Dog agility – it’s not for every person… or every dog.
Pippa has been learning the basics of the sport for about a year now, and it’s been a really fun journey! Harper has also done some training on this in the past, and I have learned sooooooooooo much taking these two very different dogs through this journey. Lucky for you, I love sharing my experiences! All of these pictures are older ones, from when Pippa was just beginning, I promise you’ll see more of where she’s at now soon! (Sorry, I don’t have any from Harpers classes years ago 😦 )
For both dogs, it was EXTREMELY important that we were rock solid on basic training before we began our agility journey. Sit, stay, and come are absolutely vital to success. For Harper, we also did a lot of extra crate training and ignoring distractions. With Pippa, the focus was on paying attention to me, not the people and dogs around us. We spent a LOT of time working in dog parks to get the right level of obedience and focus that I knew we would need to succeed on the next steps.
Another big part of agility is having the right equipment. You don’t need a lot, but you do need to know your dog! A clicker is very helpful for most dogs. It’s even better if you’ve used a clicker during their basic training, so they know exactly what it means (remember – a click means they get a treat!) A small (and I mean small!) type of treat/treats that your dog loves is a must. You will be showering them with treats when they first start training, so you are going to need a lot. A tug-able or tossable toy if your dog isn’t very food motivated is also extremely helpful. Optional, but highly suggested items to have are a treat bag you can tuck into your pocket (treat crumbs are no joke) and a travel water bowl.
Next up is finding a good trainer. I did NOT enjoy working with Harper’s trainers, but they were the only ones nearby when she was learning. I still think that her early work with them is part of why she doesn’t enjoy the sport anywhere near as much as Pippa does. We did 6 8-week classes with the same 2 trainers and they didn’t know her name at the end, and told me that my dog – who will drop a steak for a frisbee – “just needed better quality treats”. Seriously. That dog ate better than I did half the time. Pippa’s trainers are the exact opposite. We started at a just for fun class where they still focused on what worked for your dog. Once I decided to progress with a more competitive training routine, we found someone who also firmly believes in tailoring the training to the dog and that there is no “One right way”. Because of this, Pippa and I don’t have to get stuck on things that don’t feel natural and can just do an alternative move to accomplish the goal in a way that makes sense to both of us. My very best advice is this: if you don’t like your trainer, find a different one. Both you and your dog will be much more successful and happy.
What happens if you have a great trainer, but your dog really isn’t having fun? Stop! Find another pass time that you and your dog can both enjoy. Maybe come back and give it another shot in a year or two! After being frustrated with Harper’s trainers, I decided to not keep her in training, and we focused on other things we enjoy doing together, like hiking. Now that Pippa is training, Harper can come practice with us, and we work when she feels like it, but if she just wants to run and smell things, that’s ok too. The most important part about any dog sport is that you and your dog are connecting and growing together – not that you are winning ribbons and papers. Trust me – the good memories are far more important than any awards when you are looking back after your friend has passed on.
What if you have the perfect trainer, and your dog is doing great? Then go for it! Keep training if that’s what you love! Compete if that’s fun for you! Just don’t forget that creating memories and connecting with your dog should be the biggest focus.