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Dog Agility Classes: What You Need to Know!

a dalmation leaping over an agility jump
Dr. Erica Irish author of dog agility classes: what you need to know

What is Dog Agility Training?

Agility training is a special kind of program for dogs in which they are taught to move through obstacle courses for exercise or for sport. Dogs and their owners can participate in training classes for simple fun, and some dogs may enjoy competing professionally in agility trials.

Many trials are held locally or even internationally to determine which dogs can complete these courses in the shortest amount of time while clearing each obstacle in a specific way. Tunnels, jumps, pause tables, weave poles, and teeter-totters are examples of some of these obstacles.

Almost any dog can participate in agility training and trials. Certain trials may require specific breeds as a rule, but there are also many agility trials for mixed-breed dogs, both large and small. Agility training is useful in helping dogs to focus, especially active and energetic dogs like a shepherd and terrier dogs. Training can also help dogs with anxiety and prevent destructive or negative behavior.

When dogs undergo agility training, they form a stronger bond with their owners or handlers and develop a very productive relationship. This is because dogs and their handlers learn a whole new language together. They learn to interpret new words, signals, and each other’s body language.

This kind of relationship is also highly rewarding because handlers and dogs enjoy spending time together. Many handlers find that their dog’s personality seems to “switch” when agility trials start, almost as if the dog knows that he needs to focus and get ready to go to work.  

Dog Agility Classes

Before getting started with agility classes, you will need to make sure that your dog is physically healthy and fully grown. Dogs less than one year of age should not participate in agility because the high impact from the obstacle courses may cause damage to your dog’s growth plates and joints. Dogs with heart disease and orthopedic problems should get clearance from their veterinarians, and dogs who are pregnant or recently had surgery should not participate.

You need to make sure that both you and your dog enjoy agility because training is as much for you as it is for your dog. It’s a good idea to attend your first agility trial as a member of the audience or even a ring volunteer.

You can choose to keep your dog at home, or you can bring him with you to see how he reacts to the sights, sounds, and other dogs. By choosing to be an observer for your first trial, you can get a better idea of what to expect when you and your furry friend participate for the first time.

Keep in mind that you will definitely get plenty of exercises while running through the courses alongside your dog. You can gauge your dog’s interest in agility by observing his behavior at the dog park, and some pet fairs or conventions have pieces of obstacle course equipment on-site that you can sample with your dog.

He will also need to know some basic commands like “sit” and “stay.” You should also have some idea of what best motivates your dog. This can be his favorite snack or toy which is then used while your dog navigates the obstacles for the first time.  

Agility classes range from beginner to advanced and competitive styles. Organizations like the United States Dog Agility Association (USDAA), the North American Dog Agility Council (NADAC), and the American Kennel Club (AKC) can assist in finding a training program for you and your dog. These groups can help you get in touch with local trainers and facilities where you can get started. Once you’ve started classes, you can continue training with your dog at home.

a small white dog weaving between poles in an agility course

Home Training to Help With Classes

Before beginning straight with agility training, it will be useful and possibly even easier on you and your dog if you both have gone through basic obedience training, behavior training, as well as some handling skills. If you are not sure where to start then you may benefit from seeking out a local dog trainer or any classes that you can find available.

Dog training in your home, more specifically agility training, can be a way for you and your dog to test out and see if it is something that you and your dog would like to do as a hobby or maybe something more professionally.

Some of the agility obstacles used in agility can be purchased commercially or can be built by hand. Jumps and hurdles can be created with PVC pipes, and you will want to look for information on the USDAA website to determine how high the hurdles and jumps need to be. Other obstacles may be tricky to build, so be sure to purchase quality gear from reputable sources to guarantee their safety when creating your own agility course.

Once you and your dog have some lessons under your belt and a good understanding of the agility foundation, you can use what you’ve learned to teach your dog to run a standard course. There are a few different setups that are made up of a combination of several obstacles. Make sure that your setup is similar to what you’ve been shown in class in order to help your dog retain what he has learned.

Training at home is also helpful because it is a safe place for your dog. If he becomes anxious with training classes, or if there is a new obstacle that is scary at first, then it is a good idea to have a place at which to retreat.

Once he has had some rest and relaxation, you can both try again the following day. Remember to be patient with your dog because it can take days or even weeks to learn how to navigate certain obstacles.

Keep plenty of cool drinking water available for your dog and do not practice in the outdoor heat for more than ten to fifteen minutes a day. In the summer, it may be best to avoid the outdoor practice altogether, especially around noon. Consider practicing indoors instead, and remember that both of you should take rest breaks often!  


Agility training has so many benefits for you and your canine companion. It keeps both of you active and healthy, it can help strengthen the bond between the two of you, and it is fun! Beginner’s classes are an easy way to get started, and over time, you can progress to competing in competitions.

You can practice at training facilities and at your house if you wish. For more information on agility training, contact the USDAA, the NADAC, and the AKC. Also, check-in with your veterinarian to make sure that your dog is healthy before starting agility training classes.  

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Meet The Author 

Dr. Erica Irish author of Dog Agility classes: what you need to know

Dr. Erica Irish

Erica has worked in the veterinary field since 2006, starting out as a veterinary technician before graduating from the UF College of Veterinary Medicine in 2013. As a general practitioner in an animal hospital, she has many interests and is especially interested in dermatology, cardiology, internal and integrative medicine

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