How to Find the Best Agility School for You and Your Dog

Agility should be enjoyable for both you and your dog.  The agility school you select should aspire to help you learn how to train your dog for agility in a fun atmosphere using positive training methods.

What Should You Look for in an Agility School?

– Puts Safety First!

The agility facility you select should be safe and clean.  Equipment should be well-maintained and stable.  The health and well-being of all dogs should be the top priority.

– Requires dogs in Agility Classes to be under control.

Because agility requires working off-leash, dogs should have good basic obedience skills.   “Come”, “Sit”, “Down”, and “Stay” prior to starting in a beginners agility class.  Verbal control is essential.

What Should You Look for in an Agility Instructor?

– Enjoys working with novice dogs and owners.

It takes patience and a sense of humor on the part of both the instructor and novice handler to lay a solid foundation for agility.  A talented instructor is able to encourage novices, help them make steady progress in acquiring new skills, and encourage a sense of fun while training.

– Uses Positive Training Techniques.

Dogs don’t do agility for themselves — they do it because it is something fun to do with their owners.  Instructors who promote using corrections during agility will result in a dog that is either slow because he is afraid of making mistakes or one that refuses to play the game at all.  Positive reinforcement using play and treats from the very first class makes agility an enjoyable experience for both owner and dog.  A great agility instructor will discourage the use of verbal and /or physical corrections that may have become a habit from other forms of training.  Although clicker training is not essential, learning to use a click-and-reward technique is a great way to focus on the positive.

– Is Motivational.

A good instructor can help you MAKE your dog do agility.  A great instructor will show you how to help your dog WANT to do agility.

– Communicates effectively.

Instructors should provide feedback to help their students.  A great agility instructor is able to identify problems (such as giving commands too late) and explain in a clear and encouraging manner how to be successful in your training.

– Understands how different breeds approach agility and techniques that work best for them.

An effective instructor has either trained more than one breed herself or has successfully worked with students with different breeds.  Such an instructor will be most helpful in addressing training issues with a variety of sizes, temperaments, energy levels and physical skills of those dogs that come to her classes.

– Appreciates that not all dogs learn the same way.

An astute instructor will be able to see that a particular method is not working and suggest alternate techniques to help the dog understand expectations.

– Competes at the upper levels of agility competition.

If your instructor is actively competing at the highest levels in agility in one or more organizations, she will know what skills you, as a novice, will need to be successful.  A less experienced instructor may limit your growth.

– Creates an environment that makes it comfortable to ask questions and have them answered.

Agility is not easy.  It involves training, buying or building equipment, learning about the different agility organizations, filling out entry forms, and much more.  A good agility class allows time for questions, and an understanding instructor knows that “There are no stupid questions.”

– Emphasizes the basics.

New agility handlers are anxious to do the running, jumping, and climbing of agility, but there is a definite need to teach dogs the basic skills like following the handler’s body language, a solid stay and reliable contacts. An effective instructor knows how to balance the needs and wants of the handler.

– Provides individualized instruction.

Classes are typically structured by clustering handlers and dogs at a similar skill level, but every class will include a range of skills.  An observant instructor will adjust exercises to meet the needs of different students in her class.  This might mean lowering the A-frame for a dog that’s unsure or straightening the tunnel for a dog that is not quite confident enough to enter a bend.

– Suggests resources.

Instructors will make their students aware of resources for specialized dog toys, training videos, training books and magazines, and agility equipment. And, when they’re ready, the instructor will also let students know about fun matches and upcoming agility trails.

You’re welcome to come out to watch PAWS classes in progress so you can see how we train.  We think you’ll like what you see and want to come train with us!

Links for Agility Organizations: