We are learning more and more about agility every day. One thing we do know is that it can be somewhat daunting to find places where we can do agility runs and practice with our dog. This is why we do our best to keep our Events section full of trials and practices in Maine.
So, you want to get started but not sure how?
Agility is a great sport for both you and your dog! You’ll be more active and connect on a level with your pooch that you never thought possible! You may see all kinds of fancy competitions on TV but don’t let that inhibit you. Each dog starts out at a beginner level and works up from there. More about levels later but for now, let’s focus on getting you started.
The most important thing is to go to some agility trials and see what they’re like. It’s a good idea to bring your dog (especially pups) to a few trials to become acclimated to the sights and sounds. In fact, we swear that our dogs learn by just watching the other dogs perform. They’re inking: “hey, I see that dog walking an A-frame – I can do that!” You’ll just need to be sure that the trial allows “guest” dogs.
To find an agility trial in your area, you can view our list or look at the calendars posted on various agility organizations’ websites. Additionally, most agility clubs (that host trials sanctioned by one of the agility organizations) post events as well. We belong to EMAC (Eastern Maine Agility Club) but a simple Google search will turn up a list in your area as well.
The major agility organizations in the U.S. include AKC (American Kennel Club), CPE (Canine Performance Events) and USDAA (United States Dog Agility Association). Each organization has its own rules and philosophies but they all keep track of your dog’s progress through an identification number that will be issued to you once you have registered. Click here for a good resource to learn about these organizations and others.
Ultimately, you will need to choose an agility organization join so you can participate in trials. Also, becoming a member of a host club in your area is optional but a good way to connect with other agility enthusiasts. But for now, once you and your dog have decided that agility is what you want to do, it’s time to start training!
Some people go to a certified trainer or school and some train at home (or at the home of someone who has equipment). It really doesn’t matter, as long as you’re both happy with the results. You can begin training as soon as your dog has mastered some basic obedience. Your dog should be able to do a “sit/stay”, respond to an action (release) command, such as “go!” and do a reasonably good job at walking with you. A lot of people use the term “with me” as a means to get the dog to focus on them.
If you choose to go with a trainer you’ll want to scout around for one that is recommended by people in the organization you have chosen to join. The easiest way to do that is by simply talking with people at trials you attend. Or you can go the social media route by posting a message on FaceBook or Twitter for other dog enthusiasts to see and respond to.
If you want to start training at home see if you can borrow some equipment from someone or purchase some basic items, like a jump or a tunnel. Don’t think it has to be new, either -- scout your local paper, Craigslist, eBay or Uncle Henries. (We found a great deal on a tunnel, jumps and weave poles for $100!).
Caution: Young dogs are still growing and could get injured if encouraged to make high jumps or do other obstacles before they have fully developed. Please start slow and easy with something like a tunnel -- or have your dog step over a jump at the lowest wrung.
While we chose to train at home, we also take advantage of various clinics and “play practice times” offered through the clubs in our area (EMAC and AC-ME).
Registering for a Trial
Once you and your dog have mastered some basic agility moves it’s time to enter a trial! You will need to register with an agility organization and your dog will need to be 15 months old. To enter a trial you will need to fill out and mail a “premium” including the necessary fees.
The first time you fill out a premium can be a little challenging. You’ll be choosing the games to play, jump height and level. A beginner will start at Level 1 no matter what, so that’s easy! Choose a jump height that makes the most sense for your dog. If you’ve been to a trainer, he or she can advise you or just select the height you’ve been practicing at home.
Selecting games is another story! You’ll see games like Jumpers, Snooker, Wild Card, Standard and Colors. Don’t stress about completely understanding all of them just yet. Simply pick a few and know that the judge at the trial will explain each game before you run with your dog.
To get an understanding of each game, refer to the manual that should have been sent to you when you registered with your agility organization. Again, don’t stress about this too much – it takes time to learn everything. Just focus on having fun with your dog!
Participating in a Trial
Once you’ve registered for the trial, you will receive a confirmation with the classes (games) you will participate in, as well as various information you will need about the trial. Be sure to read this carefully.
What you can expect at the first trial is… butterflies! Yes, you’ll be nervous and not quite sure what to do. Take advantage of the staff on hand at the event by asking questions. Explain that you’re new. Someone – or several – will be sure to take you in hand and offer support. This has certainly been our experience with EMAC (a Maine club that sponsors CPE sanctioned trials).
Expect to be up super early in the morning for a trial “debriefing” when the host club will welcome everyone and provide guidelines and general information for the day. The trial judge will speak to everyone as well. When that is complete, the first game will begin and you will have an opportunity to “walk the course” without your dog. This will help you understand which obstacles to do in and in which order. Now it’s time to wait your turn!
To help you there will be a board with a run list showing when each dog is scheduled. Check out the board and note when you are set to run with your dog. Someone will be on hand to c all out each dog’s name, as well as the next 2 or 3 dogs that are “on deck” – in the run order.
Levels and Qualifying
You will begin by entering your dog in “Level 1” classes (games). Each level requires specific items to be accomplished in a specific order and within an allotment of time. As the levels increase, the level of difficulty increases. Once your dog has completed a class and met the requirements, you will be awarded a “Q” (qualifying run). Most classes require one “Q” before moving up to the next level. However, Standard classes require your dog to qualify twice.
Once your dog has run a class, go to the scoring table and retrieve your copy of the score sheet to keep for your records. This is where you will pick up any ribbons your dog has won too.
Ultimately, the agility organization you have chosen will keep track of your dog’s accomplishments and send certificates when appropriate. Some people care a lot about ribbons and certificates and some could care less. It really doesn’t matter as long as you and your dog are happy!
If you have any suggestions on how to improve this section or questions, feel free to email us. If we don’t know the answer we’ll direct you to someone who can help.
Good luck and have fun!
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