What equipment do you need for dog agility training?

posted: 06/20/13
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Agility Training

Fiona sits and stares. A plastic and wire tunnel has stopped her in her tracks. What the heck is that? Fiona, my Shetland sheepdog, is at an agility class and has just come up against her first obstacle. She is not alone in her bewilderment. Her classmates are also encountering their own showstoppers. Fiona and I chose to join a group to learn agility instead of going it alone for some very specific reasons: the camaraderie, the expert instructors and the equipment.

Agility is a competitive sport where dogs and handlers navigate a course of obstacles. The obstacles are large and need space for setting up in a place where there's enough room for running and jumping. A-frames usually measure 3 feet wide and are 8 to 9 feet long. The teeter-totter can be 10-12 feet long and dog walks are made of 8 to 12 foot planks elevated about 4 feet above the ground. Agility equipment is big and expensive. So by joining a class Fiona and I have access to the agility equipment I can't fit in my basement or my budget. But what if you want to train at home or agility classes are not located in your area?

I spoke with Karen Gaydos, founder of Hot Paws Agility, and she recommended several pieces of equipment that are fairly inexpensive and don't required a house the size of a football field to set up.

First up is Fiona's nemesis: the tunnel. Tunnels are made of wire wrapped with fabric or plastic. Although regulation tunnels can be expensive, this piece of equipment can also be purchased inexpensively from a toy store. They don't take up much space when used and when not in use this obstacle can be scrunched down for easy storage. Karen stresses to make sure you purchase tunnel holders so your tunnel does roll when you dog charges through it.

Weave poles, which can be the most challenging obstacle, are a series of upright poles spaced evenly apart. With this obstacle your dog weaves through the spaces between the poles. Think slalom for dogs. Even if you join a class, Karen Gaydos recommends having weave poles at home to give your budding athlete some extra practice and time to polish his or her moves. A simple search of the Web will turn up several places where weave poles can be purchased.

Agility courses always include jumps, which come in a variety of configurations - single, double or triple jumps, panel and tire jumps. For home use, a simple one-bar jump will suffice. They are fairly inexpensive and can easily be stored when not in use. Karen also notes that jumps can be made with PVC tubing. You can purchase or make jump cuts, which are the pieces that slide onto the uprights of the jump equipment and allow you to adjust the crossbar for the correct jumping height. To get puppies used to the idea of jumps lay the bar on the ground to prevent injuries to still maturing bones.

As your dog progressives a tire jump can be added to your collection. While in the beginning days of agility real tires were elevated by a frame, due to safety and the need for competitive standards a colorful plastic facsimile of a tire is now used.

Some equipment for agility may be too large and/or expensive to create your own home training course, but these key pieces can easily be used with very little space requirements and won't break the bank.

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