Did you sign up to your first beginner`s course in agility or planning to do so? Together with the Norwegian World Agility Open team we made a list of a few skills it can be clever to train beforehand. You and your dog can benefit even more of the course this way!
Rewarding is important in all type of dog training, but what is a good reward changes from dog to dog. Some love tug of war. Some others prefer to chase balls, get treats or get rubbed behind the ears instead.
Find out what your dog likes best and the order in the “rewarding hierarchy”. The most valuable rewards you should save for the situations where it is really needed. If your dog is satisfied with dryfood it is not necessary to give them sausage pieces on every training.
-Use yourself, your tone and gesticulation when you are rewarding. If you are rewarding with a toy, remember that playing also requires skills that have to be learned. For example your dog should be able to let go of it on command, says Karen M. Skjelbreid.
In agility it is an advantage if the dog likes to be rewarded with both food and toys, but if it prefers only one of them it is also fine.
-If playing or eating treats becomes another task, is it even rewarding?
An agility dog is exposed to many disturbing factors. Several dogs are training and competing close to each other at the same time, often without any physical barriers between the courses. There can be many spectators and noise around the ring, therefore it is wise to start with contact training as soon as possible.
-There are not many things that are more frustrating for the handler than to use a whole practice on trying to catch the dog or to stop it from peeing on the obstacles. Build a solid base of focus and recall beforehand. If you have problems, be honest with the instructor about them. Then they can set up the training to fit you better, by doing several shorter sessions for example, says Karen M. Skjelbreid.
On agility training or course only one team is being instructed at a time. Each practice lasts a few minutes before there is a break and the next team comes. You should teach your dog to rest well in these breaks, so it doesn`t use unnecessary energy when you are not training. Agility is both physically and mentally challenging, so if you would like to get the most out of the minutes spent on the course it is a good investment.
-To teach the dog to wait on the sideline or relax in a dog box while the others are training is gold worth. Some dogs get stressed and eager when they see other dogs running, but this is luckily something you can work with, says Rikke Masternes.
Find the distance from the course where the dog is not reacting to the others that are training. Reward it for being calm and not caring about the other dogs. We advise using treats for this.
-You can also reward with a toy, but we prefer using treats in these cases, because it often calms dogs down to eat something.
After a while you can gradually go closer. You should always keep some distance and give space for the ones that are training, but it is better for both you and your dog to be able to stand next to the ring without any stress.
Learn more about how to train a dog to overcome stress and disturbances in the podcast episode with Steve Walsh.
An agility dog should have good body control. It will not only help them to perform better on the course, but also help to avoid injuries.
-Strength, balance and body control can be trained with tricks, where the dog has to for example lift one and one paw, back up or go up on something, says Ina Himle.
You can learn more about specific exercises and physical training of agility dogs in the podcast episode with Eli Beate Sæther
Sit and stay
Sit and stay can be useful both in teaching the different obstacles and the starting position later.
-Nothing is more frustrating than a dog that follows you when you want to place yourself at the first obstacle, says Ina Himle.
Speed and progress
You will also get loads back from teaching your dog to run after a treat or reward.
-This can be a toy you throw on the ground in front of you and send the dog towards. Then the dog will run as fast as possible to get the toy. You can also let it hang from your hands while you are running away from your dog. If the dog cannot sit and stay yet, get someone to help you hold your dog. These exercises help you give the toy value while also training speed for the agility course, says Rikke Masternes.
Many that are attending an agility course for the first time have of course seen other teams on social media platforms. What looks as easy as a game for all others can be hard for a new team.
- In social media we often see well-trained dogs and their handlers, that had several dogs during their carriers. It can easily be forgotten that it is not their first try that you see on these videos! Also not the teaching phase or the first dog of the handler. Talk about this with your instructor and be honest about you ambitions and expectations on the agility course, says Karen. M. Skjellbreid.
Relax and have fun together!