How to find a good agility club

Dog doc question 17: How do I find an agility club?

I want to start doing something with my dog, but I don’t know where to go?  It’s really challenging.  Often, when people get their first dog, they don’t know many other ‘dog people’.  Just like with any hobby or interest, if you don’t do it, you don’t know anything about it.

You could talk to people you meet when walking your dog.  Ask them if they do any training with their dog and if so, who do they go to?  Usually people are only to happy to promote their trainer, so that is a good place to start.  Often though, good trainers are fully booked up, but they may well know other people who train.

Anyone with collies should know plenty of dog trainers – collies need to be doing something!

What questions should you ask when choosing a place to train for agility?

  • Do you teach fun or competitive agility?  If you have a collie and are young and fit, you will definitely want to go somewhere that trains for competition.  If you are old and unfit and have another breed, consider going to ‘fun agility’ first.  But be warned!  Fun agility can just mean “I don’t really know what I’m doing.”  This might mean that it’s not safe.
  • How experienced are the instructors?  Again, it’s about safety.  The more experienced the trainer, the better, obviously.  There are qualifications for agility training – KC Accreditation, or the British Institute of Professional Dog Trainers (BIPDT), specialising in agility.  If you want to be taught well, try and find someone who has trained and competed to Championship level, or competed at National or International level.
  • How old do dogs need to be?  Dogs should be at least a year old before they start jumping.  Foundation work for experienced handlers can begin earlier, but a complete novice should not start with a dog younger than a year.  Equally, dogs should not be too old; any dog over about five is probably too old to start.  They must be fit – agility is not a way to get an obese dog into shape.  Again, this is about putting strain on joints, agility is a sport for the dogs (if not for their owners!)
  • Do you use reward-based training?  I’d be amazed if you found anyone who said no to this question, but some trainers believe in being ‘firm’ with their dogs and expecting a good level of behaviour.  I would hope that the trainer would have the facility to cope with dogs who don’t like other dogs, or dogs who run off, or who bark uncontrollably.  There should be crates for dogs to stay in, the area should be fenced securely and there should be somewhere a dog can be tied up between runs.
  • Where is the training held?  A competitive agility arena is 30m x 30m, so that’s roughly the amount of space needed as a minimum.  Most agility is done in a field or an indoor school at an equestrian centre.  Either way, it should have a good surface for running about.  Outdoor training areas can become slippery when wet, so trainers should take account of this.  What cancellation policy do they have?  You shouldn’t have to pay if it is too wet to run safely.  However, be prepared to train in all weathers!  Dogs don’t usually mind the rain.
  • Do you have all the equipment, and is it professionally built?  This is very important.  Items should be reasonably heavy, so they don’t blow over.  Tunnels should be weighted down at either end so they don’t move.  Competitive agility includes the following items:
    • 16-20 items
    • Jumps with four different height settings and wings
    • Tunnels
    • Dog walk, A-frame and seesaw
    • Weaves
    • Optional items include a tyre, a long jump, a wall, other types of jumps
  • How many people in each class?  You want a small group only; 4-6 people is ideal.  Any less than that and you are on the go all the time, which can be a bit full on when you start.  More than that and everyone gets bored.
  • How long are the sessions?  Typically training classes last an hour.  After that, the dog gets tired and can’t concentrate.
  • How much are the classes?  Fees vary enormously, particularly by region.  If it’s too cheap it probably means the trainer is not qualified, or insured.
  • Do you have insurance?  Essential.  It’s a sport – both people and dogs can be injured.

Go and watch a class first

If you like the sound of it all, please go and watch a session first, so you know what to expect.  Dogs get very excited by agility, so your dog may not behave as you expect them to!  You might need some help managing this.  Some dogs are so focused on whether or not it is their turn that they don’t mind other dogs barking right next to them.  Others will react to this aggressively.  So be prepared to give other people space.

Agility is fun!

I cannot stress this enough.  It is fun for your dog and fun for you.  Do not take it seriously, you will be sorely disappointed!  This is a life lesson I took a while to learn.  I am a competitive person who likes to do well, so being so bad at something for so long was demoralising and uncomfortable.  Eventually I realised that it was not about winning or losing, or being better than other people.  It was about me and my dogs, being out there and enjoying ourselves.  It is also great spending time with other ‘dog people’ who are all as lovely as their dogs!

Ask me for Advice?

You are very welcome to contact me to ask for my advice.  I won’t necessarily know the answer!  But I can help you with a variety of issues and problems around getting a dog and suggestions for tackling training issues.  Please let me know if you have found this post helpful?

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