Mowgli, our lab/border collie mix is the most obedient, sweet boy. His goal in life is to please us and he’s barely motivated by food – just love and approval will do. In our backyard, I can have him run from here to there and stay on top of a hill and jump just for the heck of it. A neighbour suggested that I take him to agility class about a year ago. I thought about it but did not sign up, until now that is.
Tonight is week 3 of agility class. We are fortunate that there’s an agility class just down the road from us. I want to share “what to expect” re: trying agility with your dog for the first time:
1) Expect the unexpected. We prepared ourselves for what could go wrong at agility class. Maybe Mowgli would mark and it would be embarrassing? Maybe he would whine really loud like he did at obedience class. Nope, neither of these were the problem. At the outdoor agility class we couldn’t get Mowgli to stop sniffing the grass! This has never been a problem for him before. I had such a hard time getting him to “watch me” and pay attention.
2) Expect to feel like an outsider if you have a mutt. Unlike at obedience class, everyone in my Agility class has a purebred. I ask them questions about their breed, no one has asked me about Mowgli yet!
3) Expect there to be competitive people even at the beginner level. I’m the only one in my class who is new at being a dog handler. Everyone else has done agility before but with different dogs. They are confident in what certain elements on the course are called and know all of the commands. I found myself running the course with Mowgli because they were running the course with their dogs. There’s just a lot of competition at even the lowest level!
4) Expect to get a work out for yourself too! One hour of agility is a good work out even though it doesn’t look like it from the side-lines. Be prepared to sweat!
5) Expect to spend money on dog treats to help motivate your pooch. Chicken wieners are an inexpensive option. I cut 3-4 of them up in small pieces and keep it in the fridge in a zip lock bag so I can just grab it the day of class.
6) Expect for it not to be “so much fun” for your dog at first. If your dog hasn’t done agility before, he can be confused by all that’s expected of him. Also, new settings and lots of other dogs (some that want to eat your dog) can really stress him out. Expect it to be an experience rather than a really fun time at the beginning.
7) Expect for the class to challenge you just as much or more than your dog. Having a laid-back approach really works well here! If your dog is not the agility star you had hoped (either due to being too distracted or anxious or not doing parts of the course) learn to laugh it off. Praise the heck out of your dog when he/she does something well – even if it’s small in compassion to how they just messed up. Enjoy learning something new (agility), even if it’s not something you’ll do ever again.
Mowgli is excellent at Agility when it comes to jumping through hoops, going through tunnels, walking on teeter totter, etc. His anxiety from being in a new place is what holds him back from being a great agility dog. While I’d love to outshine all the purebred dogs in agility, I don’t think we’ll be going further after the course is over in 3 weeks. Nevertheless, I’m having fun with my dog. And when he does things on the course just because he wants to see me happy, I am reminded what a good dog I have!