- Getting your dog to jump, tunnel, burrow, and weave
- Jumping through hoops and walking the beam
- Stopping and holding in key positions
- Teaching your dog left from right
If the sport of agility intrigues you but you’re not quite ready to make the leap, look around for some props and try these nine simplified moves at home. If they leave your heart racing with excitement and your dog enjoys them too, consider getting more involved. If nothing else, you’ll discover more ways to have fun with your dog — games that you can play wherever your life leads you!
I’ve listed these moves so that the easiest (and simplest to arrange) come first, but you can try whichever ones you want in whatever order you want.
Jumping Over a Single Barrier
You’ll discover lots of jumps when you’re out and about: fallen trees, a chain-blocked roadway, and crossing blocks are just a few of the barriers you and your dog can jump over. You can create your own simple single-bar jump, too. All you need are two identical household objects, such as paper towel rolls or cereal boxes, and a broom. Then proceed as follows:
1. Prop the broom on items of equal height, no higher than your dog’s elbow.
2. Let your dog sniff the setup, then walk back 10–15 feet.
3. Pick a command to say, like “Over,” as you point to the jump and trot forward at your dog’s natural pace.
4. Praise your dog for taking the jump!
Is your dog reliable off-leash? If not, keep her on a leash unless you’re in a safe enclosure! You can gradually diminish the leash escort by using a progressively longer leash and letting your dog run ahead of you to take the jump.
Practicing Spread Jumps
A spread jump consists of two or three horizontal, parallel bars (either of the same height or ascending in height) that the dog must clear in one leap. You can find many opportunities to encourage your dog to leap up and over obstructions during your daily outings. From fallen tree branches or a stream to grates, puddles, or construction zones — each gives you the perfect opportunity to practice this skill.
At home, you can closely arrange three single bars or obstacles, slightly lower than your single-bar jump, and teach your dog to leap across them. Give her plenty of runway: Like an airplane, she needs space to get her momentum going pre-jump and to slow down afterward. For low jumps, pile some books or arrange flat boxes in a heap so that the obstacle is wider than your dog, but no more than 1 to 3 inches off the ground (depending on your dog’s size).
Flying through the Hoop
One of the more challenging jumps in agility is known as the tire, whereby a dog jumps through a large hoop. While finding a tire may be difficult, a hula hoop or any other large hoop will do. Proceed as follows:
1. Place your single-bar jump in a door threshold.
Position it low — ankle-high for big dogs, on the ground for tiny dogs.
2. Run your dog over it and back, saying “Over” as you clear the obstacle.
3. Now position the hoop behind the jump, placing the low end of the hoop just under the single bar. Let your dog sniff it.
Ask a friend to hold the hoop, or hold it yourself if your dog will take the jump on her own.
4. Say “Hoop–Over” as you encourage your dog to jump through the hoop.
If she’s reluctant, you can toss a toy or some favorite treats through the hoop first.
5. As your dog gets comfortable with this setup, raise both the bar and the hoop higher.
6. Now you’re ready to remove the bar!
When you do, lower the height of the hoop to increase your dog’s success rate.
Running through Tunnels
For many dogs, running through the tunnel is the most exciting obstacle on an agility course. To re-create the feeling, scope out some tag sales or kid shops and purchase a tunnel with an 18- to 24-inch diameter.
1. Once you’ve found a tunnel, you’ll need to secure both the opening and the exit with two weights to prevent shifting.
Gallon jugs filled with sand work great. Collect four and frame both ends one on each side. Tie a tether over the tunnel and secure it to the sand bags.
Don’t skip this step. Your dog may get seriously spooked if the tunnel starts to move while she’s in it!
2. If possible, crawl through the tunnel yourself or hold your dog while a kid demonstrates how it’s done.
3. To encourage your dog into the tunnel, ask a helper to either stand at the end of the tunnel or hold your dog at the entrance so you can be there to coach her forward.
4. Lure your dog through by waving favorite treats and toys.
5. Use a command like “Tunnel!” in an enthusiastic voice and praise your dog’s every attempt.
Coming to a Halt
The pause table is a big challenge for many agility dogs. The focus is a full-fledged stop! The dog must leap onto a table, assume a stationary pose, and hold it for five seconds. Once your dog has this move down, you can use it in real life — any time, any place. How handy is that? Just follow these steps:
3. When your dog pops into position without hesitation, designate a pause place — a low platform with a nonslip surface, a specific mat, or a certain area of the sidewalk or yard.
4. Point to the area, saying “Go,” and then say and signal a quick position — either “Sit” or “Down” — once she gets there.
5. Always release with a word like “Okay!”
Navigating the Low Beam
Agility has several raised obstacles that test your dog’s balance. Moving across an 8- to 12-foot-long beam, operating a teeter-totter solo, scaling an A-frame: All of these feats await if you choose to get involved.
For now, find an 8- to 12-foot-long, 12-inch-wide board and lay it flat. Let your dog sniff it to “see” it (dogs investigate things by smelling them). When you think your dog is ready, try the following:
1. Teach your dog to walk across the board by guiding her on-leash.
If she’s nervous, sprinkle some treats along it.
2. Once she’s comfortable, attach a command to the activity, such as “Cross.”
3. Reward and praise her after each dismount.
Always urge her to run off the end. If you let her fudge, she’ll become a ditcher — jumping off whenever the impulse strikes. If she does ditch, ignore her and lead her back to the start. Leash her and start over if bad habits start.
Weaving In and Out
The weave poles are the highlight of many agility competitions. A lot hinges on a dog’s ability to maneuver the poles properly. To simulate the fun, first teach your dog the leg weave trick found in Chapter Adding Drama with Clever Tricks
. Then proceed as follows:
1. Purchase or gather some poles or sticks.
Cut them down to 3 to 4 feet, then prod them into the ground so they’re secure. If you have trouble poking them into the ground, whittle one end of each pole down to a point.
2. Stick four to nine poles in the ground, 22 to 26 inches apart.
4. As your dog begins to get the idea, say “Weave” as you guide her through.
5. Pace yourself with your dog — always staying alongside her head, but watching the end pole so as not to distract her to prematurely run out.
Always run alongside her head — if you hang back or race ahead, your dog may break out of the poles to stay with you!
Mastering “Two On–Two Off”
Like the pause table, this move conditions your dog’s mindfulness. You can use it at home to encourage quick responses and increase your dog’s self-control.
1. Lead your dog onto a landing or raised surface, such as a fireplace hearth or low step.
2. Lure your dog’s front half off the step; then command “Wait.”
3. As your dog gets familiar with this pose, command “Two On!” as you lure her and praise her cooperation.
4. Now test her concentration by tossing toys in front of her as you direct her to “Stay.”
5. Release her with “Okay!”
Going Left (or Right)
Agility dogs seem to know their left from their right. When the handler shouts “Left,” the dog veers left; when the dog hears “Right,” she veers right — as if by wizardry. Miraculous? Well, yes, in a way. But your dog can learn these directional skills too if taught in the right way.
To teach your dog to go left, follow these steps:
1. Position her at your side on-leash and tell her to “Stay.”
2. Show your dog a toy or bag of treats, toss it to your left, and pause 2 to 5 seconds to stir her excitement.
3. Shout, “Left–Go!” and then signal her with your left arm as you release her collar.
4. Praise your dog when she runs to the left.
5. Repeat this sequence over and over; then try it during your day-to-day interactions.
When you’re running to the left, direct your dog with both your voice and arm signal.
6. Praise her when she gets it right!
To teach your dog to go right, wait until she understands the left cue. Then, introduce “Right” by repeating the previous steps, reversing them to the right.
Give your dog appropriate directional cues whenever possible: The more you communicate, the more your dog will look to you for direction!
by Sarah Hodgson
More from my site
- Teaching the A-Frame, Dog Walk, Teeter, and Weave Poles
- Training Your Chi for Canine Events, Tricks, and for Show
- Introducing Your Dog to Jumps, Tunnels, and Tables
- Competing in Agility: Ready, Set, Go!
- Considering Agility Training
- Socializing for Life
- Top Ten Sports Injuries for Dogs
- Best in Show: Showing Your Dog
- Ten (Okay, Eleven) Fun and Exciting Sporting Activities
- Taking Training to the Next Level