Why am I a poor student? I don’t live at HOAS and I do both horse riding and dog agility on a regular once or twice a week basis. Horse riding has been a part of my past-time for a bit more than eleven years, but dog agility came into the picture three years ago, when Freya (my four-year-old Swedish Vallhund) turned one. Even though no specific equipment is needed for doing agility in an agility club (they provide the obstacles), the prices for training aren’t exactly low. They range from 10e to 20e per hour, depending on the situation and the club in question. Most dog training centres have courses on agility and some even have their own groups training regularly, but those are a bit more expensive. Here’s how Wikipedia manages to describe dog agility very briefly: “Dog agility is a dog sport in which a handler directs a dog through an obstacle course in a race for both time and accuracy. Dogs run off-leash with no food or toys as incentives, and the handler can touch neither dog nor obstacles.” To compare it with equestrian sports, agility is like the dog version of show jumping, while obedience trial (ToKo) is more like dressage.
The thing with agility is that it’s fun and it gives the dog something to think about. Agility develops the relationship between a dog and the handler and is good exercise for both. It also provides an excellent way of getting to know the strengths and weaknesses of the dog. But as Wikipedia says, agility is mostly about precision and speed. Some dog breeds are used in agility more often than others. The most successful agility breeds all over the world are Border Collies and Shetland Sheepdogs. They are agile, obedient and very easy to train. Because a certain level of obedience is of course expected, having a highly trainable dog makes the job of the handler a lot easier.
I can’t remember when I first heard of agility, but my first personal experience was three years ago when I signed me and Freya up for a basic course in agility. I instantly knew that this was my kind of dog sport. I’ve now been doing agility with Freya regularly for two years. We’ve tried competing in it a couple of times, but since Freya has poor nerves (if at all) and not enough motivation (aka speed), it’s not been serious and probably will never be. Agility does give Freya the perfect way of letting off steam, though. She also likes the sausages she gets to eat at training.. For a while, we had training twice a week, but due to monetary problems, we’ve now gone back to once a week. I am probably going to get another dog, a Border Collie, in a couple of years and start doing agility a bit more seriously (or at least aim to compete more) with that one. I might even try ToKo with Freya in the future.
If you ever get a dog, or already have one, I recommend at least trying agility. It really is fun and usually the dogs like it too. It doesn’t have to be serious and competing in it is very much optional. Agility is a physical sport, which means that, unfortunately, training regularly isn’t for everyone. For dogs with problems with their backs or hips, other dog sports might be more suitable.
Finally, to provide you with an idea of what agility really is and what it should be, a couple of videos:
Here’s what it should look like: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ggVgVWkS_ig
…and here’s what it more often looks like: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bP8FiXAzCRg