Old Trainer

Agility training for your dogs - it’s not just for TV contests

DEAR OLD TRAINER: I saw agility dogs on TV and I think Junior, my 3-year old mixed breed is a natural. He’s always bouncing around and climbing on things. My concern is the cost and how long it takes. How much is the equipment and cost of a trainer? How do you know if a dog has what it takes? Do you train your dogs for agility contests?

Darrell, Cheyenne, Wyo.

A: Agility, yes. Contests, no. Two of my dogs, Luke and Joker, love agility training and we practice every day on our walk. I laugh more during the agility play than I do any other time of the day.

The contests on TV are great, but they’re not for me and the pack. I don’t have the time or the patience to stand around all day waiting my turn and my dogs have no interest in trophies or applause. All they care about is having fun.

The equipment is free if you do it my way. I use picnic tables, benches, slides, trash cans, the merry go round, things you find at every public park in the country. All you have to do is figure out what course to have Junior run.

You don’t have to do it like a TV contest. There’s no right or wrong way as long as you and Junior have a good time. I make up the rules, then change them every day to keep the dogs alert. Sometimes Luke and Joker change them to keep me alert.

Today the course was a figure-8 at a bench, (around one end, under, around the other end, under again), up on a picnic table and down the other side, on to a set of three tables end to end, jump from one to the next to the next then off, another figure-8, circle the trash can, under the barbecue, circle the light pole, paws up on the big tree, then do it all again the opposite way. If no kids are around, we go over and use the slide and the tunnel in the kiddie section.

There are no rules and no limits except your imagination

All dogs “have what it takes” if they show interest. Junior’s a good example — a dog lets you know if he’s got agility talent. The rest of my pack snickers at the idea of agility training and spends the day chasing squirrels and playing, but Nick, a friend’s year-old mixed breed, suddenly joined in the other day and ran the same course as Luke and Joker. He watched them and liked it so much he taught himself.

Forget paying a trainer, do it yourself. Teaching agility is the same as teaching basic commands. It requires three things — patience, love, and that you be smart enough to convey to the dog what you want him to do.

Choosing the proper words and hand signals is vital. Agility dogs move fast and make decisions in an instant and you have to think as fast as they run. Point the wrong way or bungle the command and your dog is doing the next trick while you’re still on the last one.

Show Junior what you want him to do, practice every day, and in a week or so he’ll be running the course at warp speed.

And you’ll be laughing the whole time.

A trainer for more than 30 years, Jack Haskins has rescued, trained and placed more than 2,500 dogs. Send questions to theoldtrainer@gmail.com.