by Sandi Pensinger
Imagine running beside your dog, thrilled that she is reading your every step while jumping, scrambling and tearing through an agility course at top speed. She senses your every gesture; it is a language that you’ve developed through experience. It feels like a symphony. You are exhilarated by the activity. Even better, you know how far you have come together. She has gained confidence, and the incredible teamwork between a dog and handler is a feeling you never felt in PE class. It rocks!
Agility is a canine sport where you and your dog run a course with obstacles like jumps, tunnels, dog walks, teeter-totters and A-Frames. You can do agility at any level - just go out to have fun, enhance your relationship with your dog, compete for your personal best, win titles or compete against other handlers. Any way you slice it, you and your dog win!
Perhaps you’ve seen agility on TV or heard about it from your dog friends. You know your dog can jump high and run fast. You know your dog is really smart and needs an activity that will challenge both body and mind; something to look forward to where both of you ENGAGE!
So where do you start? Search on the Internet for agility classes in your area and match the instructor to your goals. Having fun with your dog; improving your fitness, handling, relationship, and communication; or even competing are rewarding goals for you and your best buddy. Check with your veterinarian and have a full physical evaluation done on your dog before starting any sports training program. Your dog should be at a healthy weight before placing her joints under the stress of jumping or working on contact equipment.
A good foundation class will instruct you on rewarding with toys to motivate your dog so she will happily drive through the course at speed and with focus. A basic class will also teach a good line up a the start line and bomb-proof stay skills so you can get a head start – which you will need with a fast dog. You will learn how your body language helps guide your dog around the course. Your dog will learn exquisite control of her body on a teeter-totter or a dog-walk so she can run “full-tilt boogie” to the end and stop on a dime.
The best classes have fitness as a part of the curriculum. A good instructor will teach dog body awareness, exercise, stretching, and balance and agility exercises on air cushions, wobble boards and exercise balls to beginning students. Teaching fitness is an important basic skill that needs to be in place before using agility equipment. Foundations classes work on basic handling, fitness and self-control, and students should not expect to be on competitive agility equipment until teamwork and handling skills are in place. It is tempting to skip steps and get on the equipment right away, but good foundation work will pay you handsomely with reliability down the road. Typically, agility classes run for on-going sequential six-week sessions, building skills with each level you progress through. Classmates often become good agility friends.
In competition, you will work your way through beginning, intermediate and advanced coursework. Jump heights will be adjusted for each dog’s height class from, four to twenty-four inches. With a perfect score, you can earn points toward an agility title. The dogs won’t care what color the ribbons are or if you even get any, as long as they are having a great time with you on the course!
Sandi Pensinger teaches dog agility, treibball, lure coursing, adult family dog classes and puppy preschool at Living with Dogs in Santa Cruz County. She enjoys competing with her Jack Russell Terriers as much as she enjoys helping her clients achieve their goals. Find out about agility classes at www.livingwithdogs.us.
Click here for a list of places to learn agility on the Central Coast.