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Dog Agility: Fun, Exercise, and Sport for You and Your Dog
By Ali Johnson

In a race against the clock, the team dodges, jumps, weaves and turns. They must communicate in the space of milliseconds, and work together to win. At the finish, there is cheering, celebration, and cheddar cheese.

No, this is not an international soccer tournament sponsored by Kraft Foods, but dog agility, where everydog from Daschunds to Dobermans can win. Where winning can be televised to the nation or celebrated in your backyard. In agility, dogs and handlers work together to complete an obstacle course that consists of jumps, tunnels, weave poles, and contact obstacles including the teeter, A-frame, and dogwalk. The height that each dog must jump depends on the dog's height. Each dog/handler team competes with other teams in the same height division, and all teams work to accomplish the designated course correctly within the time limit. By completing the course correctly within the time limit, the team may earn credit toward a title. A course completed correctly under time is called a leg, and in most cases three legs earn a title.

Titles and ribbons are great milestones that encourage goal setting and motivate handlers to train their dogs, but agility training is beneficial to both the dog and handler even if you and your dog never compete. Agility can be a great outlet for energetic dogs and a wonderful confidence builder for shy or fearful dogs. Highly intelligent dogs benefit from having a job to do, and are less likely to be self-employed chasing cars, barking, or tearing up couch pillows. Agility can be a fantastic benefit to the handler too. By beginning agility training, handlers can meet other dog lovers and make lasting friendships. People that might otherwise be sedentary are suddenly motivated to get outside and get moving.

Exercise, friendships, and titles are all perks that can come from agility training, but the greatest reward is the relationship that is built between the dog and the handler. For the dog to run onto a teeter that will drop beneath them and sprint between jumps in the pouring rain or hot summer weather requires trust and enthusiasm from the dog. Trust and enthusiasm come from learning that the game of agility is rewarding: cheddar cheese or a game of Frisbee-it depends on the dog. Watch any dog/handler team run a course at a local competition, and you will see a snapshot of their relationship on display. Natural talent and drive clearly play a role, but relationship and clear communication are what makes a team truly great.

If you are interested in beginning agility training with your dog, the best place to start is by training them to do basic skills such as watch, sit, down, stay, and come. Being able to focus on the cues given by their handler while announcements are made over a loudspeaker and people are eating hot dogs just outside the ring requires an amazing amount of focus on the part of the agility dog. Using positive training techniques instills motivation to work that can be transferred to agility training.