What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you picture a dog doing agility training? A tall border collie gracefully gliding through an obstacle course? A svelt speedster cutting around turns with enviable coordination? You’re not wrong. Dog agility has a long history as a competitive sport for certain dog breeds, but agility training can be a great activity for you and your dog to do together regardless of whether you’re going for the gold.
Jordyn Baker knows this better than anyone. The 19-year-old student at The University of Southern Maine has been doing agility since she was just 12 years old, and she now competes in agility competitions around the world with her rescue dog, Bentli. She’s the founder of Glorious Agility, near Portland, Maine, where she teaches classes in everything from intro to agility foundations to advanced coursework.
Baker spoke with The Spruce Pets about the many benefits of agility training, which pups should sit this one out, and the changing landscape of agility champions. Note: Answers have been lightly edited for clarity and length
Agility Training Equals Bonding Time
“Agility training is an awesome way to form a better relationship between you and your dog. It’s really meaningful training. The No. 1 reason I recommend it is because of the bond you form when you put in all of these hours of training. Nothing else compares to that.”
There's No Age Requirement or Limit
“Typical foundation can be taught at any age, because they don’t include any actual jump work or contact equipment because we want to be kind to our puppy's joints. I start my foundation training pretty much as soon as a puppy comes home. My border collie started learning how to target and chase toys in a way that is helpful for agility when she was 10 weeks old.”
Agility Training Can Help Behavioral Issues
“I think people that don’t do agility and maybe own high-energy breeds would be surprised to see how much a sport like agility can help other issues that their dog is having. If your dog is bouncing off the walls all day—maybe a sport like agility—which involves lots of training and makes them run fast, could help.”
Some Breeds Should Take It Easier Than Others
“I would recommend against full agility training for brachycephalic breeds, such as pugs, French bulldogs, old English bulldogs, [etc.]. Those flat-faced dogs are genetically engineered to not be able to breathe. I work with several pugs on normal dog training and will throw in agility elements from time to time, like one jump at four inches or going around a cone, and these dogs are awesome. As far as high levels of agility where you’re running six courses a day at an event, I don’t think they would hold up.”
Agility Is Not for Dogs That Have Aggression
“I would 100% recommend against doing agility training with a dog that has true human aggression or dog aggression. The nature of the sport makes it difficult for a dog with aggression—not reactivity—but true aggression, to thrive. The environment you come across in agility is going to be very difficult for those dogs to be comfortable in. Don’t throw your dog overboard and put them in a really scary situation just because you want to do agility. Some dogs really do prefer to just be house pets, and there’s nothing wrong with that.”
There is No Size Requirement for Agility
“There are some really, really good Chihuahuas in agility. I know two Chihuahuas, and one of them was in Westminster which is a really big dog show.”
Know Basic Commands Before Starting Agility
“I think it’s best that a dog owner coming to my class knows how to do sit and lie down. Of course, we’re going to work on that in stimulating environments when there’s five other dogs around, but you should have basic manners and some training under the dog’s belt.”
Find the Right Fit in a Teacher
“I’m very adamant about positive reinforcement training and I think that everyone who has come to me for training has also been adamant about that. Especially if you’re working at lower levels of training, do research on the person you’re training with and see if their values align with yours."
DIY Agility Training Is Possible
“You can absolutely DIY an agility course just by buying pieces of PVC from a hardware store. There are many articles online that talk about DYI agility equipment for people on a budget. I trained entirely on my own for more than two years because [I started when] I was 12 years old. I’m from a paycheck-to-paycheck family, and it’s not a cheap sport, soI didn’t get to do many of the things that other juniors got to do. I would teach my dog to run around a traffic cone, you can do the same thing with a tree or even a bucket. Anything that I could get my dog to run around, like the couch, would teach him the around command. I used the stick of a mop or a broom and taught my dog to jump over that.”
Rescue Dogs Can Do Agility, Too
“I absolutely believe that a good rescue dog can do agility. Rescue dogs, especially those from bad situations, might have an increased chance of reactivity and environmental sensitivities, but if you go to a responsible rescue, hang out with dogs and get matched with a good dog or foster a dog, spend time with them, then decide ‘hey this dog is really friendly they could be great at agility,’ you’re doing the right thing. We need people that are willing to take a shot on a rescue dog, and sometimes you do it and you end up with one as freaking incredible as mine. Choose your rescue just as responsibly as you choose your breeder and go from there, you can get a really awesome dog.”
“Typically you see competitors that are competing with a set breed. For example, border collies and Shetland sheepdogs are very prominent in agility and very popular because of their insane athletic abilities. We have a few breeds that show up consistently and have for a very long time. That’s what you see on the big screen at many of the competitions. Less often you see mixed breeds and random little dogs or random big dogs that are mixed breeds that show up, and sometimes they are just as awesome as the well-known breeds. In American agility we have four of five big-scale events that happen each year and it’s not unusual for a mixed breed to win.”