To Stay or Not To Stay in Dog Agility

dog down stayI suspect that many of us, especially us older folks, were just being responsible dog owners taking our dogs through obedience when we were first exposed to dog agility. I don’t mean those that were in obedience with the goal of gaining titles, just us trying to put some control into our new family member.  Maybe your introduction was so very casual that you just ran a small course with reduced heights on contacts and jumps and no foundational training.  Dog agility has become so popular and more common that this practice isn’t followed much if at all especially knowing the benefits of getting the dog physically and mentally ready before ever touching a piece of equipment. But it got us hooked anyway.

There are some definite advantages to having a foundation in obedience when it comes to some of the important aspects of dog agility such as a recall and you dog knowing to stay by your side. It can have downfalls as well by creating a Velcro dog that isn’t comfortable putting distance between them and the handler while running. But we want to look at some of the basic obedience that can be of significant value when running dog agility.

1) Recall. By far the most important especially when trialing in open areas. 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 and you need to know your dog will come to you when called. It is also helpful in negotiating a course when your dog heads to a trap.

2) Sit and Down. In some of the venues such as AKC and USDAA it is a must for completing the Pause Table.  If your dog has issues with the table you can pick venues and games that do not use one. For the rest of you, you can practice and proof your dogs with sit/down/stand stays on different surfaces and under different conditions. You can cover your table with carpets, a towel, even some plastic. Don’t forget to practice on a wet surface as well. 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.

3) Stay.  Not everyone or every dog does well with a start line stay, but it is a most if the venue you use employs a stay on the table. In these cases your dog must stay on a table for 5 seconds in the position required or the clock resets. A start line stay can be highly advantageous if you have a fast dog or difficult course, so you may want to work on one for those special occasions as well.

4) Heel.   The actual “heel” used in obedience competition may not be the best for your agility dog, but a “by me” type of position is of great value. This is a command that requires your dog to stay close by, but not in heel position or fixated on you. It’s so important for everyday life (like walking your dog stress-free) as well.  Plus, it can be a foundation exercise that really teaches your dog to look to you for direction. And be sure to teach your dog to work on on both sides of you.

5) Easy or wait.  Many people train their dogs to slow down using these commands.  This is particularly common when dogs run onto the teeter or table and go so fast that they fall off. Wait can also be used in place of stay to let the dog know they will be moving again soon.

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.

Though no formal obedience is needed for dog agility, these are just some commands that cross over nicely and are of great value to you and your dog in everyday life as well.