agility

Agility

The Agility Promo below will give you a look at Agility competition.  There are all kinds of dogs shown in the video including terriers! Even if you are not interested in competition, taking an agility class can be fun for you and your dog.  Scroll down below the video for more information!

Click to begin!

Sqwire’s Hot to Trot

Hank


Wires and Agility
(With Thanks to Erin Orr)

agilit1

Agility for fun?  Wires are ideally suited.  They can also be trained to do the sport very well competitively, give or take their terrier ways. The philosophy for agility competition is to “do it right the first time.”  This applies both to the training aspect and the performance aspect.

 You can make durable, light-weight practice equipment easily from PVC pipe (and, with a little help from a friend, make the larger obstacles using plywood). http://www.parhelion.us/agility_equipment_links.htm#Building%20Plans, has links for purchased equipment and other agility items.  Vendors sell equipment with varying degrees of sophistication, from low to very high end prices.  You can find equipment resources with an internet search for “agility equipment for dogs.”

The Dogwise online site offers an extensive variety of written and video materials for training.  Do a search for “agility” at http://www.dogwise.com, using either/both books or video to refine the search.  If circumstances have you training essentially on your own (a big disadvantage), videos can give instructions with nuances that written materials just do not convey. If you plan to compete, be sure to meet regulation (or very close) specifications for equipment.

There are three major organizations holding events in the U.S.  They are the American Kennel Club (AKC), the North American Dog Agility Council (NADAC) and the United States Dog Agility Association (USDAA).  Each has its own regulations, equipment specifications and requirements.  These affect the required heights and spans and types of obstacles your dog will encounter. Each agility run is scored for accuracy and time factors.

The groups offer a range of titles from novice to champion levels. Requirements get more challenging as you progress from title to title. The organizations maintain websites with complete information and rules for their competitions. These also give contacts for questions.

AKC: http://www.akc.org/

AKC regulations: http://www.akc.org/rules/index.cfm

NADAC: http://www.nadac.com/

USDAA: http://www.usdaa.com/

Titles are based on types of courses and difficulty levels, such as the AKC’s “Fast,” “Standard” and “Jumpers with Weaves” classes at the novice, open and excellent levels. AKC also has its “Preferred” titling classes for older dogs and those with breed specific weight or other challenges.  Preferred classes permit lower jump heights to accommodate an older Wire still seeking fun.

AKC events are the most universally available, with NADAC and USDAA still mainly in urban areas and suburbs and somewhat regionally available.  With the sport still growing in popularity, many AKC conformation and obedience clubs, as well as the relatively small number of AKC agility specialty clubs and groups, hold trials.

A dog doing agility takes cues from the handler’s body language – a turn of the shoulder or a slight directional point from an arm or foot – and verbal commands. This requires your dog have a tremendous focus on you to get the action. Building focus or “attention” is both science and art.  

Terriers are not sporting dogs, bred to please man. They are bred to be independent workers (and that means independent thinkers too).  So asking a “true” terrier to work for and with you is asking a lot.  It requires a bond of real affection between handler and dog.  Over time your dog will learn the cues and nuances.  Your job is to learn to give good ones!

Every aspect of your training program must use positive reinforcement taking into account your dog’s likes and dislikes to get the best results.  If your dog is not “food motivated,” use praise rewards extra lavishly and play rewards.  Food is the easiest incentive and usually readily accepted.  Lavish praise and play rewards do tend to send a terrier higher than it needs to be to keep a tight focus – so resort to them sparingly and only if necessary. (What a Golden needs and what a Wire can handle as rewards are very different.) Use food treats that are tiny, low cal and low fat.  Dried fruit bits (other than raisins) work well. Other treats should be broken in quite small pieces. Long practices demand a lot from your dog; so an increase in food quantity may be in order and preferable to higher calorie treats when the training is really intense.  I know one dog that needed to carbo load before trials to avoid actual low blood sugar.  The dog was not a Wire, but she was wired.

For agility competition, you need a highly social dog.  If you began training in puppyhood, so much the better.  It is slightly more difficult to train an older but still socially immature dog.  Highly social mature dogs already trained to some extent for other things may learn agility with little to “some” difficulty, achieving the necessary focus and speed requirements.  Trying to train a dog not well socialized by the time it has reached “social maturity” is working from a very serious disadvantage.  In fact, I would recommend not training such a dog for competition.  But any dog can be trained for fun at home in its comfortable environment.

Before you begin, you must first train your dog to respond to certain basic commands. Most agility trials include some version of a “sit” or “down” on a contact obstacle called the “Table.” These are timed for a count of several seconds; so your dog needs to know to “stay” during the sit or down – just as for formal obedience.  The dog also needs to be able to hold a position at the start line for a course so that the clock starts running when you are ready too.  The clock starts when the dog crosses the start line regardless of your readiness.

The required prerequisites are taught in “Puppy Kindergarten” or the equivalent, typically a class for dogs younger than five months. Obedience training clubs and kennel clubs offer them and other progressive courses for older puppies and dogs.  These will help you with the continuing socialization and training of your puppy and young dog. (Some veterinary practices also offer the kindergarten level.) Clubs often offer beginning agility classes to familiarize very young dogs with jumps, ramps and “obstacles” typically used in agility; but these classes require the basic commands to build upon.  Don’t be embarrassed if your puppy or younger dog needs to “repeat” a class to get more time under his belt for keeping calm.  A terrier is a terrier.  Thought among the quickest dogs to learn, terriers are among the slowest to “settle.”

The younger a dog learns the equipment, the more confident it will be for life on it.  Luckily for you, Wires are eager climbers and learners – as long as the learning is fun. You can set up play ramps and obstacles to condition a puppy for going up slight angles and across “bridges” low to the ground (4-6 inches high) and through confined spaces (like tunnels).  The latter will also serve well for earthdog activity later.

Do not focus on repetitive jumping or jumping at the “required jump height” until your dog’s bones are ready.  A Wire is willing to jump far earlier than those bones should take the pounding effects.  You can begin teaching the jump concept at very low heights, around age six months, progressing as your puppy ages. Raise jump heights slowly from four to eight to twelve to sixteen inches, as the dog reaches growth milestones.  Most Wires jump either at twelve or sixteen inches for AKC regular classes – four inches lower for preferred classes.  Actual height depends on the dog’s height at the withers, measured officially. We recommend always practicing at a lower height than course height for your dog.  This is true whether you intend to compete or just play for fun.

AKC requires that dogs be at least a year old to compete in agility. Terriers though physically able at that age are so much “terrier” that they likely will not be ready for all the distractions and disturbances encountered at trials until they are older. Two would be a realistic age for a terrier well-trained to begin competing.  This allows time for proofing for performance and for attention factors while the dog almost finishes growing up.  Wires never really do!

I recommend getting hips and shoulders checked for any dog competing. Dysplasia is rare for the breed; but it happens. As for health in general, do not ask any ill or impaired dog to do more than it can at any point. Watch for signs of discomfort, especially after a fall from equipment. Get to know your vet very well; and see the vet when your dog needs to. This breed is remarkably stoic and usually shows neither fear nor pain until the situation is extreme.  It IS in their genes.

Remember the breed standard says: “The Terrier should be alert, quick of movement, keen of expression, on the tip-toe of expectation at the slightest provocation.” The best of the breed will easily provoke…to mischief or challenge. This means that a hair ball rolling across the floor may prove more enticing to a terrier than running another agility sequence for you.  This is the way terriers are and live. Enjoy it. It is what drew you to the breed. The consequences of punishing a terrier’s antics will not serve well for training the dog.  If things are not going well, take a “time out.”  On a really bad day, arrange to end on an up note, doing some little task your dog knows and does well.  Then you can reward that.

This is when you just “roll with it,” the hair ball or whatever, within reason – enjoy the crowd enjoying your dog’s fun. All the older ladies – and younger ones – will be willing to help you catch your cute and friendly dog. (See?  Another reason for keeping your dog socialized!) Yeah, it is major embarrassment.  It takes time to make your dog willing to give up its instinctive response for just the fun of being with you and running to your command.  

Training any terrier demands a creative approach. They do not like repetitive “drilling” for any sport – obedience or agility.  You must stay at least two steps ahead of your dog’s every thought to keep control.  Preferably you give no time for the dog to think, or the independent streak kicks in. This can bring on woeful consequences.  In agility it often means the dog will start designing its own course for a run while you are trying to think how to convey the next obstacle for the course the judge presented. Did I tell you that wrong courses are held against you in the scoring process?

Being “in control” requires that the trainer/handler understand from the outset that terriers are different and will not achieve the reliability in working that a sporting or herding dog will. You will be embarrassed on occasions. But when your dog is spectacular, YOU will get the extra credit for daring to try with a terrier and achieving so well with your special dog.

Some towns have excellent training groups.  Others have none.  Some enthusiasts travel over a hundred miles each way for weekly training. You cannot learn “competitive” agility just from a book.  You can learn the concept from a book(s).  Tapes and disks afford help from a visual perspective the book often does not convey.

Ideally you need someone as qualified as you can reasonably find to critique your efforts.  This person will see things that you would not even think to notice as well as things you are too busy to notice!  They will comment on your foot placement and use of shoulders to signal cues; they also will notice things you are too busy to see – like your dog’s failure to hit a required contact zone on an obstacle or a fly-off on a ramp or teeter.

You can do it alone, but it is much easier and quicker with help.  The distractions afforded in group training also are crucial for making your dog ready for the even bigger challenges at the trials where dogs and people are “everywhere.”

One of my dogs once went through ring gating to get to a hamburger being eaten ringside by a spectator seated on the floor.  The judge had laid out a three jump sequence leading right to the waiting treat. The course was supposed to turn right to a tunnel next. It was coincidence.  It was AWFUL.  Everybody was laughing. We did not even think to replace the burger.  We were busy slinking back to our set-up…only later did we know the crowd were laughing “for” us, not at us. That would never happen with a Golden…  But it is a memory we now treasure as that dog is 13 and no longer competing.

You can search the AKC website for clubs in your area that may offer training at http://www.akc.org/clubs/search/index.cfm.  Check with “conformation,” “agility” and “obedience” clubs. The clubs also may have information about local trainers who can help you achieve your goal working with informal groups or organized classes.

You can find AKC agility events using the search at http://www.akc.org/events/search.  Go and watch some trials.  Decide whether you want to compete or just play at home for fun and exercise.  Start a working group among friends or through a local volunteer organization involved with dogs to have even more fun. “Even the longest journey begins with a single step.”

Wires need lots of fun and exercise!  There is no better way for both of you to get some than doing agility.


 

Other Agility Links and Books 

http://www.cleanrun.com is THE magazine for agility buffs.  Free online issue of the magazine is available for viewing.

http://www.max200.com  carries a great selection  of agility books, equipment, etc.

http://www.agilitynerd.com  Site that is loaded with informational articles that are easy to read for the newbie to the sport.  

http://www.dogpatch.org/agility/ Some of the best agility links on the web!

The Online Dog Agility Information Page

  Good Reading

“In Focus, Developing a Working Relationship with your Performance Dog”
by Deborah Jones, Ph.D. & Judy Keller

“Fear No More:  Competing with Confidence”
by Barbara Cecil & Gerianne Darnell.  A great book for anyone who feels those darn butterflies in the stomach just thinking about going into the ring!