“My dog could never do that!” I hear that a lot from people when they first see an agility team in action. It usually bursts out of them when the dog is flying through the weave poles, executing a task that seems impossibly difficult. I said something like that myself the first time I saw it, but, actually, most dogs can learn to do agility if they are physically able.
That remark is often followed by, “How long does it take to teach them to do that?” When I tell them that 12 months is a reasonable estimate, I often see the interest drain out of their faces. That sounds like a lot of time and work. They obviously haven’t experienced the joy of training.
Agility requires the most training of any dog sport in which I participate. And you’re never really done. Training continues even when a dog is very experienced, so I’m always training. And I love it.
Back in the 20th century, people got the idea that dog training is boring work conducted in a joyless atmosphere. That might have been true decades ago, but training has changed dramatically. It turns out that positive methods are not only a lot more enjoyable for both dog and handler, but also produce excellent results. And even if you wanted to, you wouldn’t succeed in agility using old-fashioned, dominance-based training methods. It’s an off-leash sport that requires a happy, willing canine partner. Agility is about joy, for both teammates.
“Agility is about joy, for both teammates.”
When I started in agility, I wanted to complete the training so I could actually “do” agility. Obviously, training was necessary, and I thought it would be worthwhile, but not particularly fun. I figured once my dog was trained, I’d get to the good part – competition. But eventually I realized that I had it backwards. You compete to find out how your training is going. Training is where you develop an amazing bond with your dog that enriches both of your lives. It becomes part of your lifestyle. Competing is just a fun way to test your training.
Don’t get me wrong; I love to compete. I love the atmosphere, the wonderful people I’ve met, and the fun of playing with my dog like a kid. I enjoy the physical and mental challenge. But, more than that, I love it when it’s just me and my dog, training alone and finally nailing that tricky skill. And I love the lessons that always seem to end up as dog parties. That’s where the joy is.
So, it turns out that the old saying applies to dog training. It’s a journey, so enjoy it. Go after your competitive goals, but enjoy getting there. You’ll spend far more time training than you will competing, so don’t focus too much on the endgame. Our dogs’ lives are short, and their athletic careers even shorter. Have as much fun as possible with them along the way.
If you enjoyed this post, you should read “The Most Important Thing You Need To Foster A Dog” here.
Have you tried agility training with your dog? Share your story below!