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April 8, 2015

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Agility: A Real Aussie Dog Sport

By Tony Redwood


I first got involved in Agility five-and-a-half years ago when I got a border collie pup that needed a lot of training. I started out with basic obedience, but went looking for something for a bit more fun. I found agility and have loved it ever since.

What is agility?
The best way to think of agility is show jumping with dogs. Essentially, a judge sets a course with numbered challenges, and the dog and the handler need to negotiate the course in the quickest time possible with the fewest faults to win.

It’s a team sport where you are in charge of the strategy and your dog is responsible for the athleticism. Dogs leap over hurdles, zoom through tunnels, scale ramps and weave around poles.

What are the benefits?
Agility improves the human-dog relationship and really strengthens the bond between you and your dog. By improving their fitness and physical well-being, as well as providing mental stimulation, you get a happier dog that is easier to live with. Plus, there are no complaints from your neighbours, because your dogs are quiet and content.

A lot of people think that the key to a happy dog is exercise. The problem with that is the fitter your dog gets, the more exercise they need — and there’s a limit to how much exercise you can give your dog. So the next step is to start exercising their brain — agility does both.

For owners, it’s a good way to get out and enjoy the outdoors, and a fantastic way to meet other dog lovers. It’s a real social event — we get to a trial on a Saturday morning and we’re there with 100 of our closest friends.

What sort of training is used?
When I originally started training my dog, I was using a check chain — classic aversive dog training. But then I got into agility, where we only use positive reinforcement, such as food, toy and praise rewards. At no stage do we correct our dogs. If they give us a behaviour we don’t want, that simply means we haven’t trained them correctly. So while they might get corrections for misbehaviour in day-to-day life, agility is all about fun. I think using positive reinforcement makes you a better trainer.

Who can get involved, and how do I go about it?
As long as your dog is physically sound and you’re keen to get out there and have fun with him, anybody can get involved. At our club, we’ve got people from the ages of 10 to 75. All sizes and breeds of dogs are welcome too. Agility is growing in popularity in Australia. Month by month, we’re seeing more people and dogs at our agility trials.

The obstacles are relatively easy to train and are taught in a fun, positive manner, and training progresses as the dog and handler gain confidence. It’s all done in a very safe environment, so even if you have a dog that’s a bit reactive, agility is a great place for you to learn how to improve their behaviour, give them a run around and have a great time together.

To get started, join your nearest club endorsed by the Agility Dog Association of Australia. There’s a list at www.adaa.com.au.


Photo: Corbis Images

Tony Redwood is the chief instructor of the Brisbane Agility Dog Club and a member of the Agility Dog Association of