Agility a great fall sport for dogs and owners

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As the weather cools down it is the ideal time to join an agility class, whether for fun or on a competitive basis.

Agility is a participatory sport for dogs and their owners. It is both physically and mentally stimulating for dogs. The obstacles and skills are varied and test the dog and owner in many ways.

Agility is for confident dogs as well as dogs who need to learn to become confident.

Jumps: Most dogs jump naturally. The jump heights in agility are set based upon the height of the dog's shoulder. Even though you know your dog can jump higher, she should jump only to regulation.

If you are starting your dog as a puppy, then the jump bars are actually set lower so as not to injure delicate forming joints, bones and muscles. Once the dog is more than 1 to 1½ years of age, he can begin to jump regulation height for his size.

Jumps are the most numerous and varied in agility obstacles. There are single bar jumps, double and triple spreads, tire jumps, broad and wing jumps. They test the dog's ability to jump upright, stretch out, through an enclosed area, and to jump over items that are on the ground and look like they should just be stepped on.

Tunnels and Chutes: Running through an enclosed space can build confidence. Pushing through a piece of fabric where the dog can't see the way out is particularly challenging.

A frame: This tests the dog's ability to climb up and down. The incline is more than 5 feet high and the dog has to pull itself up and then run down. It is easier for large dogs.

Dog Walk: In essence, this is a balance beam. It is off the ground and the height can be visually precarious. It is also quite narrow and easier for smaller and more sure-footed dogs.

Table: A dog has to either Sit, Down or Stand in a calm position for a few seconds and may get off only at the owner's cue.

Teeter: This requires serious physical control. The dog has to be careful to stay on while the teeter balances and then goes down.

Weave poles: Considered the most difficult of all. The dog has to weave through a series of poles, not missing any. While most other obstacles have an element of fun, the Weave requires focus and agile body movement.

There can be other obstacles depending on the course. Owners work with their dogs to run the course and correctly guide them to the correct place. A dog should know basic obedience. Obstacle commands and hand signals are taught during classes.

If you and your dog like this, it can be one of the most rewarding things you do together. The fun for you both, the bonding and anticipation, the learning of new skills, the overcoming of fear, the pride of accomplishment can be like no other activities you do with your dog.

Abby Bird is owner of Alpha Dog Obedience Training. ajbird@hargray.com

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