To obey or not to obey

dogheelingWhat comes first, obedience or agility? I was introduced to agility after taking an obedience class. At the end of the class my instuctor set up all these cool obstacles (I had never seen it before) and we had a contest to run the obstacles for fun, without ANY introductory training. Probably not the best idea for safety reasons, but I had a fearless and trusting dog (she’d leap off a cliff if I asked her to) and she did fantastic. This was the beginning of my competition career (and future business) in dog agility.

Did it help to have the obedience training beforehand? You bet. While official obedience training isn’t necessary, your dog should have some of the basics down pat. Including:

1) The recall. This is by far the most important. Your dog should be able to come when called, and in all sorts of distracting circumstances. In competitions, you take your dog off a leash. What will happen? What could happen? Believe me, it has happened.  See this post for more information on the importance of a recall in agility (and a video).

2) Sit and Down. This is a must for using the Pause Table.  An agility trial is a bad place to train your dog to sit on a table (precious time will be lost) so make sure that you practice this at home.  Also, you should ‘proof’ your dog to sit or down on a wet table, or a table with different kinds of surfaces.  You can cover your table with carpets, a towel, even some plastic.  Get your dog used to sitting quickly on unpredictable surfaces and you’ll be ahead of many people who get out there and find their dog slow to sit for this and that reason. (see ‘Terrified of the Table’ for a Q&A session on someone whose dog refused to sit on a table, but would on other surfaces)

3) Stay.  Another important thing that your dog should be good at.   Not only must your dog stay on a table for 5 seconds, but it is highly advantageous to be able to put him in a stay and move away to set yourself up for the next obstacle.    This is also helpful at a start line.  See this post on start line lead-outs for more information.

4) Heel.   This is a common obedience exercise, but I don’t feel it is necessary for your dog to have this mastered for agility training.  But shucks, it’s so important for everyday life (like walking your dog stress-free) that I can’t help but include it here.  Plus, in the whole science of ‘body language’ and your dog following your movements, heeling is a foundation exercise that really teaches your dog to look to you for direction, literally.   Keep in mind that at first you might find changing sides with dogs awkward, since heeling is typically one-sided. I would suggest breaking that mold and teaching him to heel on both sides.  

5) Easy or wait.  Many people train their dogs to slow down using these commands.  This is particularly common when dogs run up dogwalks and go so fast that they fall off at the slightest jiggle.

6) No potty.  I believe in teaching your dog the ‘go potty’ command as he or she is ‘going’.  This reinforces the simple phrase, ‘no potty’, which you can use when your dog seems to want to go, but you don’t want him to.  Like out on an agility field.  This is a no-no.  Never allow your dog to eliminate when practicing agility, or even around agility obstacles.  In a trial you would be disqualified.

This is by far *not* an exhaustive list of obedience commands that you can teach your dog as a foundation to agility.  I really consider only the first 3 necessary.  Do you agree or disagree?  Feel free to share your comments below. 🙂

5 Comments on “To obey or not to obey

  1. Wow, thanks for sharing this story. I don’t feel so bad about my Springer. She can stay (doesn’t have the same problem as yours) but she has other idosycrincies that challenge me as a trainer. It’s like a mental block and nothing I do (or other trainers can do) can help. But, there are improvements as I work with her. It’s just they can be so slow. Like a flower opening. If you watch it, it never seems to grow, but it is. I’m glad there is a variety to agility to allow ALL our dogs a chance to have fun.

  2. My dogs do primarily NADAC and CPE…

    NADAC there is no table.

    CPE the table is only used to stop the clock. They just have to get on it – no other behavior is required, although my dog will now sit briefly on it automatically. USDAA it is only used in Standard and there they do require a stay so we play Snooker and Pairs and the other games and avoid it.

    A stay may be easy to teach most dogs – and one of my dogs has a marvelous stay – I could leave for an hour and come back and he will stay put! – but if you met this most recent rescue dog, you would understand why stay is not possible. And when she does stay, she is wiggling and shaking the entire time until I release her. Her body is never still – ever – except the one or two hours that she lets herself sleep at night – part of it is a neurologic disorder and part of it is nervousness from abuse… I’ve had three behavioral specialists and two obedience trainers evaluate her and they agree that she will most likely never have a stay, and that’s OK by me because we can still play agility and be successful without it!

  3. Thought I would comment on this. A stay is only required on the table in AKC and USDAA. CPE/ASCA/NADAC either don’t use the table or only use it to stop time where the dog just has to jump up on it (I believe). For the stay on the table in AKC (either in a sit position or a down position) and USDAA (always in a down position), you do not need to move away from the dog (yes, nice to have for fast dogs but still not really necessary, just like the start line stay). So the dog can do a stay with you standing next to him as long as you are not holding or touching him. So teach a stay (meaning dog doesn’t move his position) without you moving away from the dog, that should be enough.

  4. Hi Christine, I’m puzzled, how can there by no stay on a table required in other organizations other than AKC? Do they not have to stay there for 5 seconds?
    A stay is easy to teach, and I guess I can’t imagine my dog not knowing how to do it. Though I agree with a stay not being necessary for start-line procedures. I’ve seen many a professional holding their dog at the start line! But for the table… still puzzled.

  5. Honestly, I truly feel only number one (recall) is required for agility training. I had a very hard time finding an agility class for my dog because she lacked foundation – however, because I taught her at home, she was extremely proficient on all the agility obstacles and sequences. And she had a strong recall. She is in the top level of CPE yet still cannot get into most classes because she does not have a stay. She is a nervous nellie and doesn’t stay in public because it makes her too scared and I would never ask that of her at an agility trial so it is not needed in our training…. we don’t do AKC so a stay on the table is not needed. Yet most trainers won’t accept her without it. I finally found a facility that took her in and I am forever grateful to them to allow us to join their 7 week agility course to fine tune the agility I’ve taught her on my own. She loves it so much and the thought that she couldn’t do it because of a stay is sad to me. I also teach agility and many of my students come without obedience backgrounds. If taught well, the foundation can be taught at the same time as agility and many of these people are now trialing with their dogs as well.