How do I get started in dog agility?

The best way to get started in agility is to contact a local agility club.  They will tell you about any classes they have on offer.  If they don't run their own classes they will usually be able to recommend someone who runs classes in the area.   Even if you don't want to compete it's really best to find someone who is running classes that include people who are competing.  They will have standard Kennel Club equipment that's built to last and to take several hundred dogs running over it in the course of a weekend.  They will also have the knowledge to pass on to beginners and they will be safety conscious.  At my classes most of us compete but there are people who have no interest in going to shows.  They just love the training.  There is also the added bonus that you make new friends and get right into the thick of things.

Cornwall Agility Club members working on the jumps

Cornwall Agility Club members working on the jumps

If you want to find a club the Kennel Club has a club finder page on their website.  You can put your location in and bring up the contact details for all the Kennel Club registered clubs in your county.  

Be a bit careful about joining classes that are advertised as fun classes.  Sadly I've seen some people rent a piece of land and buy cheap equipment that's downright dangerous.  They let anybody come along to have a go and have little or no idea of safety. 

Can any dog do agility?

Yes, any dog can do agility but not all dogs are able to compete.  Agility isn't restricted to any particular breed and at a show you'll find a great variety of breeds from small to large. 

Image of a small dog weaving

This lovely photo is from Photos of class and is
published under the Creative Commons licence
 

Agility has repeated impact exercise and sharp turns so any dog for which this isn't recommended would be better off doing something like hoopers.  Some of the heavier breeds may not be able to cope and may cause damage if they do agility on a long term basis.  Having said that there are videos on YouTube of just about any breed doing agility so it's up to you and your vet to make a judgement.  Not all dogs are typical of their breed.  Agility Bits has a useful dog breeds directory with lots of comments from people about the breeds they own and train for agility.

One other thing to think about is your dog's weight.  If you are inclined to overfeed and your dog is on the podgy side then work on getting the weight off before starting agility.  You can always do pre agility training or flatwork to help your dog get slim and this will stand you in good stead when you start agility properly. 

What age can my dog start doing agility?

If you have a puppy they can start the learning process straight away.  They need to be socialised with other puppies and you can do this at puppy classes.  Our vet runs puppy parties and the little ones can go along as soon as they've had their first vaccinations.  

Jilly at her puppy class

Jilly loved her puppy classes at the vet's surgery and she learned to go through a tunnel

At around 14 weeks they're ready to go on to the next stage of learning and a good local puppy class will be a great help.  Here they can learn some basic obedience.  At around 6 or 7 months they can do a little foundation for agility.  Some trainers run special foundation courses for baby dogs where they learn to balance on wobble boards and walk on different surfaces etc.  Don't be tempted to jump puppies at this age or use jump wings for wing wraps.  If you're doing a foundation class the trainer will advise when to start jumping.  People usually start their young dogs at around 12 months but larger breeds such as retrievers may need to be older than this before doing any impact work and sharp turns. 

Jilly training at an indoor riding school

At 14 months Jilly is going over medium height jumps and is learning her contacts. 
She still isn't allowed to go over the see-saw and let it bang down.

Weaving is usually taught at around 15 months.  It's very hard on the spine and young dogs should never be asked to do repeated weaving.  Contacts can be taught from about 12 months but I wouldn't run a dog at an A frame until it's a bit older.  Also I wouldn't let a see-saw bang down until the dog has learned to balance on a moving surface and has got used to the sound of the see-saw hitting the ground.  The Kennel Club allows dogs of 18 months to compete but many dogs are not ready for the show ring at this age.  It's really hard to tell when your dog is ready.  They need to be happy and confident jumping the height they are expected to jump in the ring and they need to be fully fit.  If your dog is running under jumps it may not be comfortable jumping full height and may need to develop and mature a bit more.   

Is my dog too old to start agility?

No.  Your dog can start agility at any age providing it is fit enough to do so.  If you have an older dog then you will need to do some strengthening exercises and not do too much impact at first.  Both you and your dog will need to build up your fitness.  Agility is a very demanding sport with repeated impact exercise for the dog plus some strenuous weaving.  Older dogs will not be flexible enough at first to weave properly and you will need to work on their flexibility and core strength.  If your dog is elderly it might still enjoy the learning process of agility.  It wouldn't be fair to ask an elderly dog to start weaving or running over contact equipment but they can still do the tunnels and some very low jumps.  If low jumps are too much they might enjoy doing some hoopers.  I tend to listen to a dog's breathing as you can hear straight away if a dog is putting in too much effort.  Always keep within your dog's comfort zone and never try to jump them over full height jumps until they're fully fit and flexible and can take the jumps easily.  Running under jumps is often a sign that a dog isn't comfortable and also stuttering or hesitating before jumps is a sign that all is not well.

Sasha going well at the age of ten

This is Sasha at the age of ten.  She's still running well and she won another
competition before retiring later that year

Am I too old to start agility?

Don't be silly.  Put your walking stick somewhere safe and get some good shoes for running.  Get yourself fitter with some walking and some weight training.  If you're physically disabled then you need to work out your options.  Some people compete from a wheelchair or a mobility scooter and others learn to control their dogs from a distance so that they only need to walk rather than run.  There is a lady called Tuulia Liuhto who specialises in walking agility and you can find her videos on YouTube.  Tuulia walks quite fast but you won't see her run.

You might also like to watch this video from Lucy Watts MBE

First agility lesson for a wheelchair handler

This Lucy's first agility lesson with her assistance dog Molly

I really don't want to compete, are you sure I shouldn't just do fun classes?

See the first answer about starting agility and fun classes.  Most good trainers will welcome you into their classes even if you insist that you don't want to compete.  They know that just about everyone who starts agility doesn't want to compete.  Some people never go to a show.  They love the training for its own sake and they have no interest in the show ring.  Others get persuaded to try a little competition at a fun day and in two shakes of a lamb's tail they're hooked and want to go to every show in the country.  I would say the majority of agility classes are fun classes because agility is fun.  It has to be fun for the dogs or they'll give up.  It has to be fun for the humans as well or they'll give up.

Clubs are great fun to belong to.  I know ours is but then I'm treasurer so I might be a bit biased.  Here we are having a bit of fun.

Cartoon of the dogs' sack race

Errm, I think the hoooomans are supposed to go in the sacks.

Me cheating in the sack race.

Cheating?  Me?  I had a two legged sack.

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