Agility dogs…

About a week ago, Toni sent me an email. “I gave my book away… can you give me another one?”

Toni Drugmand is my dog trainer. You can read all about her in Chapter 33 “Thanks, Toni” of Challenges and Rewards. Both print and eBook are available at Amazon.

I knew she would be teaching a dog class at the Scottsdale park on Saturday. I made arrangements to take Bernie and Chris and meet her around ten that morning.

We arrived, and she had two separate classes in progress. Both had about a dozen handlers with their dogs. Lynn, Toni’s assistant, was teaching the advanced course, and Toni was busy with the Beginning class.

cute wait

All dogs are trained to stay in their ‘place’ by sitting on their training pad. Here, the handler is walking around his dog with the leash fully extended. He will jiggle the leash… attempting to break the dog’s concentration, so it leaves his ‘place’ and comes to the handler.

That’s not allowed. The point is the dog remain in its ‘place’ until the handler releases it with another command. The background shows other dogs obediently on their place or by the handler’s side.

Bernie and Chris were anxious to get out of the car, so I leashed them and walked them around. We didn’t want to disturb the class, so we just wandered around for about thirty minutes.

I’d given Toni a new copy of my book, so we left. On the way out of the park, I saw another large group doing Agility training. I stopped to watch the dogs and handlers perform.  wait dogs  fast

“Agility training is all about building a common language between dog and owner. It teaches you to use body language to communicate clearly and effectively.”

The above quote is from 3LostDogs, an online resource for dog owners. I’m quoting extensively. They don’t list an individual author… so the source is The closest I came to identifying an author is ‘Jake.’

Agility is a game that provides the kind of exercise that improves a dog’s behavior.

“Have you ever taken your dog for a long run, only to bring him home and find that he’s actually more hyper and crazy than when you started? Vigorous exercise is good for Fido’s body, but does nothing to exercise his brain.”

“Boredom is the leading cause of behavior problems because dogs were bred to work. Agility gives you something cool to do with your dog.”

Having difficulty having your dog do what you say?

Agility “teaches Fido that you are lots of fun and worth listening to.”

Consider… you take your dog to the park. You unleash him, and he runs off and does his own thing. Then you bring him home. That’s no fun. “You’re not Fido’s best buddy. You’re his chauffeur.”

What exactly is Agility?

“It’s a timed obstacle course for a team that consists of a handler and a dog. The handler directs the dog through a predetermined pattern of obstacles.

A course usually has 12-18 obstacles, like tunnels, jumps, tire jumps, weave poles and a big ‘ramp’ obstacles collectively known as contacts.

tunnel378  stakes392  jump bar402  raised ramp370

“The dog runs the course off leash, and the handler can’t touch the dog. The handler relies on body language and, to a lesser extent, vocal cues to tell the dog where to go.”

It’s a fairly recent event that first appeared in England in 1978. There it was used in horse jumping competition, to show natural speed and agility. Dog owners and trainers saw it and decided their dogs could do that. A new sport was born.

There is an ever-growing list of agility organizations and locations. Here in the Valley of the Sun, there are several:

agility map368

Too young, too old, too out of shape?

No such thing. The sport is open to people of all ages and athletic ability.

At any given trial you will find junior handlers, veteran handlers and everything in between.

Fitness and physical ability?

You will see people in motorized scooters to Olympic gold medalists.

Only pure-bred dogs?

While herding breeds like border collies are masters of this game, they are not the only players. “Chihuahuas, pit bulls, huskies, hounds, even Great Danes,” you name it.

“Surprisingly, certain toy breeds like Papillion have a real knack for ability.”

Check out this photo I snapped this Saturday:  fLash  That little flash is… I think… A Papillion. The handler’s hair shows how difficult it is for her to catch up to guide this little guy through its next contact. The low bars are set for its height. Larger dogs will have much higher raised bars.

Back to what types of dogs participate in Agility. “Even the American Kennel Club, for many the very symbol of purebred snobbery, have opened up some agility trials to the mutts.”

I stayed around for about thirty minutes. My dogs were very patient, but I knew they wanted to go. It’s one thing to stay in the car, but when all the other dogs are outside enjoying themselves… well…..

For a lot more detail about agility training, check out

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