Ep. 16: Leap Into Agility

Jan 2, 2024

The activity of agility is not only fun, it can be amazingly beneficial for dog and handler alike!


In this episode, we discuss the benefits of playing agility, why you should consider it and how trialing and competing are indeed fun, but why we should also strive to incorporate elements of the activity of agility into all our dog training programs.

Speaker: Dianna L. Santos



Speaker 1 (00:01):
Welcome to the It's Time to Train Your Dog Podcast. In this podcast we talk about all things dog training. That could be whether or not you just brought a new puppy home. Maybe you've adopted a new dog from the shelter or maybe your current dog. You're like, I think we would like to do a little bit more training. This is the podcast for you. We also talk about things like dog sports. In this episode, we're going to be talking about the dog sport of agility and why it is it. You may want to be looking into this activity for your dog, both for fun or maybe potentially even to compete. Before I start diving into the episode itself, I just want to do a very quick introduction of myself. My name is Dianna Santos. I'm the owner and lead instructor for Pet Dog U. This is an online dog training platform that provides online courses, seminars, webinars, eBooks, venue webinars, as well as a regularly updated blog, and this podcast focuses all around the wonderful world of dog training. We are very fortunate to work with very talented instructors who provide a lot of really wonderful expertise about how it is that we can better communicate with, understand, and live with our dogs. So I definitely encourage you to check Pet Dog You Out, but don't a little bit more about me. Let's send to the episode itself.

So this episode, I wanted to talk about the wonderful dog sport of agility. You more likely than not have heard about agility. It's been around for a little bit, but sometimes people have misconceptions about this and they may think, oh yeah, that agility stuff. That's only for people who are really interested in trialing. They want to go traveling around the country and they want to do stuff that's really high octane and that's not actually true. Agility can be really defined as an activity that we can then also do as a sport. So as an activity, we can actually leverage agility to help our dogs in a whole slew of different ways because the core of it is a dog is being tasked to tackle a variety of different obstacles that they are directed to take from their handler. Just that within itself is actually requiring a lot of different skills for the dog and the handler.

The dog has to be able to physically do the actual course confidence to do the actual course. They have to have the training to understand, okay, you want me to go here, then there, then over here, and that sometimes it's at a distance. Oftentimes it's at speed. There may be other things going on outside the agility rank. There's so many different factors that are so incredibly important and there's so many pieces that can make this activity of agility a wonderful thing for really everyone to look into with modifications. Now what I mean by that is if let's say you have a dog who is a little bit older or maybe they have some arthritis, stuff like that, we obviously don't want them jumping very high jumps or taking contacts like the a-frame where it's very, very steep. We want to be very careful about our dog's bodies.

We want to keep them safe, but you can still follow a lot of the principles of agility potentially using different types of equipment or making modifications to those equipment. In this episode, what I want to talk about is why you may want to do that and try to convince people that this is actually a really wonderful thing to do and that I used to incorporate pieces of agility in all of my training when I was working with basic manners type of clients. Even when I was working with my behavior modification clients, the big one that I'm passionate about is scent work, fantastic activity. I've built out a whole other online dog training business, scent work university that focuses just on that. So I'm very passionate about it, but I think agility can really offer a lot to our dogs if we can just open our minds to it a little bit, that it's not just about the sport.

The sport can be really super fun, but it's the activity that we can really benefit from. So some of the ways that we can do this is we can again break it down into all these different pieces that the first part about agility is that the dog is being asked to work even a short distance away from the handler in the very beginning when they're first figuring out some of these obstacles, they're being asked to maybe work like a foot away from you. That can be a great distance for a lot of dogs. They may be so accustomed to being very close to us that being asked to work that far away is testing their confidence. It's improving and building their confidence. Also, the way that I like to promote and our colleagues like to promote how to work with agility, meaning how we would train it, is that it's leveraging the techniques of building the dog's ability to shape, meaning that they are choosing and learning through experimentation on their own how to tackle an actual piece of equipment.

So it's not that we are holding the dog and then on a leash and basically pushing them over a jump. That's not the point. Instead, we may actually be standing as a handler next to a jump where the actual bar for the jump is on the ground. So basically there's nothing to jump. They're kind of just walking over it, but the dog is volunteering that behavior. Why would you want to do that? That sounds so silly. It's not. It's wonderful because this opens up that channel of communication that is so powerful with shaping because the dog is now trying to say, oh, I can get cookies as an example, or maybe I can play with my toy when I do something and my handler is set up in such a way to promote me to offer the behavior that they're looking for. In this case, walking over the jump.

If I offer this, I get my reward and we can progress fairly quickly with a very enthusiastic, confident dog who looks forward to doing this. And because the dog is the one offering it, it makes more sense to them. The behavior is stronger and they are more aware of what's happening with their body. It's not that we're prompting them in such a way where they may throw themselves over in some weird way over a jump, let's say, where they could potentially hurt themselves. If they're volunteering it, they're thinking about it a little bit more. They can build better form as it were, and it's voluntary. So we are promoting the dog to be confident here. We are giving you this option to walk over this bar for this jump that's on the ground, and when you do, you'll get lots of reward and the dog is like, I can do that.

And sure enough they do. We do that for a bit and then we raise the bar very, very slightly off the ground. Okay, well now you may have to step over it a little bit more. You really got to pick your feet up and they're like, I got this. No problem. And with a couple of repetitions, maybe now we can actually have it where they need to jump. The dog is communicating with us. They're volunteering that that whole time. I cannot tell you how empowering that can be for dogs who are a little bit more like little wallflowers. They're a little shy, they're a little concerned. They get worried about their world at large. Some of that is also they're not confident with their own decisions. They're not confident with their bodies. They're not sure if we listen that we as handlers understand what they're saying, so they just keep going inward, if that makes any sense.

Having this type of activity, like agility with these types of training protocols, with these kinds of approaches can be wonderful because we're basically saying we can do the really fun running and the leaping and the climbing, and I'm listening to you this whole time. You're opening up this wonderful channel of communication for your dog, and it has really brought so many dogs out of their shell. Now that is entirely different from competing in competing. We now have that's way down the line for any type of training. So just to put this out there is if you wanted to do agility training and you were looking to do it for confidence to work on building really strong behaviors, the communication between you and your dog having fun, because agility is really fun. That's wonderful, and you might get bit by the bug, right? You might volunteer for an actual agility trial to see what it's all about, which I highly encourage everyone to do, and we said, this looks like fun.

I think I want to work towards this. It's going to take you time to do that. You don't want to rush that process. You really want to make certain that you and your dog are ready because a trial is basically a test. We're trying to see can you do all of these different obstacles in this certain order that's also going to require you as a handler to be able to have certain skills of your own. Can you communicate to your dog? We want to go from here to here to there to there. The key with that is that it's a journey that there's a period of time that you would need to put into account if you were interested in competing. But what I've noticed with the clients that I've worked with, particularly for those dogs who may be needed some help behaviorally, they were really shy.

Maybe they were reactive, is that we could use the elements of agility with one or two, maybe three pieces of equipment, jumps, tunnels, hoops, things like that, and the owner would be able to do that on their own as well to practice in between our in-person sessions and they loved it. They could use the agility pieces almost as a reward for the other types of things they were working on that were a little bit harder, the behavioral modification stuff as an example. So the point being is that I think that all of us can look at agility for what it can offer. It's a really powerful type of activity that can really provide so much for the dog and the handler and people who are very involved with agility, love it. They are huge proponents of agility. They will travel far and wide to go to trials.

They will do workshops, seminars, their dogs adore it. It's a fantastic activity. I just want to stress this point that it's the activity that's so wonderful. It's not just about the sport. It's not just about competing. Now, one of the questions that we typically get as instructors, it's like, well, when should I start doing agility with my dog? Which is a great question. You absolutely can do certain things with younger dogs, but really there shouldn't be a whole lot of jumping. They should be running over the bars and we want to be careful. They have growth plates that we want to really be aware of. We don't want to hurt their little baby bodies and also their babies, right? They have little baby bodies, little baby bladders, little baby brains, little baby attention fans. So we want to take all that into account, but you absolutely can develop some really cool exercises in this for dogs of all ages.

Again, even for those really super senior dogs, they can still do this if we make modifications and we can still have it be really fun for them, which is great. So I strongly encourage everyone to check out agility and again, looking at it through this different lens of what can I offer? What can we get out of it, both my dog and myself, because I can't tell you how beneficial it can be for you to recognize how you communicate with your body. That's how dogs communicate. They don't communicate a bunch verbally. A lot of it they're taking from how their bodies move. That applies to us as well. Sure, verbal cues are a thing, but we can turn our head a certain way and the dog perceives that. We can turn our shoulders a certain way. Our dogs perceive that we can shift our weight, and the dog perceives that with agility.

All of that is really important because the dog is usually pretty ahead of us and we are trying to project to them, I need you to turn left. I need you to turn right. I need you to turn completely around. I need you to know that we're going to take this obstacle, and then we're basically going to be going in the complete opposite direction afterwards, whatever the case may be. All that requires that we understand as handlers what our bodies mean and how we can use that to our benefit, and that doesn't just happen inside of an agility bubble that happens in everyday life. So you can develop a muscle memory that can then help you when you take your dog for a walk when you're just going around your house, and again, it broadens and strengthens and deepens that channel of communication that you have with your dog.

We see the same kind of thing in scent work, which I think is so exciting. We see this a lot. Really a lot of the dog sports is there's this understanding that happens. There's this really magical sweet spot where the dog will almost look at you like, you understood me there for a second, right? Because a lot of times we're missing each other. We're trying our best, but human and dog are on two different channels, and every now and again those channels hit. We actually are on the same wavelength even for a very limited amount of time. Those are magical moments. Agility is one of those types of activities that can help you get there. So the reason I wanted to do this podcast to talk about this, and again, people may be very surprised, I've never heard her talk about agility before for, again, I've used it throughout the whole of my career.

I would encourage people who were doing things, again with behavior modification, we would be doing something with a dog who maybe was a little bit worried about things. We'd be doing a training exercise. It may be a little bit challenging for them, and then we would have them run over and pop 'em over some jumps. It gets them moving. They can exhibit some joy. It's a way of actually releasing some stress, and they have fun. They like it. Now, we are very fortunate that one of our instructors, Vicki Lovejoy, is actually doing a whole series of webinars for us coming up all focusing on agility. Her very first one is the Agility Adventures webinar, how to build Confidence and Joy. In this presentation, Vicki is going to talking about all the foundation exercises that you can build in order to have that kind of independent and confident type of tackling of an agility course with your dog.

So if you're brand new to Agility or if you have been doing agility, but you've noticed a little bit of a dip, maybe your dog has been a little bit confused. Maybe there's been some obstacles you've been like, oh, I don't know about that. Or maybe it's just been a while, right? I think this would be a fantastic webinar to check out. She's going to be doing her live presentation on January 4th at 4:00 PM Pacific, 7:00 PM Eastern. So definitely encourage you to check that out. We will have the replay posted to the pet Doggy website by the end of the day on January 5th, but that's not all. Vicky is then coming back in order to talk about handler cues for her. What did you say? Understanding Handler Cues webinar, where she's going to be delving into a lot of these things that again, we can just take for granted in watching a team do agility, there's actually a fair amount of communication going on there.

There's things that we're doing with our feet, our hips, our hands, our shoulders and our head that all communicate to the dog how it is that we should be tackling this course. And again, even if you're interested in trialing, this is the kind of thing that would be helpful for everyone honestly, who has a dog, because these things don't exist inside vacuums. If these communication pieces can help with a dog running at speed to take an obstacle 10, 15, however many feet ahead, then it can help us when we're doing day-to-Day things with our dogs as well. So I'd encourage you to check this webinar up. The live one is scheduled for January 11th at 4:00 PM Pacific, 7:00 PM Eastern, and again, that webinar replay will be posted to the Pet Dog U website at by the end of the day on January 12th. The third webinar in this series is called Breaking It Down Small Sequences for a Success.

And I'm really excited for this webinar in particular because as humans, we can see an agility course. It may have over 20 obstacles total that the dog actually has to tackle, and we immediately think that's what we have to do right out of the gate, and that's actually not the best way of doing things. Lumping is not really a great way to do dog training overall. It's not really a good way for us to teach. It's not a good way for anyone to learn. We want to break things up into smaller pieces. So in this webinar, what Vicki is going to be talking about is how it is we may be able to reinforce those smaller steps, building reinforcement in order to make certain that they're able to build up to tackling a larger course down the line, which I think, again, is really important and a lot of people can struggle with that.

They're not sure, okay, I introduced the obstacle and then I want to do a full course. There's a lot of steps in between, so I think this is going to be really helpful. This live webinar is scheduled for January 18th at 4:00 PM Pacific, 7:00 PM Eastern, and the webinar replay will be posted to the pet Doggy website by the end of the day on January 19th. And the final webinar inside of this series is Small space, no problem. Ways to Practice at Home Webinar because the one thing that can be a drawback for agility is that we have to have equipment, right? That's what the dogs are actually doing. They're tackling different types of equipment while they are tackling the course. And people sometimes be like, I don't have enough space for all of this, right? I have a small yard. I have a small amount of space available to me.

I guess I can't do agility because you need to practice this in order to develop the skills for both the dog and yourself. And that's actually not true. You can build a lot of these skills without the full set of obstacles, and you don't need a full-size training field either. So this webinar is going to talk about how you can actually leverage a smaller space and still have some really solid skills for yourself and your dog. So this webinar, the live webinar is scheduled for January 25th at 4:00 PM Pacific, 7:00 PM Eastern, and the webinar replay will be posted to the Pet Dog U website by the end of the day of January 26th. Now, the great thing about joining us live is that you're able to ask Vicki all the questions you possibly could think of during the actual presentation. You could get those answers in real time, and you also then receive free and continual access to the webinar replay afterwards.

So that's a wonderful perk that you don't have to worry about it disappearing one day. You can go through it as often as you like, which we have received a lot of feedback from our clients that they love that feature, that they're able to go through it once, have it kind of percolate in their mind, and then come back to it again and maybe focus on a specific part of the presentation. So I strongly encourage everyone to check these webinars out. I will have links for them inside of our podcast replay page. And if there's something in particular that you're interested about agility, please feel free to reach out. I will then circle back with our instructors to make that a reality, which you're going to see a whole lot more reform us about the wonderful things about agility. But I also very quickly just wanted to mention that we have two additional agility resources that are available right now that you'd be able to participate in.

If you have a puppy that you were interested in doing, really any kind of dog sport, but particularly agility, I strongly encourage you to check out the Sport Puppy 101 course by Daneen Fox. This is a fantastic course, and what it does, it basically walks through how it is that you'd be able to build a level of engagement and excitement in your, so that you guys can tackle whatever dog sport that you're interested in, but again, specifically for as well. Additionally, we have a really fantastic course by Bonnie Henderson. This is called the Focus Competent Canine Competitor Course. Again, this would benefit regardless of the type of dog sport activity that you were interested in, but the big thing again, is that she's going through how it is that we can maximize on the dog's focus and their engagement with us as a handler so that they're able to tackle the actual agility course as an example, that they're not getting stuck, they're not getting overwhelmed. They're not being like, Ooh, I'm not so sure, and then they just kind of run off somewhere else. So I strongly encourage you guys to check these two courses out. They are excellent. Again, the fact that we have these amazingly accomplished agility competitors and instructors who have put these resources together for us is such a privilege.

Janine Fox in her own right is a three time world team gold medal winner, and she's achieved multiple national agility championships and mocks. And then Bonnie Henderson is also someone who is very accomplished in her own right. She's earned over 25 mock titles. She's a three time finalist at the AKC Agility Invitational, and she has lots of titles under her belt. So again, the fact that these two very experienced and accomplished instructors have shared their expertise with us with these two courses, you definitely don't want to miss out. So I'll make certain that there are links for those resources as well in the podcast we play page. But if there's anything else about agility that you are interested in specifically, please feel free to let me know. I'll then circle back with our instructors. You can expect to have some additional talks. We're going to be bringing in some outside speakers as well to talk a little bit more about this activity as well as other dog sports. And again, just dog training. Overall, we're going to be getting a lot more active with our podcast. We had to take a little bit of a break because I've just been so busy,

But this is going to be picking up some more regular steam. So thank you guys so much for listening. I hope you found it helpful. Happy training. We look forward to seeing you soon.

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