WHAT IS AGILITY TRAINING?
Agility training is different from the normal obedience training; the dog has to learn to negotiate various equipment such as jumps, tunnels and see-saws. However, the dog does also has to be 'steered' around the obstacle course by the handler - in the right order - preferably without incurring any faults (such as missing an obstacle or bringing down any of the jumping poles).
Agility work requires a combination of of basic obediance training and agility techniques.
I train Jack and Pip is by using Positive Training Techniques. It is a lot more satisfying and fun to give your dog a reward (a pat, a treat or a brief play with a favourite toy) for doing something you have asked them to do, rather than using punishment or force. Punishment is, in my opinion, totally counter productive; agility is about having fun and working together as a team. Postitvie trainin methods is not only more enjoyable and will improve the relationship between dog and handler; it will increase trust and result in a more enthusiastic dog (and owner!).
Be aware of applying negative training methods; punishing a dog during training can result in mistrust and fear. It will not help the porgression of the training and can lead to more serious behavioural problems. Using force or punishment will kill the enthusiasm and the dog will come to associate agility training (or any other training) with getting reprimanded.
POTENTIAL BENEFITS OF AGILITY WORK
The benefits include:
- Having great fun together
- Building trust and mutual respect
- Can help to keep both you and your dog mentally and physically active
- Anecdotal evidence suggest that keeping your dog stimulated both mentally and physically keeps the dog younger and more alert than his years may suggest.
- Agility dogs have been found to live longer
- Undertaking agility training together will improve your communication with and understanding of your dog. He will learn to understand words and body language - and also what you expect from him.
- Dogs love spending time with their owner or handler; and you will, through agility training, spend more time together and having fun - both in training sessions and in every day life.
- Some dogs and their handlers go on to enjoy competions, for fun or with more serious intent; this will open up new experiences for both of you. Others just enjoy the companionship that you will develop and do not want to spend the time and effort competing will entail. You do what is right for you and your dog.
- Remember - it is never too late to teach an old dog new tricks - and that applies to the handler as well!!
TRAINING BEFORE STARTING AGILITY WORK
We have dogs in our lives because we enjoy their company. We want the best for them - to be fit, healthy and most of all - safe! Agility training can help with all of this but the dog must have some fundamental understanding of basic commands before you can really get going with agility training.
In order to steer the dog around the agility course, the handler will have to use several commands. These are communicated verbally and by body language. Keeping the language simple and being consistent in the use of the commands will make it simpler to get started.
The dog must be under the Handler's control and should know commands such as Sit and/or Down, Come and Stay. Without this level of control it is very difficult to progress with the Agility Training.
It is also expected that a certain amount of home work is carried out - this does not require any special equipment
It is strongly recommended that the commands outlined below are used - and it is important to be consistent in their use. In agility work various types of commands are used: Control Commands, Directional Commands and Equipment Commands.
Control Commands include: Position: Down or Sit or Stand ; To stay /wait until released: Stay or Wait; To release the dog: 'OK 'or 'Off you go'; Recall: Come or Here or Come back; To slow the dog down: Stop or Slowly or Easy (the words used are my suggestions - it does not matter which words you use as long as they are distinct and the dog has been trained to recognise the word or expression)
Directional Commands include: Go; Left; Right; Out or Away; In or Close
Equipment Commands: The command 'GO' is used for There is normally no need for specific equipment commands. The one exception is for the Weave. That is because the dog has to know that it will have to slow down for the approaching weaves. For other equipment use 'Go' and body language.
WHEN CAN MY DOG START EQUIPMEMT TRAINING?
The dog should have some fundamental skills and then you need to assess the following:
Is my dog old enough?
This will depend on the size and build of your dog. Long term damage can be done to growing bones and muscle development if your dog starts training on agility equipment when too young. Guidance should be sough from your vet - but a general guide for skeletal maturity would be:
Small Dog (approx 13"/ 33cm to the shoulder): 8 to 12 months old
Medium Dog (approx 17" / 43cm to the shoulder): 14 to 16 months old
Large Dog (approx 20" /51cm to the shoulder): 18 to 24 months
However, foundation skills and introductory work can be started at an earlier age; even as early as 7 weeks. Equipment can also be used if supervised by an experienced instructor.
Is my dog fit enough?
You should ensure that your dog is not grossly overweith - if unsure please check with your vet first. Overweight dogs are often less motivated to take part and tend to tire more easily. If the dog is too heavy for equipment work then foundation work may be undertaken. Your vet can also advise on your dog's general fitness and health.
Is the breed suitable?
Most breeds and cross breeds can train agility. However, some short-nosed breeds such as Bull Dogs or heavy dogs may be unsuitable. Do consult your vet if you are unsure.
WHAT ABOUT THE HANDLER?
The age and fitness of handlers vary from the very young to the quite mature; from the super-fit to those of us who are not so fit. Agility work tends to lead to an increased level of fitness for the dog and the owner/handler.
To keep up with a very fast dog will require more fitness from the handler - but the way I approach agility training is to do quite a bit of work at a distance thereby reducing the need to run along-side the dog all the time.
If you at all unsure about your health or fitness please consult your GP.
If you have any further questions or want to book a training sesson please contact Tove on tove.knight&btconnect.com or on 01880 740 604
REWARD - POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT
- Reward the behaviour you want from your dog.
- Positive reinforcement is more likely to make a desired behaviour re-occur.
- A reward can be food ; a short play with a toy; a pat on the head or even a 'good girl' will bring good results from highly motivated dogs.
- If your dog gets it right - reward!
- Dogs do not always get it right when they are learning new skills - if something goes wrong don't scold - stay calm - and try again. If the dog still does not get it right is probably because she does not understand - take her back to the previous stage where she did get it right and then continue from there.
THINGS TO CONSIDER WHEN TEACHING YOUR DOG SOMETHING NEW
Make sure the situation is such that you are likely to succeed; don't train your dog when you are in a hurry or when you are tired, irritated or upset.
- Use a 'High Value' reward - soemthing the dog really likes; favourite toy or a food reward such as cheese, chicken, liver or sausage.
- Try out different rewards to establish what really motivates your dog.
- Be generous with your reward; don't expect your dog to work really hard for a very small reward. (well, we don't - do we?). The dog will soon learn that if she makes an effort you will make it worth her while.
- The rewards should be graded according to how well the dogs likes it - the most popular reward should be used for situations when the dog is being taught something difficult or new.
- Once they get the hang of it then you reduce the reward in volume and go down the 'scale' to a slightly less popular reward.
- You can reward the dog more quickly by throwing the reward - this will prevent the dog from always expecting to collect the reward (food or toy) from your hand.
- Throwing the toy or food can be used to encourage the dog to go forward and away from you.
- If you use food as a reward you should consider reducing the amount you give for the normal food by an equivalent amount.
- Always ensure that your communications are very clear.
- Try to avoid situations where there are significant disctractions present.
- Once the dog understandss what you are teaching it put a verbal command to the action.
- Clicker training can be used as it provides a consistent reseonse to a correct behaviour. The 'click' is followed by the reward. (There are several good books available on this training method - Mary Rae's book being one which I have found to be very good).