By Dr. Tracy Dewhirst
There are plenty of ways to get your dog off the couch and on the move, but none are more entertaining than agility. Dogs learn to maneuver jumps, teeter-totters, tunnels, and poles, while owners work to master handling skills. Agility is so fun and rewarding that newcomers are flocking to classes and camps as the sport expands rapidly.
Agility might be the perfect sport for owner and dog. It engages the whole dog and person with its use of physical skills, speed, competitiveness, and mental accuracy. Working against the clock allows dogs to focus on the course and not on other animals. And because the handler is involved at every moment, owners are equally stimulated trying to pass their dogs through the course with as few errors as possible.
As people realize how accessible dog agility is and how addictive the challenges are for both dogs and humans, the sport has taken off. Ace Russell, owner of Agility Center of East Tennessee and inventor of Way to Weave, a weave pole manufacturer, attests to how compelling agility is for both handlers and canines. He came to the sport after showing dogs in conformation for years and was immediately hooked.
Russell helped sponsor the first agility trial in East Tennessee and, over the course of a few years, became an instructor. He now serves as the training director for the Tennessee Valley Kennel Club. “The nice aspect of agility is that it is relatively easy to get involved,” says Russell. “The commitment of time and money can vary based on the passion of the competitors.”
Just a class a week for a few months will initiate any dog to the sport, says Russell. Dog agility camps, which can be found across the country, offer another way to get started. These camps offer a great introduction to the sport for beginners and help teams improve dramatically over a short period of time, says Russell. Experts teach the multiday camps, designed for different levels of performance and with small focus sessions.
Most camps have few, if any, criteria for attending dogs. Some classes might require the dog to be a certain age, but all breeds can excel in agility. As you look for a camp, ask for recommendations from other dog agility competitors. Find a reputable expert, and make sure the camp uses safe, approved equipment. If your dog is younger than 18 months, avoid the higher jumps and weave poles. A camp should ask for proof that all dogs are current on vaccinations.
Some dog agility camps also offer activities such as flyball, nose work, and hiking, giving the dogs and owners a variety of fun options.
To get involved in the sport, start by researching one of the major agility organizations: the American Kennel Club, the United States Dog Agility Association, and The North American Dog Agility Council. Each organization has an informative website, and the USDAA has a helpful newsletter.
I recently set up a few obstacles for my dogs and put them through the paces. I quickly realized that agility was fun. Maybe a summer camp is in our future.
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