The Fun and Challenging World of Agility

To give some insight into the world of agility we asked our ambassador Nathalie about her experiences with the dog sport. Nathalie owns two dogs, an Australian Shepherd named Logi and an Australian Kelpie named Yara. At 5 years old, Logi is not just a pet but a pivotal force in Nathalie's journey into the world of dog training.

“He’s the “family clown” - always happy and with a lot of energy. This year he turned 5 years old and I’m very happy that he came into my life, he’s the reason I got so interested in dog training and he’s taught me so much.” – Nathalie

But while Logi loves to do agility he’s also a very independent individual and mostly wants to do training for fun and have his own way. But he did start Nathalies journey toward more agility training as she in 2022 got Yara with the goal of getting a full-time agility dog.

Nathalie with her two agility dogs

“I’m so happy that we trusted our breeder to choose Yara. She is absolutely fantastic – focused, energetic and fast learning, and I truly believe that she was born to do agility!” – Nathalie

Nathalie hadn’t been into agility when she was younger, but in her years with Logi she got to make so many new friends in different kinds og sports and ended up falling in love with agility in particular.

“I guess I just really liked the thrill of running agility and watch how happy the dogs were." – Nathalie

Training a dog to do agility

When asked about whether any dog can learn agility, Nathalie's response is unequivocal: it's not about breed, but about the individual dog's characteristics and the bond between dog and handler.

“It all depends of what type of individual you have rather than breed, and also what kind of trainer/handler YOU are and how well you work together. If the dog likes to work with you and really seem to love agility, the breed really doesn’t matter.” – Nathalie

While certain breeds like Border Collies, Australian Shepherds, Shetland Sheepdogs, and Poodles may possess inherent athleticism and a strong desire to please, Nathalie emphasizes that any dog with the right temperament and drive can excel in agility. Personally she went for a dog with a high drive, responsive and confident with an interest in both food and toys.

“Agility can be a very stressful environment, and it would be preferable that the dog to have a natural on and off switch, if not it’s a very important thing to work on.” – Nathalie

Yara jumping during an agility run

For Nathalie and her agile duo, Logi and Yara, training is not bound by rigid schedules but adapts flexibly to their needs and progress. Their agility regimen spans from one to four days a week, encompassing both training sessions and competitions. During training sessions, Nathalie crafts a meticulous balance between challenging her dogs and ensuring they don't become overwhelmed.

“I think it’s really important to challenge your dog just enough so they don’t get too frustrated, which is always something I need to be aware of when I work with Yara. If I notice that I’m pushing her too hard, I take a step back and do the exercise a little easier.” – Nathalie

She emphasizes the importance of focusing on one new skill at a time, providing a solid foundation for future learning. For Yara, Nathalie pays special attention to managing her frustration levels, employing exercises like nose targeting and "off switch" tasks to promote calmness and focus.

Building trust and overcoming obstacles

Agility requires a strong bond and communication between handler and dog. For Nathalie building trust is important so she started right from the beginning when she got Yara.

“I do a lot of shaping and positive reinforcement in my training with both Logi and Yara, to encourage initiative and boost their confidence.” – Nathalie

When training your dogs to do anything it’s important to make it a good time with lots of play and positive experiences. Nathalie thinks of herself and her dogs as a team and advices other dog owners to think of it the same way when training for agility to avoid frustration.

“I think many dog owners have too high expectations and demands for their dogs, which makes them frustrated and angry with the dog. I don’t think that’s fair. If my dog didn’t do it correctly, it either means that the dog lacks in experience or that I did something wrong in my agility handling.” – Nathalie

Navigating the transition from obedience training to agility posed a unique challenge for Nathalie and Yara, stemming from Yara's natural inclination to stick close by her owners side. While Yara's unwavering loyalty is a testament to their strong bond, agility demanded a newfound independence.

“This have been, and still is, a challenge for her because in agility she suddenly had to be very independent and be able to run ‘away’ from me.” – Nathalie

To address this hurdle, Nathalie implemented layering exercises with toys to avoid the reward to be with her. Through patient and progressive training, Nathalie gradually built Yara's endurance.

Yara and Nathalie training

“The endurance I’ve trained with both toys and treats in front of her with a release que. I started very easy and then increased the time for the reward step by step.” – Nathalie

Yara’s intelligence and eagerness to excel also posed its own set of challenges, requiring Nathalie to implement discrimination exercises to sharpen her attentiveness to cues amidst distractions. Yara is for example very obsessed with the tunnels and to avoid her focusing on them over Nathalies commands and cues discrimination is a great task to teach.

Nathalie and Yara’s milestones

With unwavering dedication, Nathalie honed her skills as a handler, mastering the intricacies of course navigation, positioning, and communication with Yara. For Nathalie, the pinnacle of their journey was the ability to confidently tackle a complete agility course in an official competition—a testament to their mutual trust and commitment.

Yet, their journey was not without its challenges. One particularly formidable hurdle was mastering the weave poles—an obstacle that initially posed difficulties for Yara. However, through persistent training and unwavering determination, Yara triumphed and now loves the weave poles.

“At first Yara struggled to find the weave enter from different ways and skipped the last pole, but now I feel as if she’s really got it and every competition she did the weaves with such confidence and drive. She absolutely LOVES the weaves, it’s definitely her favorite exercise to do when we’re training.” – Nathalie

Looking back on the many agility experiences, one moment stands out as particularly cherished for Nathalie: their first clear run in March. The pair ended up in 3rd place in that competition, but could have reach 1st if not for a minor mishap on Nathalie’a part.

“It was the most amazing feeling! We had such good flow, I did everything right with my hands and I worked so hard with my crosses as well. We felt like a team and that’s all that matters to me!” – Nathalie

Advice for Agility Beginners

Yara just ran through a tunnel in an agility run

If you have a dream of doing agility with your dog it’s better to start training as early as you can, because there are many basic skills you can teach your puppy right away such as:

• Walking on both sides of you

• Send them out to objects and back to you

• Self-control

• Toy and treat motivation

• Introduction to new surfaces  

If you wish to compete with your dog, then you have to get the basics down first. This will make a huge difference later in the dog’s agility career. Also make sure to choose the right instructor and a class focused on competition.  

“I didn’t know that there was a difference between the local agility classes and the ones that are specifically for those who want to compete. If you have some experienced friends in the agility world, ask for their advice on good classes.” – Nathalie

If you are starting out with a puppy like Yara was, then start with an agility puppy class, then continue to a junior class so your dog gets a good foundation and understanding from the start. You can always try different instructors and gain more experience and inspiration. There are even online courses as well.

“Many basics can be learned from just one obstacle, so if you have a garden you could just buy a few obstacles, weaves and tunnels and get started at home! You can also go visit agility events, that’s a great way to see how it all works and watch different handlers and breeds.“ – Nathalie

Going to competitions

If you want to go to competition make sure you and your dog are well prepared. If possible, attend a few unofficial competition for beginners to gain experience first. Small successes is just as important as the big ones.

If things don’t go as planned, that’s normal. Everyone begins somewhere and you and your dog will grow together. Nathalie advises that if you have the run recorded, you can look at the video with a friend and maybe spot why something went wrong and figure out what you can learn from it. Agility is fun and engaging for both owner and dog, but everyone has their own journey, so just make sure to enjoy it and have a good time together with your dog.

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