Agility Tips from Experienced Competitors

Copyright by Cheryl May. May be reprinted without permission 1) if used in its entirety without editing; and 2) provided copyright notice remains in place.

These tips were provided by members of CleanRun-L, the premier agility list on the Internet.

* Never take your eyes completely off your dog. Always know exactly where your dog is. This applies to both beginner and some intermediate handlers - advanced handlers already know this . So many times I have seen exhibitors leave their dogs at the start line & lead out without watching their dogs only to find their dog has already started & is now right next to them & doesn't know where to go next .

This happened to me once with my fast Sheltie & when I saw him next to me (while I was stopped) I got so mixed up I couldn't remember the next obstacle & earned a refusal before I could get it together again. Also I have seen this happen while running the course. Handler is running & not looking at dog while dog has gone off course. Handlers need to at least keep their dog in sight (even out of the corner of their eye) to head off possible problems.

I have seen people not even know their dogs have NQ'd by knocking a bar because they were looking only ahead.

Patty Andolina & The Herd
Buffalo, NY
(Shadow, KoKo, Brandy (Ya, I did that), Cory & Jenny)


* Get your dog's attention before you go into the ring and let the dog know it is now working! The practice jump is good, but some heeling, attention work, sit, play, treats, toys all work too.

Lynn Baitinger
Rochester, MI


* Drive your dogs across the last jump with the same speed and intensity that you have shown throughout the rest of the course. A good way to "finish strong" is to pick something outside the ring to focus on, and run hard towards it as your dog jumps the last obstacle and head for the finish line. Keep going until you both cross the finish line.

This was the best advice my first trainer, Robyn Broock, could have given me. My Starters dog, Jasmine, constantly missed the last obstacle on her standard courses. Apparently I was "letting up" and slowing down as we neared the last obstacle, causing my dog to either turn back towards me, or turn enough towards me to not see the last jump until she had run past it.

Now when I walk the course, I pick something for me to head for, keeping up my pace as much as possible (usually it's a pole, a tree, something that cannnot move during my run). When I started handling my dog *through* the finish line, she stopped missing the last obstacle and we started completing our courses!

Jelinda Pepper with Jasmine, All-American great little dog
College Station, TX


* Here are a few tips that may help. Some sound obvious to experienced handlers but may not be to newbies.

1. If, for any reason (eg. wind knocked it down, somebody forgot to set it, etc.), a bar is down on a jump when you get to it, have your dog go through the standards, anyway. Most judges will give you credit for the jump if you go through the standards; Failure to perform if you do not.

2. Wait until the *end* of the "go" before leaving the table. Teach your dog not to leave the table just because someone says, "Go!"

3. Remember the "four paw rule" where applicable (not UKC). If your dog gets all 4 paws on a contact obstacle and then backs off (or jumps off), *do not* repeat the obstacle. You will be instantly eliminated.

4. If your dog goes around a jump, do not let him jump it on the way back to you. Backjumping is off course. (AKC will allow you an off course. Unfortunately, going around the jump earned you a refusal.)

5. If your dog goes under or beside the tire in USDAA or NADAC starters/novice classes, do not let him go back under to return to you to try again. That direction is off course, even if he doesn't actually do the tire.

6. Be careful if your dog messes up the weave poles. When restarting him, he must not weave backwards at all - that's off course!

Candy Lewis


* Patty Andolina's tip is along the same lines as mine. If leading out from the start, don't completely let the dog out of your line of vision. Even a top obedience dog can forget how to STAY at a fun agility trial. This happened to me with my OTCH sheltie many years ago at one of his first USDAA regionals.

Also, when working contacts, keep your body low since dogs follow our body motion (helps keep dogs head down to complete the contact).

Neal Jakubowsky in Austin


* Forget the commands and concentrate on what you are facing (feet, hips, shoulders). What you are facing is most likely what the dog will do... in spite of correct or incorrect commands!


* The name of this game is having FUN with your dog. It usually leads to greater Q success and when it doesn't you'll still be grinning and loving your dog!

Kathryn Horn

Oakland, CA.


* Remember that no matter how "embarrassing" your dog's run is everyone there has had days like that.

Anne Schilling, Madison, Wisconsin


* I have a list I made up based on what I THOUGHT I heard my instructor say week after week:

1. RELAX - there is plenty of time
2. Watch your dog
3. Face the direction you are going
4. Do not run past the obstacle until the dog is committed (watch your dog)
5. Say the command for the next obstacle while the dog is in the middle of the first obstacle
6. Signal dog with the hand on the same side the dog is running
7. If you see your dog veering away from the obstacle, call COME (jump, etc.)
8. Take the lead off time at the start and at the table
9. At the last obstacle - DO NOT STOP! Yell GO and make sure dog crosses finish line

Lynda Tjarks and Zuni

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