Have you ever watched a dog and handler team run around an agility course, navigating all obstacles effortlessly with fast and fluent communication? It looks stunning and makes everyone want to join in and enjoy with their own dog. The good news is: Pretty much anyone can join!
Agility is a fun, fast-paced dog sport that will allow you and your dog become a true team.
At the same time, agility provides an excellent combination of physical exercise and mental challenge. Many smart and energetic dogs become destructive when they are bored, so agility is a perfect way to keep them busy. You will always come home with a happy and very tired dog after our lessons.
How do I get started in agility?
We offer group and private lessons on our agility field. For beginners, we always recommend a few private lessons to jump-start your training before joining a group class. This has several reasons:
When your dog first arrives at the agility field, everything will be new and very exciting. This does not just mean the agility obstacles, but also anything else around.
Your dog will smell the scent of the many other dogs that train there, wildlife such as bunnies that lives around the field and maybe crumbs from previous students’ cookies. He will be very excited about everything that is going on.
By having a few private lessons, we can eliminate the distraction of other dogs around that would be there in a group class. This will make it easier for your dog to focus on his work and soon he will love agility so much that having other dogs in a class won’t distract him from his favorite sport.
Of course you want to teach your dog all the obstacles, from weave poles over the dog walk to the A frame and tire jump. In a private lesson, we can give your dog one-on-one attention and teach him the basics very quickly and efficiently. This way, he already knows a bunch when he joins a group class and can hit the ground running.
Not every dog likes every cookie, and not every dog wants to be rewarded with a tennis ball. Sometimes dogs do not want treats that they usually like at home, or they suddenly do like a tug toy that they’re not interested in at other times.
Knowing how to reward your dog is crucial to successful learning.
In our initial private lessons we will figure out what rewards your dog likes the most. That way you can be certain that he really understands what it means when you reward him: That he has done perfectly and should do exactly the same behavior again next time.
What do I need to bring?
Collar or harness
We need to be able to hold your dog in between exercises or to move around between the obstacles. He should be wearing a well-fitting collar or harness for this. Absolutely no corrective collars are allowed. If your dog should accidentally get stuck on a piece of equipment with a prong or choke collar he could get seriously hurt.
If using a collar, make sure it is a flat, wide buckle collar.
While we do not use the leash to guide our dog over the obstacles (agility is always done off-leash), we might need it to move our dog in between exercises and from your car to the field. Use a regular 4ft or 6ft leash, no flexi leashes please.
Especially in the beginning stages dogs learn agility the fastest with treats. Treats allow you to reward with a very high frequency and therefore strengthen the correct behaviors quickly and efficiently. Bring the best treats you have: hotdogs, chicken, roast beef, string cheese etc. Tne better your rewards are, the faster your dog will learn.
If you enjoy baking, try out this SpiritDog Training treat recipe:
Toys can give your dog an extra boost of energy for agility. Bring any toys he likes at home, especially balls (maybe even squeaky balls?) and tug toys. In our lessons we will talk about how to best utilize toys in dog agility!
What prerequisites does my dog need?
Your dog does not really need any kind of specific prior training in order to do agility. Many aspects of basic obedience are not actually very important in agility, such as loose leash walking.
However – your dog should know his name, come when called, and have been in new places before.
Are there any dogs that cannot do agility?
Agility is a sport enjoyed by many. There are only a few exceptions for the following cases:
If your dog is reactive towards other dogs but fine with people, you can still do agility with him in private lessons. If your dog however is reactive towards people, unfortunately we cannot train agility with him until we address his reactivity in a separate session.
Agility is physically demanding, so if your dog is elderly it might not be the best activity for him. We have other classes to keep him busy though!
Young puppies should not engage in repetitive and strenuous exercise. This is why “regular” agility training is not suitable for them. However, we can still teach your puppy basics in a way that’s gentle on his joints and growing body. We won’t do jumps, weaves or contact equipment, but we can already teach your puppy how to run through a tunnel or turn around a cone. And when he is old enough, he will already have a head start!
How do I prepare my dog?
Come with a well-rested dog. Agility is mentally and physically challenging, so don’t arrive with a dog who is already tired from playing in the yard all day. Make sure that your dog has an appetite (don’t feed him a full meal right beforehand), but he should not have an empty stomach either.
Dogs can get hangry just like people – we want your dog full of energy and ready to learn.
It is always a good idea to arrive a little before the class and let your dog sniff and potty outside the agility ring. This way he has already explored some of the smells that might be distracting to him and won’t have potty accidents on the field either. We strongly discourage letting dogs mark on the equipment, so always make sure that your male dog’s bladder is empty.
Where are you located?
Our outdoor agility field is located in Edgewood, just 20min from Albuquerque. You can get there easily by taking I40. The temperature in Edgewood is always 5-10 degrees lower than in Albuquerque, which also allows us to train during the summer months.
Our field is 100ft x 70ft and features mulch footing, which is soft and gentle on your and your dog’s joints.
We have a large space next to the field where you can potty and walk your dog prior to training.
When you are Ready for a Group Class
After a few private lessons, your dog will be ready to join a group class! Here are a few pointers to keep classes running smoothly:
No on-leash meetings
Letting dogs greet each other on leash when they are pumped up to do agility can easily lead to snarling. Even dogs that are usually very friendly might be too excited for their class to calmly greet classmates’ dogs. To avoid any confrontation, please do not let dogs meet each other while on leash and in the agility ring. This also applies while waiting your turn.
Have poop bags ready
Even dogs who have pottied before class might get going again once they are running around and feel excited about being on the agility field. #2 accidents happen, but please be prepared to immediately pick them up. Poop bags shouldn’t be in the car, but always in your pocket.
Watch your dog
Make sure your dog is happy and comfortable at all times. In the summer he will enjoy being wet down in between turns, and in the winter he might need a coat to not cool down too much. We want his agility class to be the happiest time of the week. Offer your dog water frequently in between runs so he can stay hydrated while working hard.