using a motorized chair. It is not just a sport for the young and the restless. It is just as much fun for the old and the restless! I can't think of another sport where a 73 year old can step onto the same field as a world champion and give them a run for their money and beat them! It is a grand sport indeed.
Agility is about training and handling the dog around a course of obstacles in the fastest time. At the highest level, where we compete, the dog is allowed no mistakes at all. The Poodle I run is not nearly as fast as my husband's Border Collie but occasionally, we might sneak in for a placement. We sure have some fun though!
There are many different methods when it comes to training an agility dog. We happen to use what we believe to be the best methods. Others use what they consider to be the best. The bottom line, however, is that only positive methods really work well for training agility dogs. The only punishment we use is just withholding reward if the dog gets it wrong. We try to put the best foundation we can on each dog and build from there. One of our mentors is Susan Garrett from Say Yes in Ontario, Canada. She has many books and DVDs available and recently began teaching online courses for those who do not have access to good instruction. Here is a link to her latest course on creating a great recall on your dog (it also builds an amazing bond between dog and owner) Link
We started agility in 2000 with an instructor who knew very little about teaching agility the right way. We jumped around to 5 or 6 different instructors until we found one who really knew what she was doing. We have been with her for the past 8 years. It is well worth it to train with the best trainer you can find but the most important thing is to use only positive methods. If your instructor tells you to correct your dog verbally or physically, then you need to find a new instructor!
If you don't have access to good instruction, there are plenty of great books and videos out there. http://www.cleanhrun.com has a large selection and is a terrific resource for all of your agility needs.
As long as it is physically sound and not dog aggressive, any dog can learn to do agility. You may just want to go to classes and have fun or you may want to be on the World Team someday or you may be somewhere in between. When I started, I was only in it for the fun and had no intentions of ever competing. Now I am addicted and go to trials 3 or 4 times a month. We take off several months every year (usually in the fall) to give the dogs a well needed rest. During that time, we do not train, we just let the dogs run and do whatever they want. It is great R & R for body, mind and soul.
Dog that are doing any kind of agility, for fun or for competition, need to be very lean and well-conditioned. This is a good rule of thumb for any dog, not just the canine athletes! An overweight dog has a shortened life and can develop diabetes or other diseases associated with being obese.
We use toys and treats to reward our dogs. The best way to motivate dogs for agility is with the use of a tug toy. This interaction builds drive and love for the game and it is interactive with the handler. It is all about the bond between dog and person. That relationship is everything! We train so that our dogs love nothing more than to train with us. We want agility to trump squirrels, rabbits, or anything else that might be tempting!
If you would like to see our dogs in action, see us here on our Youtube page. On the top right side, there are 200 videos of us running our dogs as well as some training videos and some other videos we made just for fun.
If you think you would like to give agility a try, here is a list of resources that can get you started.
Say yes dog training
Well, that should be enough to get you going! Happy training!
* Born in Gloucester, Massachusetts, Helen King was being led around on a horse long before she could walk. Dogs and horses have been a major part of her entire life. Her mother raised Boxers in the ‘50s and ‘60s so. Helen’s education of canine structure began at a very early age.
In the 1970s, Helen raised and showed harlequin Great Danes and Basset Hounds as well a few other breeds. As an award winning sculptor, Helen has studied structure in depth to enhance her understanding of conformation and how it relates to movement. She and her husband, Mel, bred successful race and performance horses for many years. One of the Connemara stallions Helen bred and owned was immortalized as a limited edition Breyer model.
Helen has been an Inspector for the American Connemara Pony Society for many years as well as a Connemara judge and seminar presenter. She attends seminars and lectures with the leaders in the field to
continually sharpen her eye and hone her skills.
Mel & Helen can be seen running the chicly shaved standard Poodles:
ADCH MACH 6 Josephine MFX, SACH, SCH, RN, CD, HIT, VCX, CGC
MACH Isabella O-EJC, EAC, OGC, NTC, AAD, JM, HIT, VCX, CGC
MACH 4 MeMe MPD, NR, HIT, VC, CGC
MACH Charisse Poodle NF, MPD, CGC
Crush (Border Collie) MX, MXJ, MXF, HIT
Helen’s lifelong passion has been the study of structure and how it relates to performance. She has observed hundreds of dogs in agility to compare conformation and performance as well as tracking the puppies to
maturity from the litters she has bred and evaluations of outside litters.