How to Start with Agility – Tips from Juraj Ruža, a Trainer

Have you been thinking about starting with agility and you have nothing but questions in your mind and can’t make the final decision? Is this sport for my doggie? And is it even for me? How and when should we start? I asked Juraj Ruža, an agility trainer, all of these questions and many others.

Agility doesn’t really need a long introduction I guess. It is one of the most well-known dog sports. A dog is supposed to go through an obstacle course in the right order accompanied by a handler as quickly as possible. It might look quite complicated for an observer. I asked a trainer, Juraj Ruža, about the sport and who can do it.

Juraj has been representing Slovakia in agility since 2014 and he has been a Slovak national agility team leader since 2016. Besides that, he has organized many international races and seminars and he is a national agility referee.


Jura, what dogs are suitable for agility? Do their breed, age or size matter?

The beauty of agility lies in the fact that any dog can do it. With respect to the size, dogs are divided into relevant categories according to their shoulder height. Age is naturally important for the readiness of a dog. If you start with suitable training with a puppy already, the achieved results are better. When it comes to breeds, many of them do agility but we can say some have better predispositions and we can see them on the courses more often. These are mainly Border Collies, Terriers, Shelties and Poodles.


Agility as a sport burdens mainly the musculoskeletal system and primarily joints. Is for example hip or elbow dysplasia an obstacle for the sport?

It’s important for the dog to be healthy and in shape, ready to overcome the obstacles that await it on the course. The mentioned dysplasia is a problem that interferes even the dog’s everyday life. Agility is a very dynamic sport and it is athletically demanding, so I would recommend other kinds of dog sports for dogs with dysplasia.


Does a dog need to be completely healthy or are less serious medical restrictions okay if we intend to do the sport only as a leisure activity?

Personally, I believe the dog should be 100% healthy for agility. It is also one of the conditions for races. When we talk about medical restrictions, I also happen to know a dog who does agility and is deaf. So, this sport can be done with some restrictions but the dog needs to be healthy.


How can I say a dog is suitable for agility and it will enjoy the activity? Does it need any characteristics?

Well, definitely active dogs which can be motivated well and can focus in the right way are preferred for agility. However, it doesn’t mean a dog that doesn’t have these properties at first sight can’t love this sport and be passionate about it. Anyone can try agility and you can see more after a few trainings.


What specific features does a handler nee? Does (s)he need to be fit?

The same things I mentioned before also apply to the human part of an agility team. It is a good sport everyone – women or men, children or elderly. I have seen a few races for the disabled and I have to admit that these were extremely emotional experiences. However, if we focus on agility races, a handler needs to be physically prepared and have some training as well these days. Spatial orientation, good responses, fast legs and being fit enough are advantages.


What should a dog know before we start doing this sport?

Basic obedience is perfect, especially Come and Leave it commands are good. It’s also important to know various motivational games so your dog pays attention to us, knows how to play with us and is interested in what we do. Self-control is also an advantage.


Is it necessary to go to an exercise area and cooperate with an instructor or is a garden or a park enough?

Personally, I recommend getting in touch with a trainer or an agility club at least in the beginning, as you can minimize mistakes that might be later difficult to get rid of. The instructor knows how to set up a training according to the individual skills of the team and the charge makes progress fast that way. When you know some agility basics, some things can also be trained in a garden or in a park.


How often should we train and how long should the training be?

The length and the intensity of the training can vary depending on the progress stage where you currently are. I recommend only short games (for a couple of minutes) for puppies, an adult racing dog can handle a much longer training, of course. If you also have short trainings at home (some exercises can be simply done even in our living rooms), I recommend 2 to 3 hour-long trainings at the exercise area a week. A dog itself doesn’t run the whole time; a handler’s training takes a considerable amount of time as dogs are quick learners.


What aids do we need for agility?

Only treats, a toy and naturally some good sports trainers for a handler are enough for a classic training. With regard to the agility equipment itself, the list is much longer. That’s why you should definitely train in the exercise areas where they have high-quality and safe agility obstacles, jumps, tunnels, slaloms, zone obstacles and other things. For home training with some exercises, a cone, a clicker and, for example, an automatic treat dispenser are useful.


If a dog isn’t used to so much movement, is it necessary to adjust its diet and care to the greater physical activity?

It is very important to pay attention to the right nutrition and food supplements for a dog athlete. Agility is a physically demanding sport and our four-legged friend needs the best care. There is dry food for active dogs on the market and also various vitamins and products for recovery are good. It’s crucial to warm up a dog before the exercising and take a walk with it afterwards or pamper it with massaging. I personally also recommend visiting a dog physiotherapist and various additional activities such as swimming or dogfitness (exercising on balancing equipment).


What benefits has agility had for you, why do you enjoy it so much and why would you recommend it to others?

At first, I enjoyed agility as a great activity with my dog companion and I explored the racing aspect which is very satisfying for me as an athlete only after some time. I like challenges and the pure joy from being a winner at races is very addictive. I also got to meet a lot of great friends from all over the world because of agility. Agility is great fun which significantly improves your relationship with your dog, it improves your fitness and it is also good for your mental health. It poses challenges for both the handler and the dog and overcoming them is rewarding. Those who fall for agility usually do it their whole lives.


Thank you, Jura, for your valuable advice and experience, good luck in the future.

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