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Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Head start

Hi all,

I’m looking into agility classes in my local area and wondered if there are any skills I need to teach my dog before we start and if there’s anything else I should consider?

I would be grateful if you could help.

Diane Ryan, by email

Lauren Langman, Devon Dogs, advises...

Agility is one of the fastest growing trends in the country. It is active, fun and both the dogs and their handlers become hooked very, very quickly.

The skills that are required early on all revolve around reinforcement. It actually is very simple. Does your dog like food? Will he work for it? Does he want to do tricks and is he willing to generally hang out with you? Does your dog play with toys, do you have a special toy? Do you have one that your dog is desperate to work for? If your dog enjoys coming back to you for food and toys you will leap ahead in any group and make super progress as training is so easy when your dog wants to work for you.

In terms of the skills required to make a good start you could start to teach a wait, we call it a startline wait, a solid recall, a spin both ways (like a small circle left and right), to race ahead to a toy on the floor and to retrieve a toy back to you to play. If your dog doesn’t play don’t worry I am sure your new trainer will have lots of other ideas. You could also teach your dog to follow you both sides chasing you to get to your leg, similar to very fast heelwork. The other thing we like to do with our own dogs is allow them opportunities out and about on walks to jump logs and low natural jumps to see that they enjoy the process of jumping.

There are loads of innovative games to play at home and in the garden, ask your trainer once you have mastered the above how you can push forward and take it to the next level. Good luck and happy jumping.


  1. I would suggest your dog needs to have a basic level of obedience, i.e. can listen to you in distracting environments, be able to sit, down, stand, stay and/or wait.

    I would highly recommend that you find somewhere that *only* uses positive reinforcement training, sadly it seems many in the world of agility still think it is OK to use various compulsive methods.

  2. I would advise you also select a training group that allows the dogs to be calm enough to learn because then your dog will want to learn. If the dog is too excited/stressed then it can't learn, will start to misbehave and get told off which merely creates aversion to an activity that can be enjoyable. Do careful research before you sign up!