Harness that Airedale energy with Agility!
So you have this beautiful bouncy Airedale, who is so eager to play and perform for you. How in the world are you going to keep this eager mind and body busy? Well……consider learning agility with your dog. Now wait! Don’t discount it because of your age, physique or busy schedule. This is something that persons of all ages and stages can have fun with AND keep that bouncy terrier busy and in shape.
Agility is a sport that is guaranteed to increase the bond you already have with your dog, keep his/her mind very busy and keep him/her in good physical condition. Dogs and people of all ages can do agility as the courses are designed to meet their individual heights as well as ages. Seniors(dogs) are afforded lower jump heights and slower times to enable them to compete. Not everyone who learns agility competes; you can build or buy the obstacles and just have fun in your back yard.
Dog agility made its appearance in 1978 at the Cruft’s Dog Show in order to entertain the audience between the obedience and conformation competitions. It started to catch on in the United States in the 1980’s with the National Committee for Dog Agility (NCDA) leading the way. Soon the United States Dog Agility Association (USDAA) became the leading force in the United States.
Agility courses consists of a set of standard obstacles, laid out by an agility judge, on a roughly 100 by 100-foot (30 by 30 m) area, with numbers indicating the order in which the dog must complete the obstacles. In competition, the handler must assess the course, decide on handling strategies, and direct the dog through the course, with precision and speed equally important. Many strategies exist to compensate for the inherent difference in human and dog speeds and the strengths and weaknesses of the various dogs and handlers.
The obstacles may include Contact obstacles such as the A Frame, Teeter-Totter, Dog Walk, Tunnels such as a collapsible or chute, Jumps such as the panel, broad, winged, and tire jump, Pause Table, and Weave Poles. Today there are many different agility associations and all have their own equipment specifications. Below is a list of the current organizations.
- AKC (PDF), under “Obstacle Specifications and Performance Requirements” (United States)
- ASCA (PDF), in Appendix A “Equipment Specifications” (United States)
- CPE, follow the “Rules” link (United States)
- FCI (PDF), under “Obstacle Specification” (International)
- NADAC (North America)
- TDAA (North America)
- USDAA (North America)
- The Kennel Club, partial specs (United Kingdom)
Many obstacles can be built in-expensively using PVC pipe from your local hardware store. Click on the organization you are interested in and they will have the exact dimensions of different obstacles. There are also many places to buy the equipment but it can get costly. Just Google “dog agility equipment” and you will find many vendors.
Teaching a dog the basic execution of most obstacles takes only a small amount of time and simple training techniques; most dogs can be readily convinced to run through a short, straight tunnel to chase a toy or to go to their owner, for example. However, to compete in agility trials and to develop speed and accuracy, both dog and handler must learn a wide range of techniques for doing the equipment, performing sequences of obstacles, and communicating on course while running full out.
The teeter-totter (or seesaw) and the weave poles are the most challenging obstacles to teach, the first because many dogs are wary of the board’s movement, and the second because it is not a behavior that they would do naturally over a series of 12 poles. However, teaching the contact zones on an obstacle can be a little more difficult as the dog must touch the colored portion at the end rather than jump.
Training techniques vary greatly. For example, techniques for training the weave poles include using offset poles that gradually move more in line with each other; using poles that tilt outward from the base and gradually become upright; using wires or gates around the poles forcing the dog into the desired path; putting a hand in the dog’s collar and guiding the dog through while leading with a toy or treat; teaching the dog to run full speed between 2 poles and gradually increasing the angle of approach and number of poles; and many other techniques.
Personally, we have used small pieces of bait and lots of positive encouragement with wonderful results. Start with the simple jumps and tunnels before attempting the more difficult obstacles. The pause table is also fairly easy to teach and the dog must sit and lay down on the table until you release him/her. The more positive you are the more positive your dog will be.
USDAA, CPE and NADAC and AKC are the most popular organizations in the United States. Go to their websites and learn more about this wonderful sport that you and your Airedale can benefit from in so many ways.