How Do I Introduce My Dog to Agility at Home?

Britt
by Britt
Photo credit: PRESSLAB / Shutterstock.com

Have you ever watched a dog on social media zoom through a tunnel or weave through poles with joy and happiness on their face? If so, you may be considering getting involved in dog agility.


This exciting sport is a great way to bond with your pup while providing both physical and mental stimulation. But where do you begin? Many dog parents who are considering getting involved in agility quickly become overwhelmed with the costs and commitment required to compete in this sport professionally.


In this article, I will guide you through everything you need to know to introduce your dog to agility in the comfort of your own home. From building simple obstacles to mastering basic commands, you can start exploring this sport with your best friend today.


Can All Dogs Do Agility?


If you have been watching dog agility events, you may have noticed that a few breeds often dominate the sport. Many of the top competitors are border collies, Australian shepherds, and golden retrievers.


However, if you watch long enough, you will notice that even the professional competitors are enjoyed by a wide variety of different dogs, including many breeds and sizes. Whether your dog is a purebred border collie or a mixed-breed rescue, they can take part in (and love) agility.


How Do You Know if Your Dog Will Be Good at Agility?


While any dog can participate in agility, a few key traits distinguish casual hobby athletes from the top dogs in professional agility competitions. For dog parents who want to use agility activities as a fun bonding experience at home, top performance may not matter.


However, if you are interested in getting into the sport professionally, you want to look for the following traits:

  • Active and high-energy
  • Good coordination
  • Highly trainable
  • Ability to concentrate despite distractions
  • Confident
  • Easily motivated
  • Good health

What Age Should a Dog Start Agility?


The ideal age to introduce a dog to agility for a successful lifelong career is around 12 to 18 months. At this age, your dog’s joints have grown and fused enough to engage in the activity without risking a severe and lasting injury.


However, if your dog is a little older, don’t count them out! Even into their senior years, they can enjoy many agility-related activities if they are healthy and fit. If you’re concerned about whether your dog can safely use any specific obstacle, speak with your veterinarian.


What Commands Are Used in Agility?


One of the many benefits of dog agility is the ability to put many otherwise “boring” obedience commands to work. This includes the following basics:

  • Sit
  • Down
  • Stay
  • Come
  • Heel


These basic control commands create a foundation for introducing more advanced movement and directions. You will also want to ensure that your dog has a solid recall and an understanding of how to behave off-leash in public.


In addition to these basics, you will introduce several directional commands to tell your dog how you expect them to engage with the obstacles. Some examples of directional commands include “come,” “go,” “back,” “left,” and “right.” Your dog will learn these commands as you introduce them to each obstacle.

Photo credit: Tanya Consaul Photography / Shutterstock.com

Agility Equipment You Can Make at Home


Are you ready to get started? Before you can train your dog to navigate an agility course, you will need to either find a local course you can use or set one up at home. If there is a local agility club, they may have a course you can rent out. However, the costs of renting a course will add up.


Instead, if space permits, you can set up your own personal course. The best part? With a little creativity and ingenuity, this can be done on a budget!


Laundry Basket Jumps


When first introducing your dog to a jump, you will need to keep the bar low. This can easily be accomplished with a couple of laundry baskets and a broom handle from your local dollar store. The open sides of a laundry basket will allow you to slide the broom handle through, securing it at your desired height just as you would with a purchased hurdle cone set.


PVC Jumps


Another option for building your own dog agility jumps is to use PVC piping. You will need to build a structure that includes both the bar to jump over and a solid base to keep it standing upright. For a hoop jump, consider suspending a hula hoop or a homemade ring inside. The ring can be made from drainage pipes or pool noodles to be large enough for your dog to fit through safely.


PVC Weave Poles


While cutting the PVC piping to create your jumps, you can also create a set of weave poles that can easily be set up in your home or the yard. Create a base with solid end supports. You can do this by adding perpendicular pipes on each end. Attach evenly spaced vertical poles that stand straight up and down along the base. To make the poles easier to see, add colored duct tape or electrical tape stripes near the top and bottom of each pole.


Tire Tunnel


Do you have access to old and unused tires? If so, they can be used to create a fun tunnel. To begin, gather enough tires to create the desired tunnel length and paint them in a color to match your agility course.


Dig a trench that is wide enough to hold one side of the tire, filling the dirt inside and around it to secure it in place. Place the second tire against the first, following the same steps. Continue this until all tires are in place with no space between them, creating one long tunnel.


Plastic Barrel Chute


For this obstacle, you will need a large plastic barrel big enough for your dog to run through it easily, a long length of durable fabric for the tunnel, wood for chocks, and pool noodles.


To begin, cut off the ends of the barrel, leaving you with a short plastic tunnel. Cut your fabric wide enough to wrap around the full circumference of the barrel and 6 to 12 feet in length. Sew the fabric into a tube, then attach it to the barrel using Velcro, crazy glue, or some other form of secure adhesive.


Cut a pool noodle down the entire length, securing it along the front of the tunnel as padding to protect your dog from the potentially sharp edge of the barrel. Secure your wooden blocks to the sides of the barrel to act as chocks, stopping the chute from rolling or moving out of place.


Budget-Friendly Agility Equipment


While the above options are a great way to keep costs down, you may not be comfortable making your own obstacles. Some items are more challenging to make than others. But don't worry; many great brands offer dog agility equipment on a budget. This ranges from a simple starter kit for beginners to more elaborate and professional equipment for those taking their home agility course to the next level.


The Glimin Dog Agility Hurdle Cone Set is a great way to start working on jumps. It includes 20 cones and 10 agility rods, which are easy to set up and convenient to store between uses.


When you’re ready to move on to new and more elaborate obstacles, you may be interested in picking up a backyard course set like the Mighty Equipped Portable Dog Agility Course Backyard Set. This set includes a tunnel, weave poles, a pause box, and two different types of jumps.


Finally, there are the obstacles that can be more challenging to DIY. Unless you are skilled with woodworking, I recommend purchasing the PawHut Wooden Dog Agility Seesaw and the Spiareal Agility A-Frame. By purchasing these items, you ensure that you have solid equipment to support your dog’s weight and prevent a potential injury from failing equipment.

Tips for Getting Started in Dog Agility at Home


Now that you have your backyard dog agility course set up, it’s time to start training your dog to use it. Start with the obstacle you believe will be easiest for them. Depending on their personality and skill set, this will vary from dog to dog. One dog may perform jumps naturally and with ease, while another hesitates to jump over anything but can follow directions to learn how to navigate weave poles confidently.


Here are a few other tips and tricks to help you get started on your agility journey:


  • Teach Basic Obedience First: Before introducing any obstacles or advanced techniques, ensure your dog confidently knows and obeys their basic obedience commands. You can start working on this long before making or purchasing agility equipment for your home course.
  • Avoid Distractions in the Beginning: As with any training, you should start working in a controlled environment with limited or no distractions. This allows them to focus on the task at hand until they are confident enough to complete it without needing to think it through.
  • Know what Motivates Them: Is your dog food-driven? Do they have a favorite treat that they will do anything to earn? Would they prefer a toy to a treat? Knowing what motivates your dog is crucial in introducing new tricks or commands. Once you have identified the right motivation, don’t hold back! You can phase treats and toys out of the equation later in the training process.
  • Start Simple: Avoid pushing your dog too far out of the gate. For example, if you are teaching them to clear a jump, start with the agility bar low enough that they can easily walk over it. As they gain confidence, slowly add height.
  • Follow Your Dog’s Timeline: Pay attention to your dog’s body language and how confident they are at each stage of your training. Don’t move on to the next phase of an obstacle until you can see they are comfortable at the current stage. Some dogs pick up on obstacles quickly, while others need more time and patience. That’s okay!

Final Thoughts: Introducing Your Dog to Agility at Home


If you’re interested in exploring the world of dog agility with your best friend, you don’t have to break the bank. With a bit of creativity and ingenuity, you can create your own agility equipment and introduce your dog to agility at home.


You can create tunnels, weave poles, and agility jumps out of items you have at home or can purchase on a budget.


Not only is agility an excellent bonding activity, but it’s also a great way to meet your dog’s physical and mental enrichment needs. Introduce the training commands, slowly add to your agility course as your dog’s skill level increases, and, most importantly, have fun!


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Britt
Britt

Britt Kascjak is a proud pet mom, sharing her heart (and her home) with her “pack” which includes her husband John, their 2 dogs – Indiana and Lucifer – and their 2 cats – Pippen and Jinx. She has been active in the animal rescue community for over 15 years, volunteering, fostering and advocating for organizations across Canada and the US. In her free time, she enjoys traveling around the country camping, hiking, and canoeing with her pets.

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