What is Dog Agility?
Dog agility is a cooperative sport where a handler directs their dog through a timed obstacle course correctly performing varied physical tasks. The course is usually between 15 and 20 obstacles long. The obstacles can be jumps, tunnels, a table that requires the dog to pause for 5 seconds, a teeter-totter that must be rode carefully to the ground, or contact obstacles that must be climbed and exited from with one paw touching within the contact zone 42″ or less from the ground.
I train and compete in AKC trials with my 8-pound Chihuahua mix, Roxy. When she was a puppy, it was clear that she needed an outlet for her energy and clever mind or we were in for trouble. She was fearless, bright, and exuberant. Daily walks were not going to be enough to keep her entertained. She was quick to boredom and equally quick to getting into trouble. When she was almost a year old, I started obedience training with her and continued on training in agility. We have been hooked ever since.
Great for Bonding
I love agility because I have time to be with and work with my dog. Our bond strengthens with every session. Our communicate is subtle. With a gesture, I can direct her to the next obstacle. With an eye roll, she can tell me she knows–stop micromanaging!
Whether we are competing or just in class, we have fun. And we are a team.
Great Exercise (For the Dog, Too)
Another significant reason I continue in agility training is for the physical activity for me. I don’t much like to exercise. I have signed up for exercise classes or gyms only to get bored and find excuses not to go. I find it hard to let Roxy down and skip out on classes. In addition to weekly classes where we do 4 runs a night, we spend time on the lunch hours performing shorter sequences and honing skills. To keep us fit, we go for a walk every morning. I wish it was a runner, but I just don’t like running. Roxy does, poor girl, stuck with me.
Keeps the Mind Sharp
Agility is mentally stimulating as I memorize new courses and strategize my technique as well as Roxy’s coordinating movements. The courses are never the same and each set can be run a variety of ways, depending on our physical abilities, our preferences and comfort, the layout of the course, the path we have run and the path ahead.
Classes or DIY?
It is not necessary to compete or even go to classes to enjoy agility. There are design plans on the Internet to build your own backyard course, books to learn the obstacles. Many people may just take classes for fun and not choose to compete. I enjoy the camaraderie of my classmates and the special attention of the instructor as I am challenged to work something out. I also find it helps to dedicate a specific time every week to working with my dog.
I have just returned to competition after hurting my back. I have missed it. It is the constant chance to improve my skills, recognizing new challenges, overcoming my nervousness and my dogs in a race against the clock. Even though I compete against other dogs in the same size class, I never feel anything but support from the other handlers. We cheer all the good runs, we cheer the great friendships we see as each team celebrates their bond on the course, running together and having fun.
If you are interested in trying agility for yourself, check out the AKC for information on agility or contact Connie Apling at K9 playhouse to attend classes in the Cedar Valley area. It takes time and dedication to make a great team, but it is remarkable to be a part of one.
This post was written by Jackie Nelson of Den Herder Veterinary Hospital. Jackie has been with DHVH since 2012. She and her boyfriend, Jamie, own 2 Chihuahuas, Roxy and Chase, and Claudia, a gorgeous Himalayan.