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New To Westminster (and Maybe to You): Agilty

At the Westminster dog show, a level of dignified refinement is the expectation. Historically the show has featured purebred dogs following precise commands, walking in line with handlers and sitting perfectly still while being poked, prodded and inspected. A scenario involving mutts running, jumping and competing in Westminster was not realistic. Until now: 2014 marks the first Masters of Agility Championship of the Westminster Kennel Club. And although a purebred (border collie Kelso) ultimately prevailed and won, the mutts did well for their first time at Westminster.

Even if you are not preparing for professional competition or demonstration, agility training is a great way to give a high-energy dog a physical and mental work out. As you work with your dog to teach course management and obstacle training, communication improves and the bond between owner and dog is strengthened. If no access to an agility-training course is available, it’s easy to create your own with simple household items or toys. While making your own teeter-totter or A-frame ramp is a bit ambitious (unless you are a seasoned carpenter), we do have some tips for some easy DIY course elements:  

·       Use Hula Hoops for rings. Start with the hoop close to the ground and lead your dog through with a low-fat, healthy treat (such as a carrot or Cheerios). As your dog becomes more confident, experiment with raising the hoop higher, using smaller hoops, or hanging the hoop so that it swings.

·       Many toy stores sell pop-up nylon tunnels for younger kids to climb through. These double as good dog tunnels. Start with one and add additional tunnels for length as your dog gains comfort and familiarity.

·       PV pipes can be used as weaving courses and as jumps. If you set up a weaving course, push longer pipes into the ground at even increments and lead your dog in and out of them. To build a jump, drill evenly spaced holes into two longer pipes and run a pole horizontally between them using pegs. Raise the horizontal pipe higher as the dog achieves each level.

·       Pause tables are not only a chance for your dog to rest after completing a course, but also an event in of itself. Dogs have to sit and stay at the pause table in competition and you can practice at home. Use a plank of wood, picnic table, or an old pallet to teach your dog to sit and stay in limited space. 

All of these are great ways to practice agility, and to help give you and your dog something to look forward to.  Local competitions and clubs can be found on Meetup.com, or other social websites.  The camaraderie and sportsmanship in the agility community make it family-friendly, and indoor and outdoor courses create year-round access. Who knows...maybe next year you and your dog will be competing against Kelso!

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