Playing, training or working your dog is incredibly rewarding. Dogs are generally friendly, responsive, and quick-to-learn. Agility training is a healthy sport for both canine and owner, as it gets you outside and active building your bond in the fresh air. We see dogs of all shapes, sizes, and breeds (including mixed breeds) come into their own when presented with a bit of agility training. This really is a great way to keep you and your dog fit, physically and mentally. The experience of being out of doors, working with "Prince," "Rover," or "Rex" is stimulating, and lets you experience the immense capacity that dogs have for fun and challenge.
Agility is a fun team sport that you and your dog can enjoy together. Agility is a combination of Advanced off-leash obedience, Directional commands, and Obstacle familiarization. In order for your dog to have off-leash control to run around a 100' x 100' ring, you first want to develop that control on leash. Control behaviors that are beneficial for your dog to have are "Come", "Sit", "Down", and "Stay". Your dog does not have to be perfect at these commands, but the better he is the more you can accomplish with the actual running and playing of agility. The formal obedience "Heel" on the left side is not necessary for agility because you will be working with your dog on both your left and right sides. You can develop these behaviors from your own training or taking classes. There are a multitude of books on the market on obedience training.
The main Directional Commands we teach are "Come", "Go" and "Back". Come means approaching and moving to you. Go means you and the dog are facing and moving in the same direction and the dog moves out ahead of you and keeps going until other wise directed. Back means the dog turns away from you. This can occur when he is facing you and turns away or when he is at either your left or right side, and turns away from you. We teach Directional Commands using a table. For training we use 12" high agility tables for all dog sizes. First the dog must be comfortable jumping up on the table. Once he is comfortable on the table, use his Sit-stay or Down-stays on the table. Develop your distance away from him slowly. Release your dog to you with Come.
Place your dog in a Sit-Stay about 3' from the table, facing it. Leave your dog in a sit, walk to the other side of the table, call your dog, "Come Table". When he gets on the table step toward him and praise him. This will help prevent him from jumping off the table to come to you. Build your dog's distance from the table, move him away from the table in increments, 4', 6', 8', and so on. As your dog is comfortable coming to you and sitting on the table, the next step is for you to build your distance from the table as you call him to the table. Build your distance also in increments. Have your dog sitting 10' from the table, you walk to the other side of the table about 6' away from the table, call your dog, "Come Table". Build your distance slowly so that your dog can succeed at staying on the table.
Starting from about 3' from the table, with your dog on leash, you are both facing the table, send your dog to the table by saying, "Go Table". You may need to extend your arm, point or step to toward the table. Practice this until your dog is able to go to the table without you having to place him on the table. Practice with the dog on both your left and right side. When the dog is on your left side use your left arm to point to the table, and when the dog is on your right side point with your right arm. Develop your distance so that you can send your dog easily from 30'.
Now, its time to teach the next Directional Command, "Back". Have your dog on leash again, and start from 3' away from the table, but this time your dog is sitting on the ground facing you with the table behind him. From your dog sitting tell him, "Back Table". Extend your arm pointing to the table and guide him with the leash if necessary until he understands the new word. Practice sending your dog to the table several times using your Left arm, "Back Table", extending your left arm. Then practice with your Right arm pointing to the table, "Back Table". When your dog is turning to go to the table then start building your distance from the table. These are three very versatile commands that you can use and develop on all obstacles and throughout an agility run.
Teaching Directional Commands for the Dog Agility Beginner
by Brad Carlson
Brad Carlson is a dog trainer at Agility by Carlson. For more training details, visit our website at www.carlson-agility.com.