“Search for what naturally makes your dog smile.” Wise advice from one of my heroes, Sue Sternberg, an expert in the field of shelter dogs and their temperaments. Personally, it gets to the heart of how we should train and live with our dogs. It’s one of the reasons why we try to make classes fun and active. Dogs tend to trust and respect, listen and behave better for owners who make them smile.
All dogs are different and have different likes. Our job is to find what naturally makes them happy. My parents’ Yorkie, Regis, loves to search in flowers for lizards. It’s his natural instinct in action. Our dog, Dooper, a Llewellin English Setter, loves to run and set on birds in open field since he’s a bird dog. When he was younger he loved fetch and do agility.
One of my graduates, Sallie and her dog Gunter, a handsome German Shepherd Dog, absolutely loved to sniff the ground for all types of things. I recommended she do Nose-Work classes with him. She did and he loves it. She and I found something that used his natural interest. Dooley, Charlene’s (another student) Doodle, loves to cuddle with people and has become a wonderful therapy dog for TDI. Again, she pursued what makes him happy. The Mitchell family came for obedience classes and discovered when we started agility that their Cavalier, Colin, thrived on it. Based on our equipment, they built their own stuff and years later still have fun doing agility with him in their own backyard.
We love when we discover what naturally “lights up” a dog. Activities like agility are transforming how we train. It creates a dog that wants to learn, wants to listen and wants to be with his owners. That’s why we teach it in all classes, even puppy class. Of course, we use low level equipment, tunnels and ramps since their bones and muscles are still in development.
Agility is something you do with your dog so it helps build your relationship with him. You and he play together–that’s what we want. It’s easy to learn. Any size dog can do it because we can raise or lower equipment to match their size. Small dogs love it just as much as the big guys, as do mixed and pure breeds of all types. Any person can do it. In fact, some of the best handlers are kids.
Agility teaches good manners commands because your dog will need to sit, stay, down, go-to-your-place, come and walk/run along side with you. As trainers, it gives us exciting ways to teach these sometimes boring but necessary obedience skills.
Agility is a socially good time for you and your dog with other agility enthusiasts. It far beats a dog park in my opinion. It’s so much safer and again your dog is spending quality time playing with you. Or like Colin’s family, you can make your own stuff for your backyard. Pretty much anyone can do agility: young and old, fit or out-of-shape. You go at your own speed and pace.
Agility can transform personalities. A timid shy dog builds confidence when he finally braves a ramp or tunnel that’s scared him earlier. The hyper overly-energetic dog learns to be calm and focus as he listens for instructions from his owner while running a course.
Agility helps build your leadership as your dog learns to listen and look for your directions. In a way, you are the key to the door that opens a world of fun running and jumping, leaping and tunneling.
Agility is just one possible option. The important message here is to find what your dog naturally loves to do and it will put a smile on your face, too.