Dog Agility Training Tips
With so many different obstacles, dog agility training can be very difficult to know where to start. These obstacles are super fun for both you and your dog, but require a certain level of training and safely to perform them correctly.
Before even attempting these dog agility obstacles, your dog should have already mastered the basic commands like “sit”, “lie down”, “come”, “stay” or “wait” etc.
In this article, we have compiled some great resources that will help you out in your journey to train your dog to do these dog agility obstacles.
How to Start
We’ve covered the most important aspect of just having fun as well as all of the many benefits – that goes for both you and your dog. But before we just jump in and start teaching you specific obstacle dog training, there are some other things that you need to know.
Evaluate Your Dog
Before you go ahead and buy a bunch of obstacles and set up with a pile of treats, consider if your dog has any injuries or illnesses that may affect agility training. Do they have structural impairments? I.e. do they move a bit sideways when running? Do they favour one side when standing still? Is one side stronger than the other? These are all things that aren’t injuries yet, but may be exacerbated by agility training. If you are serious about agility training, best have these things checked out first.
Also evaluate your dogs temperament and nature. Are they fast or slow? Lazy or excitable? Agile or clumsy? Can they keep running for days, or do they start huffing and puffing after just a few meters? Do they get along with other dogs or not? Just because you answered no doesn’t mean your dog can’t do dog agility – it just means you will have to alter training and competing to their level. Obviously if your dog doesn’t like other dogs, or display aggressive or frightened behaviour when around other dogs or people, this will have to be dealt with before you go to agility parks or dog agility competitions, as these are off leash.
Age is also a factor. Do not take your sub 18 month puppy on ANY full size obstacles. There are things you can train your puppy from as young as 8 weeks – read more about that here. This article is aimed at fully developed adult dogs, not pups.
Find The Most Effective Motivator
Dogs are motivated by different things. Some are guts and would do anything for their favorite dog treat. Others couldn’t care less about consumables and will only be motivated through play. Whatever the case, make sure you use whatever motivates your dog the most – this will make your job sooo much easier. The better the “treat”, the more likely it is that your dog will obey.
Okay, I’m in! What Next?
In the list below we have started with the easiest obstacles and work our way up. You can start from the beginning, or obviously jump straight to any obstacle that you’re particularly keen to teach your dog.
We have tried to order the following list of obstacles from easiest to hardest, but this can vary from dog to dog.
Jumps are probably one of the easiest obstacles to teach your dog and a really good place to start. When you first start out, make it a really easy height – elbow height on your dog should be fine. As your pooch becomes more confident with lower jumps, you can increase the height.
Once the height is set, have your treat (food or toy) ready and in-hand. Make your dog wait about 8-10ft away from the jump, head on (so this requires your dog to already know “stay” or “wait”), stand on the other side, about 2 “dog lengths” from the hurdle and instruct them to “jump” or “over”, and lure them over with their treat.
If they run around the obstacle instead of over, that’s fine, just maybe start your dog closer to the obstacle, with a lower height hurdle and stand closer to the hurdle yourself.
Once they have comfortably jumped the height on que about 5-6 times, and can do it without the need for a lure, you can raise the bar a little (so to speak). Bear in mind that when you get back to the jump in the following days of your dog first trying it out, you may have to lower the bar for the first couple of jumps.
This is a good intro video by Karen Van Hoy for the basics, which takes you through some simple steps if your dog has never jumped a hurdle before:
This video by Zac George (with help of Trevor Smith and Daisy) goes through some tips and tricks on weave poles (1:26), tunnel (2:40) and hurdle (4:50).
Double and Triple
Double and triple jumps are similar to hurdle, but with some bard offset to make a wide as well as a high jump. These can be setup to basically any level of difficulty. The trick with double and triple jump is the run-up and timing. Make sure your dog is getting enough of a run up, and as with any obstacle, start small.
Broad jump is a series of raised planks in succession – meaning your dog has to jump long, not high. As with the other jumps, ensure a long run up (about 8-10ft) and increase this as the jump grows. Start with just the one plank, then add one, then another…
The method of teaching your dog the tyre jump is similar to the other jumps. Here is a video by expertvillage that shows the basics of teaching your dog the tyre jump:
Remember, if your tyre is hanging from somewhere, or otherwise unstable, hold it while your dog jumps through.
The dog walk is a little more complicated, as it involves the “contact zones”, so if you want to do this obstacle properly (and not just for funsies) your dog should first learn to make contact with the yellow zones, and then await your instructions there. This video explains the basics of it (00:30):
This resource also has a good break down of the steps to success. Start on the ground, then low height dog walk, introduce the contact criteria and then go full scale.
For the first couple of times doing this, you can keep your dog on a leash – and do it slow.
Some dogs will be great at tunnels with almost no training at all, while others will need a lot of coaxing. If your dog is timid, then be patient with this one. Bold dogs usually picks this one up pretty quickly.
Here is another handy video by Karen Van Hoy, this time with basics on tunnel training.
There is also a section on tunnel training in the video by Zak George under Jumps: Hurdle that is worth checking out.
Some takeaways from these are:
- Squish the tunnel initially to create a shorter tunnel
- Do this with a friend, and go stand on the far end of the tunnel. Poke your head through and say “come”. You can also tempt with a treat.
- Once they have gone through the tunnel a few times, make sure you start using the command word (“Tunnel” or “Through”) so that your dog starts associating the command with the action
- Reward only once your dog is completely out of the tunnel
Once you have successfully taught your dog the Tunnel, you can move on to the collapsed tunnel. Start by holding the collapsed end up so that they can see you.
Once your dog has comfortably made it through a bunch of times successfully, you can start dropping the collapsed portion on your dogs head as they are almost through.
When they are completely comfortable with that, you can then get them to go through on their own.
This video demonstrates these steps quite well:
The best way to start a dog on an A Frame is by starting on a low setting. Teach them to get across the obstacle before you start the contact training – one thing at a time.
This video by Toni Drugmand explains the steps to getting your dog across the A Frame:
- Start the A Frame on a low angle
- Teach them to pause at the bottom with 2 paws on, 2 paws off
- Make sure they know to wait for your command before they leave the bottom position
Weave poles is one of the most difficult obstacles to teach your dog, but so long as you follow the right steps you should have great success!
In addition to Zak George’s video in the first section (under “Hurdle” above), this is an excellent video to demonstrate both how to set up, and the steps of introducing your dog to the weave poles.
Some takeaways from this video is:
- Use a rope to ensure your poles are in a straight line
- Displace the poles about 1ft apart to create a “tunnel” for the dog to walk through
- Slowly, successively move the poles closer to the middle until your dog can do them in a straight line
- Make sure your dog is doing them fast, and make them “slalom” between the poles in one stride rather than going wide around them
Finding Local Clubs
If you want to join a group and get into the community of dog agility training, finding a local club is a great way to do that. They also sometimes have agility coaches to help you get better at training your dog for agility.
Some good ones in North America are:
- United States Dog Agility Association
- North American Dog Agility Council
- American Kennel Club Agility
- Agility Association of Canada
If you’re located in the UK, check out this resource.
With all this in mind, it is most important to remember that this is to have fun and become closer with your dog.