I have been teaching dog agility for about 20 years. When I first started teaching it, I just focused on making sure the dogs had fun and that my clients were prepared if they chose to compete. Over the years I have seen that agility has so many benefits for both the dogs and their handlers.
Aside from the physical benefits, the next obvious benefit I have noticed is how agility improves the bond between the humans and the dogs (when agility is taught with empathy and compassion). Dog agility is a team sport, therefore the dog-human team must work together. As with any team sport, there must be trust and understanding between the teammate (in this case the dog and the human). In most situations, the dog and human are both learning a new skill and they will both make a lot of mistakes. As humans, we often like to blame others for our mistake. My heart always sings when I hear my client say “Ugh, that was my mistake” when they are practicing agility with their dog. I have found that agility can create a tremendous human-dog bond as both players learn to have empathy and compassion for their teammate.
I have also found that agility can build confidence in both the humans and the dogs. Again, when taught with empathy and compassion, people and dogs can step outside their comfort zones and become more confident. I have had many clients that are over 70 years old try agility for the first time with their dog. At first, they may be unsure and afraid to make a mistake but when they learn how to handle specific obstacle with their dog, they gain confidence in themselves and their dogs. In addition, I often see dogs that start out with extreme fear and anxiety, become confident dogs after they begin to learn agility. It is a great day when a dog that is afraid to run through a tunnel, takes a leap of faith and successfully goes through a tunnel. Once the dog understands it is safe, they seem to learn that they can try new things with less fear and anxiety.
Keep it Safe and Fun
There are many more benefits to dog agility. If you think that is something you would like to try, I would encourage you to go for it. However, when looking for an instructor, make sure you find someone who is more focused on keeping everyone happy and safe then someone who is trying to win a world championship. Once you see if you and your dog enjoy the sport, you can choose if you want to compete or not. No matter how far you go with the sport, just remember to be kind to yourself and your dog and you learn new skills – I guarantee you will both make plenty of mistakes. 😊
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