To obey or not to obey
What 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. 🙂