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Improving Your Dogs Confidence Through Agility Training

Updated: Apr 18, 2020

Mike Ratliff

A Dogs Confidence

Most often bad behavior stems from fear, anxiety, lack of confidence, and excessive energy. Having 5 Labradors in my home, I know what pent up energy looks like. Even my trained and normally well-behaved dogs act out when bored, frustrated, and even in new situations where they may be a little insecure.

Integrating Agility

Exercise is vital to a happy and healthy dog. Basic obedience is a great source of training and helps your dog to learn skills. Additionally, it gives your dog something to focus on while providing mental stimulation and builds confidence although it often doesn’t provide enough exercise that some dog’s need. Because of this I found something that I could do with my dogs so we can all get more exercise. Agility was not only great answer for this, it also taught my dogs new skills, providing mental and physical stimulation that assisted in building confidence. You can start young introducing many aspects of agility to a puppy but it’s recommended to incorporate any jump related activities until your dog is fully-grown or over a year old. Doing so can create joint and shoulder related issues. My Labradors are so much more responsive and calmer when they are engaged and when both their bodies and minds are worked.

Learning new things can be scary for anyone, dogs included. It is vital to start out slowly and be patient with your dog, taking new obstacles at their pace. It is also important to break tasks down to smaller steps then build up little by little. You will want to bate and lure while keeping it positive. The key is to always keep it exciting and fun, and you will start to notice a change in confidence once your dog overcomes even the smaller challenges. I once worked with a full-grown fearful mastiff who was unwilling to even walk over a hurdle pole 8 inches off the ground. He would run up to the hurdle with me then suddenly through on the breaks and walk around the hurdle. By lowering the pole to just above the grass and then walking him over it slowly several time I was then able to then get him to run over it. We would repeatedly run over the pole while I slowly raised it an inch at a time. Before long, I had him running and jumping over it, slowly overcoming his fear and learning he could easily clear the pole. At the end of a successful session of jumping the hurdle, it was still mere inches off the ground, and I knew he could do more and was read. I added almost a foot more height to his last pass, and he cleared it with ease. When he cleared the hurdle, he looked back at me and I let out a big praise, he suddenly broke out into a party jumping around carrying on like a young puppy. I had never seen him carry on like this. Just remember it can take time to desensitize your dog to something scary and while fear is an emotional response to the unknown it can still be challenging to overcome. I found by starting with easier actions and then building off the dog’s success made it easier to slowly incorporate and build up to the harder actions. This is why you won’t always see success come quickly especially with shy and fearful dogs but the confidence boost you gain with success is worth all the work it takes.

Some of The Many Reasons to Agility Train Include:

· Provides great exercise for dog and handler

· Satisfies a dog’s natural instinct to jump climb and chase.

· Improved mental sharpness

· Increases communication and dog to handler bond

· Improves your dog’s behavior and demeanor

· Help the dog to overcome different fears

· Aids in reinforcing basic obedience commands

· Improved visual and verbal cues

· Better off-leash control

· Builds confidence and self-control

Agility for Older Dogs

My Labradors range from 3 years (Sadie), 5 years (Latte), and 11 years old (Jake). When inside the house, it is not difficulty to pick Jake out of the group. He will be napping somewhere with his head on a stuffed animal. This older boy turns into a puppy when the frisbee comes out. Often, I think the older dogs are limited by our opinion of what they can or cannot do, not what they are capable of actually doing. Yes, health and wellbeing are of the upmost concern, but with vet’s approval, integrating an exercise or agility regimen can bring a youthful spirit into the older dogs with increased confidence too. Additionally, Older dogs need exercise and still enjoy getting out. Much like people their body strength and tone diminish with age increasing the reason to keep working with your older dog on the agility course. Some organizations like the United States Dog Agility Association (USDAA) offer modified agility for competing senior dogs. These modifications include lower jump height, shorter distances and modified obstacles to prevent strain. It is always important to take into consideration and modify the course to fit your dog’s size, weight and age to reduce the risk of injury. Additionally, establishing a proper warm up and cool down routine should be part of your agility workout. Spending adequate time walking and jogging with your dog before any activity will help prevent stain and injury.

It is never too late to begin training agility, older dogs may need modifications to the standard agility courses but they will benefit and enjoy it just as much as the younger dogs. Here is a picture of Latte, enjoying the ramp section of the agility course. When first introduced it took several attempts assisting with a person on each side but now it is one of her favorite objects to complete and easy cues off leash.

Benefits of Agility Training for Dogs

Agility training works the dogs both physically and mentally, introducing new obstacles or maneuvers. Your dog will look to you for instruction and directions, you will be the encouraging cheerleader helping build the dogs excitement and confidence. The agility course is a playground for your dog, just as you would a shy child, encouraging your dog to work though insecurities and play builds their confidence. As your dog masters hurdles, A-frame, weaves, and other components of agility, you will see the connection you share grow deeper.

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