Several years ago, I had an agility student come off the dog agility course he had just finished with his Labrador mix declare, “Wow, when this goes right, it feels soooooo good!”
He was grinning, his dog was grinning, bouncing happily at his side with his tug toy in his mouth. All of us in the room were grinning. We had been whooping and laughing, watching them have a blast working (playing!) together.
“Yup,” I said, “That’s why we keep doing this for years, and years, through several generations of dogs.”
Prior to trying dog agility, our communication with our dogs may have consisted of a few cues to make everyday life with our dogs easier. Many of us discover a deeper communication with our dogs when we come to dog agility. Dog agility’s communication is more than everyday good dog behaviors. Our dog is responding to our rapidly occurring physical and verbal cues in the presence of many distractions. There’s flow and joy, an anticipation of each other’s rhythms — a synergy between dog and human.
The experience is hard to describe. It’s … complicated. It’s a rush that can cause you to tear up when thinking about it afterward. There’s camaraderie with the other people with you. And pride bubbles up: pride in executing the course, pride in your dog, pride in your partnership. It’s heady and deeply reinforcing.
It takes time to come to that experience of dog agility, but there are plenty of reasons — and ways — to enjoy dog agility in the meantime.
Develop your training skills.
Agility training will take your skills beyond having trained a basic sit, come, or down. You will learn skills that will give you new ways to train and new ways to see what your dog is telling you about what he or she knows. Even if you don’t do dog agility for more than a few classes, you will learn techniques that you can use to train other behaviors you might want to teach to your dog.
Exercise your dog’s mind.
Busy and brash or wary and worried, a dog can have an enriched life through agility training, which adds novel dog activities to your dog’s toolbox. The busy dogs learn more self-control; the worried ones learn that they are capable of doing new things. Often, in an effort to make our dogs feel safe (that’s why we got them — to give them love and a comfortable home-right!?), we can inadvertently deny them the opportunity to use their smarts. Year after year, agility students with both types of dogs tell me their dogs have learned more self-control or have become more curious or bold with agility skills. Learning a new skill for a dog can be as soul pleasing to them as it is for us. Dog agility training engages your dog mentally as well as physically.
Exercise your mind.
We all know that learning new things is good for our brains. Dog agility is a system of communication, a “language.” We humans learn the language of dog agility, and then teach it to our dogs. A dog agility course is like a puzzle. We get to learn (and remember) where the course goes, discover the easiest (i.e., most fun) path for the dog, determine how best to show the dog the path through over the obstacles, and then execute the course with the dog using a great deal of mental focus while having a really good time. It’s very enjoyable problem solving.
Exercise your body.
Dog agility can be a great way to add steps to your day. Teaching your dog to execute equipment, while only a tiny part of dog agility, requires you as well as your dog to move. Taking a dog agility class is a way to get you moving that’s more fun than simply taking the stairs instead of the elevator. After you have learned the obstacles and the system of handling, more exercise comes by practicing the course (called “walking” the course) before you execute it with your dog. Also, in the those moments when you are not walking or executing the course, you are moving to help others in class change the height the jumps for each dog.
Make new friends.
There’s nothing like shared experience to bond people. What better way to connect with other people who take pleasure in their dogs by sharing an environment where people are playing with their dogs, laughing, problem solving, and cheering for each other’s successes? Many humans come to dog agility to develop their relationship with their dog and end up making relationships with their classmates, too. It could be by discussing their progress with each other, meeting outside of class to practice, or going on a hike with their dogs, but often, the classmates find that they have other shared interests besides their dogs. Whether you try dog agility for six weeks, six years, or way past your 60th birthday, dog agility can bring something valuable to both you and your dog. You may come to dog agility for any reason. For certain, if you try dog agility, you will learn something about yourself, your dog, and you and your dog that you didn’t know before.
Blancett Reynolds teaches dog agility and training at ACE Dog Sports in San Francisco and is a multifaceted career dog trainer. She started doing agility in 1993, joined ACE in 2002, and was certified by the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers in 2003. She has fostered and trained dogs for the Hearing Dog Program and Dogs for Diabetics and has been a volunteer puppy raising leader for Guide Dogs for the Blind.
Main article photo by: Photo by Ron Armstrong - CC