Lisa Hennessy's puppy, Lucy, a golden retriever/Nova Scotia duck tolling retriever mix, was shy and nervous. That changed once she started agility training.
As Lucy maneuvered the training course, she learned jumping and scaling down obstacles, such as walking through a ladder on the floor and standing and sitting on a small plastic stool. She also achieved the "ultimate goal" of chasing her owner's shoulder.
Now 4 1/2 years old, Lucy is a confident dog. Among her improvements, she doesn't hide or resist going into buildings, playing in the park or greeting guests at home.
"It's a very social activity for both the humans and the dogs," says Hennessy, a pet chef in Chicago. "I would highly recommend this sport to anyone that owns a dog. The camaraderie that is built with your dog is priceless. I have a stronger bond with Lucy than I have had with any of my other dogs."
*Agility Training Benefits
In addition to the human and animal bond, agility training can benefit dogs mentally and physically.
"One of the biggest benefits is having a dog that responds well both on and off the leash," says Eleasha Gall, director of behavior and training at the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Los Angeles chapter. "He ignores other distractions and engages with his owner instead."
Most dogs are good candidates for agility training, says Gall, who explains: "Excitable dogs can learn to exhibit control, scared dogs can learn to be brave and the dog that just likes to jump on the furniture now has a specific safe and fun outlet."
Agility training can even be successful for dogs that don't do well around people or other dogs.
*Exercise Versus Agility Training
Dog owners may wonder whether their pets really need agility training or whether they can simply continue with regular exercise.
"Agility fills the need of exercise but also involves mental exercise, and a lot of the owners enjoy the bond that agility builds with the communication that is required between owner and dog," says Cassie Kreider, owner of Oscar's Pet Resort in Lancaster, Pa.
Plus, agility training challenges dogs to not rely on repetition or routine. They have to pay attention to the owner's cues. "A dog who does agility develops a tremendous amount of mental and physical stamina," says Gall.
*What to Expect
Most dog agility training classes meet once a week. Prices can vary but typically range from $105 to $150 per six-week session. There are classes for a range of dogs including beginners and advanced.
"People can remain at a particular level or, if they are interested in doing more, they can move up," says Gall, who notes spcaLA offers nine different agility levels.
Oscar's Pet Resort has three levels of classes, all with the goal of "training dogs to run through a series of obstacles and hurdles," says Kreider.
In the beginner level, the dog learns to go through obstacles; in the intermediate level, the owner learns commands to train the dog; and in the next level, the dog and owner are timed as they go through the obstacles.
"The majority of dog owners that come in are just trying to train their dogs and are looking for a fun activity to do with them," says Kreider. "After mastering the advanced level classes, the training can lead to entering dog competitions."
Once dogs and owners know the training, they can practice often. Hennessy works with Lucy every day for 10 to 15 minutes.
"Small increments are really the best way to reinforce the skill," she says. "I work on these skills during commercials on TV, when I'm preparing their meals or during walks."