Agility: Are manners and obedience necessary?

Training Your Performance Dog

by Carolyn Fuhrer

YES, YES, YES! I can’t tell you how many times we receive a call from a frustrated pet owner who says, “My dog is out of control and has a lot of energy. I think agility would be good for him.” Wrong! In order for the dog and handler to enjoy doing agility, the dog and handler need to have a connection that they have established through basic pet training.

Dogs must understand how to work for what they want, pay attention to the handler and understand the basic commands of come, sit and wait, come along with me and know when they can go (a release).  If a dog has basic good pet manners (which all dogs should have whether they do agility or not) and understand how to get “paid” by their owners, then they are on their way to becoming excellent agility candidates. Dogs must understand how to work for what they want, pay attention to the handler and understand the basic commands of come, sit and wait, come along with me and know when they can go (a release).  If a dog has basic good pet manners (which all dogs should have whether they do agility or not) and understand how to get “paid” by their owners, then they are on their way to becoming excellent agility candidates.

Many people see agility as simply an outlet for energy when actually it is a fast-paced journey through many obstacles in which the dog is cued and instructed by the handler in how to negotiate the course.  It is a fast-paced teamwork sport that needs to done safely.

Sometimes in learning agility you may need to hold your dog by the collar for motivation, perhaps to steady him, or to define a position. Your dog should have no aversion to you taking his collar. You should be able to hold your dog by the collar without him being upset or frightened. Sometimes you might also need this for safety. This can be taught as a “touch” game with a clicker so that the dog will willingly “give” his collar to your out-stretched hand. Your dog should not be afraid of your space nor should he be attempting to control the space.

Any dog that will have the privilege of being free needs to understand and respond when his handler says “come”. Anything less than this is really unsafe. Perhaps “come” is one of the best things we can teach our dogs. Name recognition (which should be taught in puppy class) should bring your dog’s attention to you and the word “come” should physically bring the dog to you. These two skills name recognition and “come” — should be reinforced through– out your dog’s life. Someday they may even save his life.

Sitting and waiting to be released is a necessary skill to start the course so you can give your dog proper direction and help him safely negotiate the course. Running alongside you and taking direction without tripping you, biting you or running away to visit or jump the ring boundaries because of distraction is also a necessary skill. While it is nowhere near as precise as heeling in obedience, the agility dog needs to go with you and respond to your movement without interfering with you.

Taking the time to teach basic manners and basic obedience skills will give you a dog that is ready to explore and enjoy the challenges of agility. As an added bonus, you also get a well behaved pet to live with.

Carolyn Fuhrer has earned over 90 AKC titles with her Golden Retrievers, including 2 Champion Tracker titles. Carolyn is the owner of North Star Dog Training School in Somerville, Maine. She has been teaching people to understand their dogs for over 25 years. You can contact her with questions, suggestions and ideas for her column by e-mailing carolyn@dogsatnorthstar.com.

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