1. So, you’ve seen dog agility on TV, or maybe even at a live local event and you’ve wondered just what does it take to do this? Well, obviously, a dog and the will to go make a fool out of yourself. Now, you’re probably wondering why you’d have to make a fool out of yourself. Well, when you first start you need to make sure the dog is having and sometimes, not always mind you, but sometimes that means being a nut and making a fool out of yourself.

                Okay, so now we’ve established that your job is to make this fun for your dog, next you may be thinking that your dog is just a regular old dog. So are all those dogs you see out their competing, even the ones at the national levels. Every single one is, first and foremost, a family pet. The only real difference is that they have been taught to play this crazy game. So, yes, even the mixed breed, who knows what it is dog, that you found on the street or rescued from the pound can compete.

                Now, every trainer out there has their own requirements to start taking classes, so remember this article is just a guideline. Most instructors require that a dog at least be able to demonstrate the ability to perform the basic obedience commands. The basic commands are sit, down, come and stay. Others will require you to take a specific course, often called Obedience for Agility, or Pre-Agility. Remember there is no set naming system for classes, so what one group calls pre-agility may not be even close to what another group offers are their pre-agility class.

                How do you pick an instructor? Simple, do a Google search for your area, now you’ve found, hopefully, a couple of choices and can start talking to them. You will want to ask to come and observe a class. If they refuse, RUN do not walk away from them. Any instructor should be happy to have someone come out to observe a class. If they refuse, there has to be a reason and it is rarely a good reason. On occasion you’ll find an instructor who doesn’t have a class running at that time. They should be willing to spend time answering questions and be willing to let you talk to some of their previous students. That doesn’t mean whenever you call they are going to be willing and able to talk for hours. If they ask you to call back later, or ask for your number so they can call you at a better time, don’t count that against them, remember most of these people have full time jobs and can’t just drop what they are doing at all hours of the day and night. Even the full time agility instructors have to have time to teach classes. You want an instructor that you are comfortable with. Once you’ve met the instructor, they will probably ask you to bring dog to be evaluated so they can make sure the dogs personality will fit with any classes they have running and that the basics are up to par.     If your dog has never really gone anywhere they may not be quite ready for a group class and a good instructor will help you get to that point. They may suggest private lessons. Do not think they are just trying to get more money out of you, if your dog is bouncing off the walls and barking at the other dogs you will get frustrated and so will your dog. Listen to the instructor; they want to help you succeed.

                Okay, so now you’ve found your instructor and gotten enrolled in a class, what next? Well, make sure you read any information that the instructor has sent. It should give you a list of suggested, or required, equipment to bring to class. This is an agility class, be ready to RUN. Yes, run. You will be running, not just the dog. Once the dog is trained you might not have to run as much, but until then… be ready to do a lot of running. Also, when training, remember to leave the mental garbage at home. Dogs are incredibly aware of their owner’s moods, if you’re having a bad day and are just not into the class you can’t expect your canine partner to be completely into it. You may have a dog that thinks agility is the end all and be all and could care less if you were laying down taking a nap as long as they got to play, but most dogs aren’t that way.

                Let’s jump forward a bit, you’ve been taking classes and your instructor has told you that you can start to compete. Do you have to compete? No, you can just play at class or the occasional fun match. Just because you are entering at trial doesn’t mean you’re a competitive team. You can most certainly enter with just the intention of having a good time, and honestly most people do just that. The titles and wins are just a bonus. 

                You’ve decided to enter a trial but aren’t sure what kind of trials you and your dog can enter. There are several different organizations that host events, and today pretty much all of them allow all dogs, including mixes, to play. The organization that has been sanctioning shows the longest in the United States is the United States Dog Agility Association, aka USDAA. We also have the North American Dog Agility Council, (NADAC). The Australian Shepherd Club of American (ASCA), which while primarily n Aussie breed club, hosts events for all breeds and mixes, allowing them to earn titles. Canine Performance Events (CPE) is another wonderful sanctioning organization for all dogs. And not to be forgotten is AKC, which has only just this year allowed mixed breeds; they call them Canine Partners, to earn titles in their performance events. There are other sanctioning groups around the country, including Dog On Course and United Kennel Club (UKC), that are not wide spread, and we will not be covering those today. We will cover more about the different organizations future articles.

                Hopefully, we’ve helped you to get some basic information about dog agility and how you can get involved. Agility is a highly addictive, fun sport that the whole family can be involved it. There are very few dogs out there that can’t enjoy it at some level. Remember agility is a game to be played with your dog, your pet. If you both aren’t having fun, then you’re not doing something right.

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