Dog agility: What does it entail?

Dog agility is a discipline that means a lot of exercise for both the dogs and the handlers, but also a lot of fun. In addition, it strengthens the relationship between the owner and the animal, and also allows the dog to learn new skills. Another advantage of agility is that anyone can practice it. The origin of the dog or its age does not matter, everything can be adapted to the current condition of the animal. We interviewed breeder Marta Kozáková on how to start with agility and what is important. 

People do more and more sports with their pets. How popular is agility in our country?
Agility as entertainment, and in fact as a sport, is becoming more and more popular in our country. People want to spend more time being active with their dogs and actually do something for their own and their dog’s health. It is important that the owner learns to communicate with his dog at a somewhat “higher” level. At first glance, agility looks very simple, but appearances are deceptive. Behind a perfect parkour, there are not only hours, days, but also months of hard work. Lots of people interested in agility come to the training grounds, but not all of them last. For those who stay and fall under the spell of agility, the world changes. They become addicted. Training, getting up early, trips to competitions regardless of the weather, just to successfully complete the challenge set by the judges.
How many dog owners do agility professionally?
Agility in our country is a purely amateur sport. Truly dedicated to it are enthusiasts who sacrifice a lot of their time, energy, enthusiasm and, last but not least, finances.
How many agility schools, courses or lecturers do we have?
The number of places where agility is practiced is gradually increasing. A lot of groups are under cynological clubs, which are in almost every major city. There are about sixty agility schools or clubs, where they focus solely on agility. Intensive training, seminars, camps are organized. There, the best-seasoned coaches pass on their experience. These are mostly active or former competitors who have achieved excellent results in the field of agility. 

Do owners and dogs have to meet any prerequisites for agility? Does the breed matter?
What I like about agility is that it is a sport for almost everyone who wants to be active and do something with their canine partner. This sport is not limited by age, health condition (for people with disabilities, competitions and paragility championships are organized). Almost the same is true for dogs. Purebreds and mixed-race dogs can all do agility. The only limitation would be that the dog has to fit into the tunnel and be able to jump over the obstacles. 
Is it necessary for a dog to undergo training at a training ground, for example?
It is not absolutely necessary for the dog to complete training on a training ground. To begin with, the exercise of calling the dog and the “stay” command are important. And the most important is the relationship between the owner and his dog. The willingness of the dog to work and be motivated is also crucial.
Do you need to know any specific commands?
While each obstacle has its name, it’s up to everyone what commands they choose for each obstacle. For example, when crossing a tunnel, someone uses the “tunnel” command and sometimes the “go through” command is heard.
For the beam, the commands “climb”, but also “ramp” are used. It’s really up to everyone what commands they choose. But agility is not just about verbal commands. In my opinion, it depends more on the way the handler leads, moves and “gestures” when moving on the parkour. The dog perceives the handler’s movement more than what he says.
Is there an age limit for dog athletes?
You can start practicing agility with a puppy. However, training must be adapted to the puppy’s size and age. Starting with an older dog is not a problem either. There is no single guide for all dogs. The needs and capabilities of individual animals should always be taken into account. And if the dog enjoys running and has no health problems, he can run to old age. Categories for veterans are sometimes listed at competitions.
What would you recommend to owners who want to start with agility?
To those who want to try agility, I would say this: go for it. Thanks to agility, you will make new friends and have lots of experiences. You will find that you can do a lot of things with your dog that you wouldn’t even dream of doing. Just consider if you are willing to sacrifice a lot of your time and comfort. And last but not least, consider whether the dog you would run agility with will appreciate this activity.
If someone has competitive ambitions, how long does it take to work up to the competition level?
That is very individual. Some dogs just have it in them and learn very quickly, while some take longer to master each obstacle. In agility, jumping, zone, tunnel and slalom obstacles are used. Slalom is perhaps the most difficult of the obstacles. Zones on the A-frame or dog walk also have their pitfalls. Some dogs may need more time to master the seesaw. But ideally, if the dog manages to overcome all obstacles, he can race from 18 months.
Are there more agility types? Who is which type suitable for?
Agility is governed by a document called FCI Agility Regulations – National Agility Regulations of the Czech Republic.
Competitions and tests are organized. There are test runs for individual performance classes A1, A2, A3 at competitions. And then there are runs open to everyone regardless of performance class, which are divided into jumping (no zone obstacles used here) or agility (where all types of obstacles are used). Some people like the classic competitions where there are trials, agility and jumping and others prefer just trials where two or three trials runs are done. Jumping “specials” are also organized. It's up to each individual what suits them better and what they choose.

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