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Speed, precision and teamwork come together during the Dog Agility event at the Purina® Pro Plan® Incredible Dog Challenge® where dogs and their owners race through a dog agility course as fast as they can.

If you’re an owner looking for an outlet to direct your dog’s energies, Dog agility training might be for you. Dog agility is one of the more popular sports in the world of canine athletics. Many owners are drawn to it because it demands physical fitness, mental focus and teamwork from dog and owner alike.  

 

THE BASICS

In the Dog Agility event at the Incredible Dog Challenge, dogs must race through a dog agility course that contains a series of obstacles, including weave poles, hoops, tunnels, jumps, an A-frame, an elevated dog walk and a teeter-totter. The dog who completes the course in the fastest time through the course wins! 

OFFICIAL RULES

 

WELL-SUITED BREEDS

On the agility course, you typically see lots of herding breeds like Australian Shepherds and Border Collies, as well as sporting breeds with slighter builds like Flat Coated Retrievers and Vizslas. But there are no hard and fast rules – even a French Bulldog can deliver a fast agility time. 

Just know there’s innate athletic ability inside every dog. And if your relationship is strong, there’s also a desire to please. Both are important ingredients in this sport.  

 

WHAT YOU NEED

The agility training equipment for the sport are:

  • A dog in good condition and with good balance
  • Weave poles
  • Jumps
  • Hoops
  • Tunnels
  • A-frame
  • Teeter-totter
  • Elevated beam
  • A clean outdoor area with even ground and no obstacles
  • Treats or a toy for motivation

 

HOW TO TRAIN

Dog agility training is easy to try at home, with the addition of a little equipment. You can buy agility equipment online or build your own at home to get started. As with any activity with your dog, make sure you have a safe, contained area, and start slowly so your dog doesn’t get overwhelmed.

Dog agility jumps are one of the easiest ways to start training. Kneeling next to the jump with a treat in your hand, tell your dog to sit and stay. Release your dog and lead him over the jump in an arcing motion with the treat. When he’s on the other side, reward him with the treat and praise. Gradually increase the height of the jump until it’s at the regulation height for your dog’s size. (Find the right jump height for your dog in the official rules.)

Learn more about basic jumps.

or move on to the running jump.

Another way to get started training is with a dog agility tunnel. Start with a short, straight tunnel to get your dog use to the equipment. Enlist a friend to hold your dog at one end of the tunnel, kneel on the other end, make eye contact with your dog, and then call him through. When he successfully runs through the tunnel, reward him with a treat or praise. As your dog gets comfortable with the tunnel, you can increase the length and add curve to the shape to increase the difficulty. See how to get started.

 

TIPS FROM COMPETITION VETERANS

After seeing a broadcast of dog agility on TV in 2000, Jo Ann Eichorn caught the bug. She recognized the sport’s potential for keeping both dog and owner fit.  She’s competed exclusively with Shetland Sheep Dogs.  

When she got started, she made her own rudimentary obstacles. She encourages people new to the sport to work initially with an experienced trainer or agility club or organization to avoid potential setbacks early in the learning process. But most importantly, enjoy yourselves.  

“Likewise, be it a cliché by now or not, never ever forget only the human spells ‘fun’ the same as ‘win.’ Dogs don't spell, so ‘fun’ is always just ‘fun.’ So just be a dog every chance you get.”

Kim Terrill’s got into the sport with her Border Collie, Force, because “he needed an activity to keep him busy and keeps both of us in condition. I love the bond it builds between me and my dog. He gets so excited knowing he is going out to the field.”

The pair now competes at the highest level in both Large Dog Agility and 30 Weave Up & Back (see below). She echoes Eichorn in the importance of tapping the knowledge of more experienced competitors to make sure your dog is taught how to use the equipment correctly and how to be safe with it.  

“You want to build the dog’s confidence and never force your dog on a piece of equipment. Bring lots of praise, treats and toys with you.” 

 

RELATED SPORT 

While sharing some common elements with Dog Agility, 30 Weave Up & Back focuses on the agility weave poles as the primary obstacle. Dogs compete head-to-head, winding their way through 30 weave poles, navigating through a curved tunnel, then working their way back through the weave poles to the finish line. 

WHAT’S NEXT?

  • Find a club: There are clubs and dog gyms all over the country with facilities and knowledgeable staff. Just do a quick search online to locate one nearest you. 
  • Network: Another great place to begin is by networking through your local breed-affiliated club. 
  • Go to the park: If you prefer to try a few things on your own, many well-appointed dog parks feature agility-type structures and obstacles.
  • DIY: Make your own dog agility course in your own backyard.  

Dog Agility is full of variety and challenge for all kinds of dogs, big or small. From practicing a few basic jumps to running the full course at high speed, agility offers a way to have fun with your dog at almost any level.

Before getting started, remember that you should always consult your veterinarian to ensure your dog is fit for exercise. And make sure to fuel your incredible dog with advanced nutrition that will help them be their best. Find your dog’s formula.