Overview of the Agility Obstacles
The easiest way to introduce your dog to any of the obstacles is to keep him/her on the leash with one hand while holding a delicious slice in front of with the other (be careful for it does not get it in the beginning!).
Once your dog reaches the other side of the obstacle, give it a treat and a lot of praising. Another method (best for tunnels) is to ask your friend to hold the dog at one side of the obstacle while you are standing on the other. Call your pet with a provoked voice, and at the moment it is concentrated on you, make your friend to let the dog go. Later after the successful completion of the obstacle praise (and treat) your dog.
Time devoted to praising is also important. Especially timid indecisive dogs should be rewarded a little earlier, for example, at the top of a dogwalk, and additionally to its lower part until the moment their self-confidence have grown up.
At the initial stage it is better not to encourage the dog in speed. Focus on its security and accuracy. Speed may come later as it is easier to teach the dog to accelerate rather than to slow down. Most rapid dogs miss "contact zones" and develop bad habits that are difficult to change later.
In the beginning it is better to avoid calling out the obstacles’ names to your dog (e.g., jump, see-saw, pause table, etc.), you can do it softly. But do not concentrate on it too much at the introductory stage. Your dog is only exploring the obstacles and if you confuse it with names, it will begin to associate them with something totally negative. Remember to enjoy the process, be patient, go slowly and do not hold up your "trainee".
Return to the initial steps if your pet shows any fear at any stage even if these steps mean just to sit and play near the obstacles! Support the dogs’ interest with a steady and pleasant voice (practice doing this in a slightly stupid manner - dogs love such intonation), do not drive your dog too hard to full weariness and try to finish training on a positive note.
The obstacles used in agility are all in bright colors, funny, safe, but complicated! The great variety of them may act initially overwhelming. However, as you can see later they are not so sophisticated. The standards of various organizations suggest some differences in rules and size of obstacles construction, but the basic shape and design of most of them are the same.
In agility you may often find springboards of different styles. So if you have the only one home-made jump, there is a great way for your pet to know the basic principle of jumping. Other funny obstacles that you are able to build independently are tunnel and slalom in the yard.
Let's go through a set of obstacles in order of their importance.
Two broad ramps are generally 0.9 m in width and 3 m in length, put together and fastened thus they form a triangle or a letter A where the upper hinge part is at the height of 1.5-2 m from ground surface (considering the requirements of the organizers). Sections at the bottom of A-frame (up to 1 m above the ground) in a contrasting color, usually yellow, form contact zones onto which the dog must put at least one paw while ascending or descending. A number of leading dog clubs require the A-frame has a low profile and thin, transversal slats nailed along the entire length of the obstacle for a good grip of the dog's paws while moving up or down; other organizations, on the contrary, prohibit slats but allow or require the presence of a rubberized surface. The A-frame is in any case should have a non-slip surface or slats. This contact obstacle is the "grandfather" of the rest obstacles in size and weight. The biggest problem for the dogs, taking the A-frame - not to jump off too early when they are going down, especially for the large breeds.
You can train a puppy to climb the A-frame making it lower. Lift the frame as soon as your dog feels more confident. Don’t bother about the speed of overcoming this obstacle, since dogs will usually take a good running start and will go down rather fast. Safety should become your primary concern, and to be sure your dog has hit the yellow contact zones. Note: according to AKC (American Kennel Club) rules, the dog must touch the contact area on the descending side only (considering that bigger dogs are tend to skip the upward section at a jump).
Three ramps from 2.5 to 4 m long, 23 - 30 cm wide connected at their ends to form a trapezoid. The slab in the center is fixed at the height of 1.2 m above the ground and the two ramps at the edges form rays coming up to and down from the central slab. This obstacle also contains two contact zones. Similar requirements for a lower profile, thin, transverse slats nailed along the length of the obstacle or rubberized surface, conducive to a dog’s good grasp are made by organizations to the dogwalk as well.
The dog must climb up on the dogwalk by one plank, go across the top slab and down by the other plank touching the yellow zone on the way down without jumping off the obstacle. The complexity of this obstacle is to go through its narrowest top slab.
When training the dogwalk it is very important to save your dog stable holding it tightly on a leash. It is desirable that another person on the other side could keep the dog in case of falling. This will help your pet to feel more confident. Would be great if initially you can reduce the height. With your hand (and treat) keep the focus of your dog on the board in front of him. Your friend may help patting the downward or upward board when climbing, encouraging your dog to move forward, and giving him support along the way. At the bottom of a dogwalk be aware the dog did not jumped off the board too soon and passed all the way to the ground touching the yellow contact area. In the end, when your pet's paws stepped the grass give it a treat. If your dog has any problems with the contact zones read the instructions for Teeter-Totter training.
A flat board 3 - 3.7 m in length revolving around the hinged bearing like a children's swing. It is made somewhat unbalanced for one of its edges always falls back to the ground. This is achieved by shifting the hinged support relatively off the gravity center of this obstacle or by weighting one end of the board. Teeter-Totter has the same contact zones though compared to the other contact obstacles it doesn’t have horizontal slats. However, the presence of rubberized surface is a basic requirement of each sanctioning organization.
The equilibrium point and the weight of a board should be the way even a tiny dog could be able to pull down the rotating end of the swing to the ground over a reasonable period of time specified by the regulating organization standards (approximately 2 seconds). Tiny dogs need more time to run a course, and this is the main reason why it requires them longer than for large dogs.
The challenge for your dog here is not just to climb one end and turn down another; the dog has to step onto yellow contact zones with his paws. The main rule - do not allow the dog to overcome this obstacle too fast, as usually the animals unable to control themselves properly. Most dogs prefer to "fly" off the swing forgetting about walking down slowly. This is especially true for large breeds.
Teeter-Totter is one of the most difficult obstacles on which any dog is not easy to feel comfortable. For them it looks similar to a horizontal dogwalk plank only a few more lengthy on each side in the center (if it is built correctly). Therefore, repeating the dog that it is a Seesaw (not a dogwalk) you are helping him to remember that this obstacle require to slow the pace down. Initially, to familiarize the dog with this obstacle you better to lower the plank and then gradually to rise it back. But if you are missing the adjustable Seesaw you need to have a friend on the opposite side to maintain balance and guide your pet on the board. Hold on leash tightly near the dog's neck guiding its nose low along the surface of the board using a treat. Stop in the middle and let your friend to support the Teeter board for it falls down smoothly. Push your pet on inch by inch making it to stay in the center until the plank will slowly touch the ground. Once your dog feels more confident, let it control the board rotation independently without your help. But at the bottom still keep the board from a sharp stroke against the ground. Over time, you will allow the board to move down harder. It is important that the dog stops and waits at the top of the board while controlling its rotation. This will prevent the future loss of points on "fly offs" when dogs jump onto the board bottom part, then off to the board before it contacts the ground.
Tips for the contact zone: Initially, there will be no problems with your dog making contacts but be careful if he is rather large most likely it will become a problem later. Don’t let skipped contact zones become a habit. In this situation, use the "encouraging elements" - a partition of wire mesh, wire hoops or simple orange cones to mark the sides of contact zone better. Most trainers recommend to teach your dog a target, which causes him to stop only in the lower part of the contact zone waiting for treats (or clicks in clicker practice), and only after this delay to release him to the next obstacle. Another way to train your dog to slow the pace – is just to use the command "Easy!"
The barrel-shaped cylinder made of vinyl, 3 to 6 meters in length, 60 cm in diameter, with a fabric tube, attached around one end of the cylinder. Tunnel’s frame is made from flexible wire and vinyl to be able to change its position subsequently into a straight line or bent in various ways.
The fabric spreads about 2.4 to 3.7 m and lies flat on the ground until the dog runs into the open end of the chute and made his way through the fabric tube.
United Kennel Club (UKC) acknowledges two additional types of tunnels - tunnel for crawling and rim tunnel, which are not found in other organizations.
This tunnel is also called "open tunnel" (to distinguish from the "closed tunnel"). It is easy to put together in addition to other obstacles you have in the yard; it can be used as a "reward" for completing more complicated obstacles. To practice the tunnel you can build it of any length. However, the longer the tunnel the easier it to bend for additional complexity.
Closed tunnel is constructed from a short plastic barrel with a lengthy fabric tube, attached to the back end of the barrel. The dog runs into the barrel part, then need to run through the material, feeling it on the back, uncertain about what will happen at the other end of the tunnel!
To introduce your dog to this obstacle, put on a collar with long leash and make him seat at one end of the tunnel (or ask a friend to hold your dog there). Go to the tunnel opposite side and call your dog over it, gently pulling him by the leash. If necessary, stretch out your hand to show that you put a treat on the ground. (Do not place food in the tunnel, to avoid stimulating the dog to stop and sniff when he is inside).
Hug and treat him on the opposite side of the tunnel. Repeat this for at least a several times. Subsequently, you can reassure your dog to enter the tunnel alone, while you, running alongside, will encourage him, clapping your hands and talking to him the entire length of the tunnel. Later you can extend or bend the tunnel one or another direction.
It is better to start teaching this obstacle when your dog confidently overcomes the simple tunnel, both straight and curved. When teaching the closed tunnel, roll up the chute material several times until it will be only 1-1.5 meters long. Teach your dog to get through this tunnel, as in the case with the open one, making certain he is able to see you through the chute.
(Ask your friend to hold on the dog in case he does not obey). Once the dog overcomes the fabric chute successfully, you need to lower the fabric slowly on the dog's back for he could sense it. Gradually you will be able to lower the fabric along the entire length of the chute, but you should always stand at the exit to greet your "pupil". Soon you will have to send your dog to the tunnel independently, while running near and encouraging him. It is very important to be able to communicate with your pet, for your cheerful voice leads him through the tunnel, especially if you decide to extend the fabric chute to its full length. It is always dark inside, and your voice is intended to assure the dog everything will be fine in the end!
The winged or a single jump is height adjustable allowing even small dogs, like Welsh Corgi, to compete with similar-sized dogs.
Crossbar (or hurdle)
There are two pillars with cross bars, which the dog must overcome in a jump. The height of the obstacle is determined depending on the size of a dog. The uprights may have the form of simple props, or they are decorated with wings of various shapes, sizes and colors.
Double, triple jump (or extended jump)
Two pillars supporting 2-3 crossbars extended forward or backward relative to each other. Springboard for a double jump may consist of parallel or rising horizontal crossbars; triple jump is always performed over ascending crossbars. The extended jump is executed between the horizontal bars, which are sometimes adjusted to the height of a dog. Following these jumps a dog comes over a distance both in height and in length.
Jump over the panelInstead of the cross bars jump is performed over the board of desired height fixed on the ground. This board is constructed of several removable panels that can be removed or added adjusting the height of the jump to the different dogs’ heights.
Broad jump (or long jump)
A set of 4 - 5 slightly raised platforms forming a broad area, which the dog must overcome without hitting any of the platforms with his paws. The extent of the jump area is regulated by the dog’s size.
The crossbar plank should not be set higher than your dog is capable to jump. You will know the ultimate height, as soon as the dog starts hitting the bars down. For a simple training in the yard set the bar lower for safety, especially at the beginning.
Use the adjustable springboard; set the bars closer to the ground throughout its length or just a few inches higher. Holding your dog on the leash simply walk it over the springboard. In case of hesitation, let the dog sniff the springboard first to get used to it (you may need to do this with every obstacle, if your dog is especially shy), then direct it slowly using treats. Praise your dog warmly and give him treat as it reaches the other side of the ramp. Over time, raise the bar gradually but not to the level where the dog starts knocking it again. Later, as your “ward” will develop a love for jumping, you can raise the bar at the required height.
Jump over the tire
A torus having a size of automobile tire (50-60 cm in cross-section) is suspended inside a frame. The height of a tire is adjustable to the various dogs’ heights, as in the other jumps. The main challenge for the dog is to jump through the hole in the tire without its touching or damaging. The tire is usually wrapped with the tape for colorfulness. Any outside openings or roughnesses, which the dog is able to catch on by accident, are getting closed. Clubs permit or require the use of so-called removable or breakaway tires where the tire falls apart easily if the dog hits it hard in a jump.
Teaching the tire jump is similar to normal bar jump training. The hardest part of training is to teach your dog to jump through a narrow aperture with confidence. Start slowly lowering the tire completely to the ground. Tap inside the tire surface encouraging your pet to go through it, or ask a friend to hold on the dog at one side while you are gently guiding it through the tire by the leash on the other. Once it becomes to do it confidently just try to walk alongside while the dog is jumping through the tire. As usual, on the other end greet your dog with love and affection, which you only capable of. Do not rush to raise the tire, otherwise your dog might run under it. Never give it a treat when it does this. If you have recently raised the height lower it back to the previous place and start all over again. Later, lift the tire up only after the dog is getting well at that altitude. However, when your dog is used to make jumps at the maximum acceptable height do not let it jump at a lower height (for example, in the class for training). If you suddenly surprise your pet with a lower suspended tire it may miss the hole getting a bruise. After some period, your dog will begin to "memorize" how to pass through the tire correctly.
Podium (or pause table)
A raised square platform, with meter-by-meter area onto which the dog must jump and stand still in a sitting or lying position for a specified period of time counted out by the judge, usually no more than 5 seconds. Podium height ranges (20 to 75 cm) depending on the dog’s size and sponsoring club.
This obstacle serves as a big "break" in the animal’s intensive obstacle course passing. Running full speed with palpitation the dog must jump on the table and suddenly stop on it sitting or lying for 5 long seconds until you release it to continue the race. Little fun here! This is a serious obstacle and a good indication of whether your dog has obedience training or not. If you are out of table, you can use “pause box” as a replacement.
The key rule to the “Podium” (table) is to make your dog to love this obstacle with no wish to jump off. It will have to stay there for a long 5 seconds and for the dog preferring a quick run a table can become an unwanted interruption. Start by lowering the table as much as it is possible. As it is necessary to stay on the table for 5 long seconds for the dog that preferred a quick run this obstacle may become unreasonable interruption. Run up to the table with your dog (holding the leash) and at the moment you have reached it say the word "table" or any other word (only not the one you used in jumping) and slap your hand on the table. When your dog jumps on it give it a treat. Spend about 5-10 minutes hugging and caressing your pet.
Then repeat this several times. Do not release your dog right away. Count off 5 seconds, and then say, "Okay!" or "Go forward!" - guide the dog down the table and give it a treat. But never treat your pet if it jumps off spontaneously. Make sure your dog does not slide off the table when arriving to it. You need also teach it to lie down on the table, as organizations have different rules on this matter. When your dog successfully stayed on the table for 5 seconds practice to walk away from it moving farther and farther away from the table while counting to 5. Eventually, you will be able to let your dog go by the command from where you are standing. It will strongly inspire you to train the next obstacle.
This is a variation of the pause table - a rectangular box lying on the ground with marked borders made from plastic pipe or construction tape leaping into which the dog must do a "pause" (sit or lie down) the same it would do on the “podium”.
The “pause box” is a barrier used in the advanced agility of the United Kennel Club (UKC), and sometimes in competitions of USDAA. It is essentially similar to the podium, except it is a square tube, lying on the ground. Your dog needs to run inside it, sit or lie down within, without having his feet to extend beyond the designated boundary. For this obstacle the "curl up" command is the most appropriate.
They are similar to slalom. There is a series of 5 - 12 straight poles, about one meter in height, arranged along the straight line at a distance of 50-60 cm from each other (depending on the size of a dog), which the dog weaving through by turns, one after the another. Dogs should always enter the initial pole to his left and must not miss any of them. For the majority of dogs weave poles are the most difficult obstacles for mastering. It requires a slow and consecutive training for the dog was able to get through it relatively fast (and great encouragement on the other end!) Even if you decided to take a training class any coach will recommend you to get a separate set of slalom for home. Practice 5 minutes every day and soon you will be on your way to slalom professional!
At first sight dogs run the waves fairly easy but their actual training does not happen overnight. Practice often for brief intervals and always ends on a positive note.
There are several popular training methods to make your pet master the waves. Using any of them never rush the process! If you find your dog runs through the slalom perfectly one day but pops out some poles another day it's time to take some steps back in training.
The first technique has the name "Wire Method" where wires are attached to the vertical supporting poles in a way to arrange a wire channel path, which the dog should follow. Initially, the wires are fixed at the dog’s eye level, or at a level that will prevent your pet to pass under or over them. Gradually you will be able to lift the wires above the line of the dog’s vision and finally to remove them completely. A similar method is called the "Chute Method" when you should use the metal mesh gates to form a path.
The next method is called the "Channel Method" where two weave sets are required to accommodate them in two parallel rows, but the second set should be slightly offset relative to the first one. At the beginning the poles are fixed at a distance from one another forming the passage or channel inside. Through this channel your dog should first run without weaving. Then you move the poles closer to each other and your dog will become weaving a bit. In the end, the poles must be built in a straight line.
A similar technique is called the method of "Slanted Poles." The poles are mounted on a flat base, some in a vertical position; the others can be slanted in different directions, in a "parted waters" fashion. This allows your dog to run straight way first without weaving and then where the poles are shifted and leaned closer to each other the dog starts to weave.
The last method, and for sure, the cheapest one is to set the poles standard upright and guide your dog through them holding by the collar, using treats, gently directing him with your legs and feet.
In all these methods you should start with 6 poles and add the rest of them after the dog has fully mastered the first 6. Your dog should ALWAYS enter the first pole at the required right side (for the pole will be to the left of the dog). It's not that hard when you dog is always running on your left side but becomes a complex task if it normally heels on your right. The goal is to get your dog to do this purposefully. You should pay particular attention to the dog’s first pole approach training giving it a treat immediately after completion of the first one if it passed this pole correctly.
If your dog occasionally knocks some poles out or skips one or more of them do not award it at the end of the slalom simply capture the leash with the words: "Stop, let's try again," and move it back to the first pole.
Treat your pet friendly, as it is likely tried to please you and realizes that something was done wrong, as it didn’t get its treat at the end. Begin again more slowly directing your dog with your hand and knees to make sure that it does not miss any pole. If it did it one more time then you will need to go back to the initial training steps – either guiding the dog on the leash, or tilting the poles heavily / lowering the wire (depending on the method you have chosen). Simply try not to allow your dog to make any mistakes more than two times in a row; otherwise it may easily become a habit. Once the obstacle is taken successfully, praise and treat your pet with all your heart!
UKC (United Kennel Club) in the competitions sometimes permits the following obstacles not used by other agility clubs: swing plank (board, hanging on chains), curved sway bridge (curved boom), and jump from platform to platform.
The North American Dog Agility Council (NADAC) also applies obstacles of hoops.
To overcome the sway bridge or swinging plank requiring excess caution you will definitely need a great patience on training, helpful friend, and lots of encouraging words and treats. If you have ever walked on a rope or rope bridge you know how dangerous it may be!
Three additional unique obstacles found in the UKC and in the United States Dog Agility Association (USDAA) are tunnel of hoops, crawl tunnel and complex boom. The tunnel of hoops is like a tunnel skeleton consisting of hoops not covered with fabric from which the dog can if desired to rush out and break the rules of the contest. The crawl tunnel – is a short and flattened passage that forces your dog to crawl slowly at a slow pace, with no possibility to stand up.
The complex boom (or cross over) is like a regular dogwalk but has the shape of a cross (1.2 m high with the central 1 m x 1 m square platform), which your dog must climb to the site in the center and then change directions (where you direct him to go) running down by any of the three remaining boards. In other words, there are 4 possible boards to enter and 3 possible boards to descent (as rules are not allowed to exit the same plank dog came from).
Painter: Alena Tarasova