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Fun agility is brilliant stimulation for dogs of all sizes, and it’s really not just for the Border Collies that are best known for it. It doesn’t need to be expensive either, as basic agility kits can be picked up very cheaply online, or – better still! – you can use household objects for fun agility in the garden. Here’s The Upward Dog’s ideas for getting started!
Homemade agility gear
Weave poles – use bamboo canes stuck into the ground in the garden or, if you’re working indoors, try shoeboxes stood on end (stick to a hard floor with Blu-Tak, if necessary!).
Jumps – a bamboo cane balanced across two low boxes works well to start with (make sure the cane can roll off, so that your dog doesn’t hurt himself)
Tunnel – a difficult one to construct yourself, as most dogs struggle with this at first and so a fixed, open tunnel is the best option. Once your dog is confident at going into small, dark spaces, you can create a collapsed tunnel by laying a sheet on the ground, and lifting one end for him to enter.
What you need…
A willing dog
Plenty of small treats
A basic agility set, or homemade equivalent
A clicker or marker word
And we’re off!
Work on teaching one piece of equipment at a time, and use a clicker / marker word and treats to make sure your dog understands what his new agility cues mean.
Begin with just three or four poles for the dog to weave through, and lure him between them. Don’t worry if your dog misses some out at first – take the lure more slowly. Once you can lure it with a treat, you’ll progress to luring with an empty hand, then adding a verbal cue, and dropping the lure altogether, except perhaps a small wrist flick.
Keep jumps very low, and don’t do any jumping at all with puppies who are still growing, since the force can damage their bones.
Encourage your dog over the jump with a hand gesture at first – many dogs will understand what you’re asking for, if you’re walking beside them as they step over the jump. If this doesn’t work for your dog, lure him with a treat. Make sure that you click / say your marker word as he’s jumping over the bar. Once he understands what he’s doing, add a cue word – this same word can be used for a jump of any height.
Entering tunnels is SCARY – it’s dark and the weird-smelling plastic makes a funny, crinkly noise. It’s a strange thing to ask your dog to do, so he’ll need plenty of encouragement to go through. Try asking a helper to hold your dog at one end, while you go to the other, calling him while holding a treat. He should run towards you, if you keep trying this approach, leaning inside the tunnel, as necessary. Click him as he’s coming through the tunnel, with the treat ready for the end.
Try not to throw the treat into the middle of the tunnel, as if the dog gets it into his head that he gets a treat in the middle, stopping in the middle of the tunnel will become habitual for him. Fine for fun agility, not great if he’s set to be the next Crufts agility champion, where time is everything!
- Increase the number of weave poles and jumps, making up a full course in your garden.
- Join an agility club – check that their ethos is on positive and force-free training, and watch a lesson in progress before signing up.
- Invest in more pieces of home agility equipment, so that you and your dog can make your own fun on your own turf.