In January, it will be the one-year anniversary of when we began training Raleigh and Iggy in agility (Iggy was in Puppy Agility at the time). One of the biggest challenges we have faced is learning to understand how our dogs read our body cues, and how that affects the direction they move and how they approach obstacles. It wasn’t difficult at all to teach Iggy or Raleigh to do the obstacles themselves, such as: dog walks, tunnels, or jumps. Once they were exposed to these and became familiar with them, they began to feel more confident when encountering them on the course. Putting these obstacles together is when the challenge really began.
Neither Iggy nor Raleigh competes in agility at this time, although it is possible that they will get to that point in the future. Whether they do or not, agility has been an excellent outlet for our dogs’ abundant energy. If you have an energetic dog, I advise giving agility a try. However, I will admit that while it is excellent for high-energy dogs (Iggy loves agility and is excellent at working hard and devoting his focus to it for a full hour of training), agility can be more of a challenge if both dog and handler aren’t focused on maintaining their connection.
In agility, you need to maintain a connection with your dog to encourage them to remain attentive as they run the course; the dog and handler are partners in a dance, which will ultimately be unsuccessful if they both act independently. With Raleigh, we found that agility was a difficult activity for her to grasp; she perceived agility as time in which she was free to run around the course in no particular order, doing obstacles if she felt so inclined. Not only could we not find her drive to run the agility course, but we also couldn’t get her to focus on and follow her handler. After months of little progress, our frustration grew and we even thought about giving up on doing agility with Raleigh.
In recent months, the concept of agility seems to have clicked with Raleigh. It appears that she now understands that she is a member of a team, and should seek direction from us. Sometimes it takes persistent practice and repetition for everything to fall in place. Also, we had to learn and grow as handlers to better understand how our actions on the agility course were affecting our dogs’ behavior.
Both Raleigh and Iggy now come home from their hour of training tired and happy, and you know what they say – a tired dog is a good dog. Our experience starting out in Agility has taught us a valuable lesson: every dog learns in a different way. It tends to take Raleigh longer to grasp concepts than Iggy, but when she does learn the concept she is every bit as (if not more) reliable, accurate, and eager to please. Even when it isn’t easy, it is critical to have fun while training in agility and enjoy the time spent strengthening the bond with your dog. We sure have!
Check out the video above of Iggy practicing agility at St. Paul Dog Training Club!