Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Agility 101

Many of you, both here on the blog or on Facebook, have asked questions about how we got started in agility.  So wonderful to hear that we've inspired some of you to do more with your pups - agility is great exercise for the human and dog alike, both physically & mentally.   Plus nothing builds the bond between you more than learning new things together!

In this post I'll touch on how we got started in agility, then offer some suggestions for those of you who might want to do the same.  Along the way I'm sharing some of our oldest agility photos, lots of them bloopers.  It doesn't always go as you plan out there, you know!

Our very first agility photo!!

As far as how we got started, I'll try to be brief (I can always try anyways, LOL).  It all began by literally making Brutus jump through hoops!   Saw a hula hoop in the basement, and found myself wondering if I could teach Brutus to jump through it.  In a matter of minutes I had him bouncing back & forth through it at various heights & he loved it!  A light went on in my head, realizing I'd just found a great way to put that endless energy of his to work.   I'd seen dog agility televised on Animal Planet numerous times, and figured "why not?". 

At one of our first competitions - Brutus and I having a discussion about the jump.

Luckily I live in an area where there are many agility clubs nearby.  I picked the least intimidating-looking one - after all Brutus wasn't exactly the typical student, and we never intended to compete.  A few email exchanges later & we were signed up for Beginner Agility.  Walking into an agility club with a Frenchie on the other end of your leash can cause quite the collection of raised eyebrows.  In fact we were told during our first lesson to expect that it would take us many sessions (instead of the usual one) to move to an intermediate level because of Brutus' build & personality.  That was May of 2009.  Little did they know....
Just look at that concentration (tipping the teeter)

Within a few weeks Brutus had passed his other classmates & was jumping, climbing and tunneling around the field.  Apparently he never got the memo that Frenchies are "non-sporting".  I loved learning new things with Brutus, seeing him catch on and enjoy the activity so much.  It WAS a great way to drain his energy - at least until it got him is such amazing shape that his energy actually increased!  That funny little body turned into a lean, well-muscled, well-coordinated agility machine before I even realized what had happened.

Umm....  No, mom.  YOU jump through the tire.

By December 2009 we entered our first competition.  A little premature, perhaps - I spent as much time chasing Brutus around on the course as I did actually doing agility.  But boy, did we have FUN!  And I loved how the head-scratching and scoffs of disbelief turned into smiles and applause as they saw what Brutus could do out there (well, at least when he wasn't doing the zoomies...).   I came up with a motto then that is still true today:  We might not always be good, but at least we're entertaining!!

Brutus thought the A-Frame was just there for a place to get a good view.

Fast-forward through lots of trials and training, switching clubs and starting a new dog (Carmen).  Often we've learned what NOT to do, but thankfully have had second chances to get it right.  I trained Carmen very differently based on my experience with Brutus - which is why she's caught up to him so quickly.  Actual agility is just a small part of what I do with both dogs - they get lots of extra veterninary attention (both traditional and homeopathic) and supplements.  We do various things for conditioning, from physio-ball work to hikes in hilly terrain.  The variety is good for our bodies as well as our minds!

The beginnings of Team Frenchie!!

Now - as for those of you who'd like to try your hand (er, paw) at agility.  I'm no expert, having only been at this a few years myself.  Please, Please, PLEASE consult your own resources as well.  That being said, I have some unusual insight because of the unusual dogs I run with!

Bottoms up!  Carmen showing she could still use a little work on her jumping form!

Before starting any new activity, it is of paramount importance that your dog get a thorough veterinary screening (um, you might want to schedule an appointment with your own physician too!).  Agility is one of the most demanding things you can ask of a dog; any underlying physical issues could interfere with training or hurt your dog, so best to get that all sorted out before hand.  Just one little asterisk here - agility can be a dangerous activity, dogs can get injured as well as their handlers.  Proper training and conditioning for you both is essential to minimize that risk as much as possible!

Agility is serious exercise for both members of the team!

Next, be sure you have some good background in basic obedience.  Agility might be much more exciting than sit/stay/come/heel, but without those foundation skills you aren't going to get far!  Dogs should also be well-socialized if possible, unless you intend to only ever take private lessons.  Agility can be great for the shy dog, as the training & activity can really increase their confidence!

That's Brutus in obedience class - group sit/stay with all the big dogs!

I would suggest attending an agility trial if you can find one.  Depending on where you live in the country, different ogranizations may be more popular.  Below is a list of the most prominent organizations, along with a link to their event pages.  You can find calendars on the site & most will let you search by state to find trails that might be within driving distance for you.

There are endless theories on training, many handling styles, and the different venues have different rules/obstacles.  Find teams that have dogs with a similar attitude to yours, and who you enjoy watching.  See if you can approach them outside the ring (BTW, make sure to wait until after they run - we competitors get pretty darn intense).  Most of us are happy to talk dogs with anyone!  Many people travel extensively to attend trials, but hopefully you can find someone who trains nearby.  Usually a local club is the organizer for a trial, so search out the show secretary to find out more about the club.

Is it safe to come out??

I really hope this post answers many of your questions.  Feel free to email me (hrncharddsATyahooDOTcom) if you have specific questions.  Of post them in the comments and I'll do a follow-up post soon to address them.  Doing this post makes me reflect on how far we've come - the photos here are our earliest agility moments captured on film!  Whether you just dabble in agility or get addicted like we have, it's a great pastime and I'll never get tired of talking about it!

Team Frenchie at a recent trial.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing your experience! I've always found the agility guys to be more open minded about breeds than when you're doing obedience, but I guess there are lots of differences around the world. Either way it's great you're out there showing people that Frenchies can both move and think!


Corbin said...

I took two agility classes and loved it! Mom hopes to continue when we have more time and money!

dw said...

I love the early looks on Brutus's face! Jump, yeah, right! Those looks were precious, but boy can he do the jumps now! I remember the post you did about setting up an agility thing in your basement (wasn't there something that only fit through the window or am I confusing you with HGTV?) Thanks for sharing the beginnings of Team Frenchie! You're sure right that they're always entertaining!

verobirdie said...

Thanks for sharing your eperience. The pictures. Are inspiring

Rocky Creek Scotties and Rocky Creek Ramblings said...

Thanks for sharing. You are so fortunate to live in an area that has agility clubs close by. I've always wanted to get Piper into agility but never knew where to start.


Two French Bulldogs said...

we are so proud of you guys. You make agility look easy. We hear some people say frenchies should not do agility due to back or hip you ever hear any coments
Benny & Lily

Dexter said...

Agility rocks. We only do it for fun, not competition. Even Mango loves it. I agree, though, that one does get a bit winded running the course.

Good training is so important. Lots of "trainers" really just point you at obstacles and let you have at it or they skip over the basics too quickly.

I prefer a class that is targeted towards people who are going to compete so that we get proper instruction.

Mango Momma

Brutus, Ellie, Pippa and Otto said...

Thank you so much for telling us all about how you got started. Brutus & I would rather lounge around on the couch, but little Miss Ellie needs something to keep her busy and wear off that excess energy!

Pugs & Kisses,

Yoda, Brutus & Ellie

World of Animals, Inc said...

Thanks for sharing the great post. Agility action photos are just too wonderful to see. Looks like you were having such a great time. Have a wonderful rest of your weekend.
World of Animals