Agility is an excellent form of exercise for you and your dog and can be a great way to build your relationship and meet new human and dog friends. However, attending an agility class for the first time can be a little daunting, so we caught up with our resident agility expert and Different Dog ambassador, Bonny Quick, for some advice on getting started.
Bonny arrived at her first agility class with her happy-go-lucky Labrador, Tully, over 15 years ago. She had no idea what to expect and just wanted Tully to have a great time. They now train and compete all over the country and have a pawsitively overflowing trophy cabinet!
Why is agility an excellent activity for all dog owners?
The beauty of agility is that it combines the physical and mental; you and your dog must use both body and brain. Watching agility on TV might look like the dog is doing all the work, but there is much more to it for the "handler".
Can agility help build your relationship with your dog?
By doing agility, you'll figure out how to direct your dog across sequences of obstacles smoothly. This challenge is half the fun, and as you develop together, you’ll feel a real sense of partnership.
Do I have to go to a group with other dogs?
If your dog is relaxed around other people and dogs, you could start agility in a class environment. Alternatively, if your dog is a bit too social or not social enough, many clubs offer 1-2-1 sessions.
How do you find a beginner training group?
Whether you want to set the competition world on fire or just have some fun, it's still best to look for a reputable trainer. My top recommendation to get started is to look for a place near you here.
What age does my dog have to be to start?
Dogs of any age can come and have a go at agility. Puppies can start foundation agility training from around six months old. Still, it's essential to avoid anything that involves impact, such as jumping or weaves, until your dog's growth plates are closed (around 9-16 months, depending on breed).
Do I need to do any training before I go to my first class?
Ideally, your dog should have mastered the basics of obedience, such as 'wait' and recall. In addition, dogs should be fit, well and at a healthy weight to start agility.
Can any breed have a go?
Absolutely, although there are a few factors to consider, for example, if your dog is a long-backed breed (a dachshund, corgi, etc.), you may need to approach agility with extra care. For brachycephalic breeds (such as a Frenchie), you must also be conscious of not doing too much to cause your dog to overheat or over-tire.
What do I need to take with me to our first session?
You'll need to take a toy or two that you and your dog can play with together, poo bags and a lead and harness. You'll also need high-value treats; the new Different Dog Game On and Fishy Favourites treats are perfect bite-sized rewards.
Do I, as the handler, need to be of a certain age or fitness level?
You do not need to be of any particular age or fitness level. I teach a vast array of handlers, from those under ten to those in their 80s.
Any final advice?
There is one big thing to watch out for in agility; everyone jokes that it's highly addictive, and it is!
When I popped along to my first class, my sole intention was to bring a bit of extra joy into my dog's life. We very quickly accomplished that mission, and within a year, I was entering my first competition. You'll be surprised how fun it is!
If you enjoying this and are interested in learning more about agility, check out Bonny’s book here.
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