Agility Exercises for Dogs: Trusted Training Tips and Gear Guide for Service Dogs
Agility exercises for dogs offer essential benefits for trainers, K9s, and military dogs. Of the 1,600 military working dogs in the US military, all receive obedience and agility training to ensure top-quality performance and absolute loyalty.
Service dogs must be able to quickly and accurately respond to their handler’s commands if they will be effective in helping with specific tasks. With agility training, service dogs can learn how to move around obstacles efficiently and build strength, coordination, and balance.
Agility training for working dogs is a specific discipline. Knowing the proper agility exercises is essential; some may require specific equipment to help you inform the training sessions. This guide will give you an overview of agility for working dogs.
What is Agility Training for Dogs?
Every handler and trainer has a different system for how they prefer to train a dog’s agility. However, the goal is to make your service dog more observant, obedient, and helpful.
Agility training helps service dogs understand how to navigate various environments, such as furniture or people. It also gives them the confidence they need to better perform their tasks.
Agility courses can use multiple obstacles, but most trainers prefer to keep the number between 14 and 20. Each one helps teach valuable skills to service dogs. Widespread barriers may include pause tables, tunnels, tire jumps, weave poles, and seesaws.
During each training session, the working dog relies entirely on your cues and body language to know what to do and when. For this reason, dog agility drills are critical for all service animals.
Some essential facts about agility training include:
- Certain breeds may be more suitable for working dog agility drills.
- Dogs should be one to two years old before beginning agility activities.
- They should have mastered basic commands, including sitting, kneeling, and lying down.
Before tackling challenging courses, handlers and trainers should always start with simple agility exercises. Some dogs will take to drills faster than others, so patience and a firm hand are vital.
The Benefits of Doing Agility Exercises for Dogs
Why should you invest time and attention in agility movements? Several proven benefits exist for dogs practicing agility drills with their handlers, including:
- Physical and Mental Exercise – Dogs that undergo regular agility drills enjoy an all-around exercise regime that keeps them sharp and well-behaved.
- Extra Mobility – Improved mobility enables your dog to go up, under, and around quickly. Extra mobility can stave off future health problems and make them more adept at tackling obstacles.
- Refresh Commands – These sessions are an opportunity to refresh basic and advanced commands through positive reinforcement. Extra reinforcement makes dogs easier to command and control in the field.
- Strengthen Bonds – The bond between a dog and its handler is sacred. Training exercises allow for both the dog and its owner to achieve a greater understanding of each other.
- Build Confidence – Anxiety is a common problem among dogs, with 17% fearing other dogs and 11% fearing novel situations. Building confidence through agility courses can help combat anxiety.
In short, regular training makes your dog more adept at doing what they do best. There’s a reason why emergency service divisions and the military spend so much time and energy training their four-legged team members on agility courses of varying difficulty.
7 Agility Training Exercises for Dogs
Most people believe agility training is performing figure 8s and running through tunnels. However, agility for service dogs teaches specific skills, including control, strength, balance, and focus. Good handlers must address these areas to get the most from their canines.
In this section, you’ll learn about several basic dog agility training exercises to get started.
1. Carrying Weight
Strength is essential. Building muscles are easier for some breeds than others. Furthermore, some breeds, like border collies, may experience breed-specific issues like shoulder instability. Strengthening your dog’s muscles can prevent many of these health issues from occurring.
Training your dog to carry a dog backpack will enable them to get used to keeping their shoulders in position while strengthening them. Begin with an empty backpack and shorter distances before gradually ramping up the weight and the terrain.
2. Free Running
Unfortunately, modern dogs rarely have the option to run freely because of city ordinances. Speed is a valuable trait for working dogs like law enforcement K-9s. One of the best agility exercises is training your service dog to run without a leash.
Running through training intervals will enable them to improve their speed and get used to unfamiliar terrains, such as vegetation or fallen branches. Encouraging your dog to lift its legs higher to clear obstacles is a form of cavaletti exercise, allowing it to activate more muscle groups.
3. Increase Attention
Working dogs must focus on the task you have given them. However, one of the most significant issues is staying focused when a distraction appears. That is especially important for working dogs and their training programs.
Fostering more vigorous attention begins by reinforcing the bond between you and your dog. Teaching and practicing cues like “Look” or “Watch Me” will force them to make eye contact. Begin this command in a quiet environment before gradually tackling more challenging environments in the field.
4. Touch Target
Another great exercise to improve your dog’s agility is to teach your dog how to touch its nose to your hand or a target. This command familiarizes them with specific movements based on your body signals. Start by training them to touch their nose to the palm of their hand in various positions through positive reinforcement.
5. Walk and Jump
Teaching a dog to jump through a hoop is a classic agility move. Start by teaching them to walk through the hoop and gradually raise its height until they are leaping through it.
Ensure that you tailor this exercise to your dog’s height, weight, and ability. Opt for caution by starting at low heights to decrease the risk of injury.
6. The Balance Beam
The balance beam is just two solid structures with a plank between them. Start by getting your dog onto the platform and then have them walk across the plank to improve confidence and balance. Over time, you can raise the plank and create a secure teeter-totter to build on their knowledge base.
7. Verbal and Nonverbal Cues
All training starts with basic verbal cues, such as walking, sitting, and lying down. Once they have mastered verbal cues, it’s time to move on to non-verbal cues.
These non-verbal cues build coordination and relational skills to benefit dogs on the job. Simple hand gestures, clicks of the tongue, or sounds can take a verbal cue and turn it into a nonverbal cue. Spending time on these non-verbal cues is critical to instilling discipline, even in older, well-trained dogs.
The Best Gear to Help with Dog Agility Drills
You can create many obstacles for your service dog to negotiate with what you have around you. However, for more control over every session and to keep your dog safe, it’s recommended that you invest in professional-quality gear.
Here are some examples of the best gear to help with training exercises for dogs.
High-grade harnesses are a safer option than collars. It eliminates pulling and allows better control over your working dog. Younger dogs in training can benefit from the CaliberDog GT Patrol Harness or the Ultimate Tracking Harness.
Intensify your training with hurdle jumps. Schutzhund IPO IGP Hurdle Jumps use the highest quality materials, and it’s made to use in any season.
Opting for a safe hurdle jump will prevent cuts and scrapes as your dog learns to clear greater heights. Try an Aluminum Deluxe Hurdle Jump to strengthen muscles, improve coordination, and build confidence.
Distraction is a significant obstacle to a well-trained dog. You need a solution that teaches your dog to stay focused on you, regardless of sights and sounds in the vicinity. Build focus and teach your service dog how to avoid being distracted with training sticks. Our four-way clatter stick is designed to provide tactile desensitization, making your dog more obedient and receptive to commands.
Consider the scaling wall if you want to improve strength, balance, and coordination. This exercise is one of the best agility drills for service dogs. It requires excessive energy and confidence to complete, making it a favorite among professional dog trainers for the military or police. Choosing an A-frame scaling wall enables them to get used to climbing over larger obstacles, activates different muscle groups, and give them confidence in any situation.
Get the Best Training Gear with ActiveDogs
At ActiveDogs, we’re committed to helping you get the best possible outcomes for your training. Whether working with K9s or military dogs in the making, our mission is to help handlers and trainers improve their training outcomes with high-quality, safe agility equipment.
Combine your agility exercises for dogs with the highest-quality selection of walls, harnesses, clatter sticks, patches, and other dog agility equipment. If you have any questions about our protection sports supplies, contact our customer support team now.