Remembering Sullivan’s First Agility Trial

We just celebrated Sullivan’s 9th birthday and it’s hard to believe that she came to us eight and a half years ago. Boy she has come a long way from a shy little dog to the sweet loving smart dog that she is today. I really believe that agility has helped her is so many ways. Now a days we go to trials all the time and do really well, but I found myself thinking back to that first trial. We had been going to class for probably close to a year and began to really be able to put several obstacles together, get a start line stay and were learning some of the more challenging obstacles like weave poles and the teeter. We felt we were ready to go to our first agility trial.

We sent in all of the required paper work and entered in several “runs”. The trial was about and hour and a half away in Zephyrhills, Fl and began at 7 am, so we decided to go the night before and get a hotel room. We got there early the next morning ready to go. The first thing was Sullivan had to be measured by the judge to make sure she was jumping in the right category. She didn’t like that at all!

As the time approached for our first run, I was getting so nervous! What was going to happen? Would Sullivan stay in the ring? Would she do the course? In Florida most of the trials are outdoors and that means the bathrooms are Port a Potties – Yuck – but I will admit I used that outdoor bathroom more times that day than I probably had in my whole life!

Finally it was our turn to go. All of the training went right out the window! No start line stay, went right past the first jump and then she starting looking all around at the spectators looking for her “dad”. Eventually she went right out of the ring and we were disqualified for that run. So much for thinking we really had it all together! Lesson learned – just because your dog can do it at home, doesn’t mean she will do it in a trial. Practice, Practice Practice!!!!

Thankfully on the next few runs we did much better, even placing on one of the events. We didn’t get any qualifiers that day, but only missed by a few seconds on a couple of runs. At any rate, we were hooked! Everyone was so nice and supportive and we loved watching the more experienced dogs.

That first trial was an ASCA or Australian Shepherd trial, today, we pretty much only trial in Canine Performance Events or CPE. It’s not quite as stringent as some of the other venues and dogs of all breeds and mixed breeds are welcome. We have made it from Level 1 to Level 5 in all of the events and are almost and getting our Championship Level. Only 2 more Standard qualifiers to go! We are so glad we started agility. Sullivan loves it and so do I!!! Continue reading »


Getting Started in Agility

Dog agility is fun for all ages and it’s easy to get started!  There are many different levels so that just about anyone can participate.  You can just have fun learning the different obstacles and build courses or you can go all the way to a world agility title.  You will decide along the way which is right for you and your dog.

Dog agility started in the UK in 1978 at the Crufts Dog Show and quickly caught on.  Today it is the fastest growing dog sport.  It is fun for handlers and dogs love it too.  Your dog will be begging to get on the agility equipment!

All types of dogs can perform agility, however some breeds are more suited to competitive agility.  In competition, the dogs are divided by height classifications and compete by height and level of agility.  If a dog is in a 20″ level, all of the jumps will be at that height.  Dogs are measured standing at the withers (shoulders).  Each agility organization has different rules that determine at what height your dog will jump in.

The best known dogs for agility are the border collies.  Other breeds that do well are Australian Shepherds, Shelties, Herding breeds and terriers.  This certainly doesn’t mean that other breeds can’t excel in agility, in fact many other breeds have won major titles, so if you have a different breed – Go For It!!!

Dogs typically need to be at least 15 or 18 months old before they are able to compete.  Obviously you would want to start training before this, but be careful and start with low jumps only since joints and bones are still developing.  As a precaution you should have your dog checked by your vet to make sure there is no hip dysplasia or any other reason your dog should not perform agility.

When you watch agility on television , the dogs are highly trained and can complete complex courses on command.  But all you really need to get started is for your dog to be able to obey basic commands such as sit, stay, lie down or down.. It is important for your  dog to focus on you and not be easily distracted by other people or other dogs.

As you begin with the basics you will need to teach your dog left and right, go out and go around.  A basic obidience class will help you.  Another aspect is to work on drive.  You want your dog to really want the treat or play with a toy.  The more food and toy motivated your dog is, the faster the dog will be on the course.

Start with rewarding your dog with a small treat for each obstacle or command performed.  If you dog makes a mistake, don’t make a big deal out of it.  Simply say uh-oh and make the correction.   Do not give the treat until performed.  Remember to start with easy tasks.  If you  dog is having trouble going over a jump, place the bar on the ground and reward just  for going over the bar.

Don’t forget: praise, praise, praise!  This will encourage your dog and give lots of confidence which is really important in agility.