What an all-around good sport my Flex was (GCH CH Covy-Tucker Hill's Tjr's Marc Flex, CD RE HSADSC HXADS NAJ OAP OJP). He and I started out in conformation and, since I am a dog handler while holding down a demanding day job, I took him in the ring myself. It seems like it was no time at all until he became a Grand Champion. We did enough obedience for him to get his Rally Excellent and Companion Dog titles. On to herding and more titles on sheep, ducks, and cattle. I thought why not try agility?
When you start learning agility, it is pretty simple. You and your dog become familiar with all of the obstacles – jumps (including through suspended tires), A-frames, weave poles, teeter-totters, and high beams – paying particular attention to the contact points at the bottom. It is all about speed in agility, but the dog’s safety is the highest priority. For instance, picture an A-frame. The dog could leap from the ground to halfway up, scramble over the peak, then launch itself from halfway down. Not good – that’s an injury waiting to happen.
For some dogs, the tunnels are scary, especially the ones that are collapsed at the exit end. Not Flex. He loved the tunnels the first time he tried them. He blasted through them with joy. He also enjoyed the teeter-totter. He’d walk up to the middle then step once or twice until the upside tilted down and hit the ground, then he’d calmly walk down to race off to the next obstacle. The only corrective training I had to do with Flex was to get him to stop standing atop the A-frame for several seconds as he took in the view.
As is the case with other competitions, agility has three levels: Novice, Open and Excellent. In Novice, there are 14 to 16 obstacles. A dog can enter Open trials after getting three qualifying scores in novice. Open has 16 to 18 obstacles and requires more proficiency from the handler. In Excellent, the number of obstacles increases by another two, going from 18 to 20. Since I started with teaching Flex what words were associated with what obstacles, I could stand in the middle of the arena and point my shoulder in the direction he should run to the next obstacle I called out.
Flex and I enjoyed agility. He was an athletic, very coordinated boy. I know that many take their less agile dogs into the sport to help them learn how to be more confident in their footing and balance. Agility can be a workout for the handler, running from obstacle to obstacle, frequently in a sandy arena. I recommend working with a good trainer (we worked with Happiness Country Kennels in Sunol who can show you how best to work with your dog the way I did with Flex, where I got to stand in one place and let Flex do all the work.
Theresa Royer is the President of the Diablo Valley German Shepherd Dog Club. You can reach Theresa at email@example.com.