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Old 04-25-2012, 11:25 PM   #1
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Cool So, You Want To Learn Agility

If I had a dime for every time I have heard someone excitedly proclaim they wanted to run agility with their dog I would be rich. Now, if I had a dime for every one of those I have seen throw in the towel when the handler discovers what's REALLY involved, I really could retire.

Ok, joking aside, agility is a lot of fun but there's some things one should have an idea about before getting their heart set on running a dog in it. The following perspective is from a green runner, running awesome dogs (Ash is my first agility dog and Ion is my second one in training), and working fulltime in the dog care/training industry (heh, it would be me, my dogs are more advanced than I am ).



*As with any performance based thing in life it takes an investment of time, dedication, and loads of practice. Even those who have run dogs in the nationals frequently have others watch their practice runs and critique. It's amazing what you do not even realize you do! To start a dog out from ground zero all the way up to being able to string together a full novice course takes many months at the least (many wait until they can reliably practice run at Excellent level for comfort before entering the first competition). Often people think an 8 week course will prep them to competition level, once they find out there is more to it they get discouraged. Know that this training is ongoing.

*There is no single correct way to run. There are many many systems out there, and many instructors using tons of different combinations of methods. Find one that is flexible and helps the students find the best method for THEM rather than strictly adhering to one method. For example: if an instructor insists on always using Front Crosses and won't let a team handle using Rear's, this isn't good. Of course all skill sets should be practiced and attempted, but every dog and handler team is different and needs to find what works for them. Also look to see if the instructor competes with their own dogs, and if they are in the venue you are interested. Rules and regs change, instructors who compete will know the current vibe.

*Positive methods hold the best track records. Again, there are loads of different techniques out there... but agility is all about working a dog in the higher zone. Punishment based methods tend to shut dogs down, this can get in the way and cause stumbling training blocks. Look for a trainer who is using methods that help build up the dog's confidence level, and your own as you learn to handle. You want to inspire your dog to work with you.

*This is a LOT of coordination! I mean A LOT! Hands, shoulders, feet, eyes, vocal cues... everything can send a dog somewhere. Once you get beyond the first jump and start stringing things it rapidly gets complicated. Be ready for that, be ready to feel a little frustration as you become aware of your own body's motions and how they impact your dog. You have to reign this emotion in so you don't show it to your dog. When we screw up (and we do, often!), they aren't wrong and we don't want our own frustration killing their drive to learn.

*When you first start learning a new piece of equipment/move/whatever your dog is not wrong. This is the 'figure it out/problem solving stage'. And trust me, it continues into even training for the Excellent level handing. I have gotten a little singed lately by a new move I just learned and WOW was it a bear to figure out! Poor Ash just kept leaping over the jump as he 'thought' I wanted him to. He got rewarded for his efforts as I figured out what the heck to do with my tangled limbs!

*Be ready to look like a fool sometimes. You will make mistakes, you will get lost, you will sometimes have to do some crazy things to help your dog... bashfulness will not stick around long in this ring! So, be ready to laugh at yourself and learn. Some of the best lessons learned are done so by the hard way! Some of the best stories come from here too!

*Never EVER EVER forget that this is supposed to be fun! For both you and the dog. Getting out there and running with your dog is absolutely supposed to be the biggest thrill. Have fun in training, fun when you compete... fun always! If the fun is gone, you're doing it wrong.

Dogs that love to run agility are full of life an zest, the relationship they build with their owners deepens as they learn to run life in the fast lane. The investment to learn this sport is a costly one... but the payoff in the end is priceless!
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Old 04-25-2012, 11:38 PM   #2
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All true and well said!!!!

Here's my photo addition to the thread.

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Old 04-25-2012, 11:57 PM   #3
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Loved reading your post Draco. Makes even me want to try agility.

The majority of what you have to say would apply to any other dog sport too. There are no short cuts, and it takes time and dedication, even for those who don't aspire to be counted on the top dog and handler lists.

The good times, the memories and the friendships that come out of it are so worth it though!
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Old 04-26-2012, 09:50 AM   #4
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Draco, well said! Great post and very nice picture of Ash. That said, we haven't seen any videos lately... hint, hint.

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Old 04-26-2012, 10:00 AM   #5
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Great thread Draco.

I've been running Oscar in Agility for a while now - having started 'for fun' and not really worked as hard as I should on the technicalities and the foundation skills I have since started having proper lessons at a class with a trainer who competes on Team GB and it has been a real eye opener. So much of it now is being conscious of my body language and the subtle (really subtle!!) shifts in my position that can mean Oscar takes the right obstacle or goes off track. I'm really having to check my own posture and signals which has taken a while to learn. It has been hard work but I absolutely love it and watching Oscar's enjoyment (he becomes mildly hysterical with excitement when we get to the training field) is the best part.

Oscar was totally untrained when I rescued him and a bit lacking in focus but doing Agility has made an enormous difference in our working partnership and I could do it all day long with him - watching him learn, gain confidence and just have fun is wonderful.

We are just about to dip our toe into the competition world this summer, he's been registered to compete but just a few small shows to begin with. We're running consistently well at much higher levels of performance at training now so I think we're ready - it's very exciting!

I don't have any pictures of him running yet unfortunately but will hopefully have some soon! I'd highly recommend it to anyone, but it's not easy!
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Old 04-26-2012, 10:34 AM   #6
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Terrific thread, fascinating...I'm sure Sophie would do incredible agility...if I did every exercise in front of her first...that would be some video...and of course there could be no other dogs...
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Old 04-26-2012, 11:13 AM   #7
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Great thread! I wish everyone could post videos or pictures of their dogs doing agility. They always look so happy
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Old 04-26-2012, 11:20 AM   #8
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I really envy you people who have a proper Agility trainer. I did manage to get a few weeks of training with an instructor in 2010 but before and since, I have just been doing it on my own, with help from my computor.

Almost gave up on Kiska last year but she finally decided this year that it is fun after all. She still is not very fast and she is now old enough to go into Veterans which gives her and me more time so ended up with three Q's her first trial this year (Snooker, Jumpers and Gamblers). Remmy is getting closer to having all his advanced titles but it has been hard as the courses get harder and faster as you move up.

I read everything I can on Agility but it is not the same as an instructor telling you what you are doing wrong and what to do right. Still lots of fun for both me and the dogs so I am not giving up.

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Old 04-26-2012, 11:43 AM   #9
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I think you've done really well without a trainer! I really need the help with Oscar, I managed to get him onto the equipment without much formal guidance but he is quite 'enthusiastic' (AKA bonkers) and so fast that he gives me no time to think things through - he also doesn't work well at distance yet so I basically have to run the course with him (very good for my fitness!)

Having help from an experienced trainer has just enabled me to understand what i'm doing more than me just flapping my arms around and getting frustrated.

Oscar has been a challenging dog as my first agility dog; he manages to do 'something' that our trainer is perplexed by at most sessions (we often get "hmm...never had one do that before") - he has a talent for creative thinking - one of my current battles with him is that he is totally obsessed with the see-saw, he loves it and will head for it at any opportunity.

We've moved into an intermediate group now so we're running much more advanced courses at training than we will have when we compete at Grade 1 - which is giving me hope we might have more of a shot when we try!
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Old 04-26-2012, 10:31 PM   #10
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Applesmom you are 100% correct, this does relate to the broader aspect of performance rings overall.

Kyllo and Mel, it's great that you two have gotten out there and are having a great time regardless. Mel it sounds like you have found a better instructor than your first one, and with that things will come together firmer.

Overall, there is very little more humbling than performing at the mercy of a dog's will. even the best behaved can throw a curve in once and a while.
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