Is agility good for dogs?

Do you want to get started in dog agility, but are unsure if your dog would benefit from it? Do you wonder if agility is the right sport for you, or you should pick a different one?

The quick answer is that: Yes! Agility is very good for dogs. As long as you are teaching your dog patiently and with lots of rewards, he will benefit a lot from agility training.

Let’s look into different considerations when it comes to the benefit of agility for dogs!

Table of Contents

tunnel bag holder

Which dogs can do agility?

Agility can be done by all adult, healthy dogs. Since it is an athletic activity, it is not suitable for dogs that are ill or have recently been injured. You also want to start out very gradually with young puppies – while they can start agility training early on, they should only complete a whole course by the time they are around 12-18 months old. 

The “classic” agility dogs are herding breeds such as Border Collies, Australian Shepherds or Shelties. However, other breeds of dogs can enjoy and excel at agility just as much! Whether you have a Golden Retriever, Cavachon or Pitbull – they can all try out and have fun at this sport.

Is agility training good for my dog?

Many dogs with behavioral issues benefit greatly from agility training. Let’s look into some common behavioral problems and how agility can help with them:

Nervous/anxious dogs

Dogs that are nervous and anxious benefit a lot from the regular agility practice. These dogs usually get stressed by not knowing what will happen next. Uncertainty is very scary for them – whereas knowing what to expect makes them feel better. Your nervous dog probably does best when he has routines and repetitive activities.

Agility fits into this great. Dogs catch on quickly to the sport and enjoy repeating the sequences. Agility can give them a sense of security in that they know exactly what they are supposed to do, and that they get a reward at the end!

Agility is very good for these types of dogs.

border collie in agility

High-energy working dogs

If you own a working-bred dog, you might struggle to provide him with the energy outlet he needs. This does not only apply to physical, but to mental activities as well! High-strung dogs do best if they have a mix of physically challenging activities and brain games.

Agility lets your dog have both! On the one hand, it is an athletic sport during which your dog has to run fast, jump high, turn tightly. On the other hand, it also requires your dog to pay attention and think – he has to follow your cues on where to go, and how to carry out certain maneuvers. 

This combination of physical and mental activity makes dogs very tired. It actually also simulates the type of work a working dog would do – a Border Collie who is herding sheep for example would have to use both his body and his brain!

Dogs that lack focus

Do you have a dog who likes to goof off much more than to actually pay attention to you in training classes? Some dogs (especially when they are young) have too much energy to stand still and succeed in group classes. Doodles for example are known for this!

If you have a “wiggly” dog, it can be very difficult for him to stop all that motion energy and just focus on you. In a regular obedience class, these dogs usually do not do well. Owners get frustrated and quit, and the dog didn’t learn much…

Agility can be the answer for this type of dog. Contrary to obedience classes, agility is not so much about standing still, but about focusing while moving! This is exactly what those dogs need. Instead of asking the dogs to stand still and focus (something that is incredibly hard for them), we ask them to run and focus – which caters their temperament much more!

Agility is very good for these dogs that lack focus. After a bit of agility training, they usually do a lot better in obedience classes as well.

husky in agility

How to make agility fun for your dog

You should follow a few guidelines to make agility training fun and safe for your dog. Let’s look at them in detail:

Safety first!

Of course, the first priority is that your dog does not get injured. As a sport, agility carries some inherent risk. This risk can be minimized by being smart and following a couple rules:

  • Do not let your dog jump at full jump height until he is finished growing
  • Do not use unsafe equipment 
  • Do not train on hard and slippery surfaces (such as concrete or tile floor)
  • Do not train if your dog is tired, sore or limping
  • Always do a short warm-up and cool-down routine (this can be as simple as walking around and having your dog do a couple tricks)
  • Take rest days at least once or twice a week – no dog should do agility every single day of his life!
  • Do not train multiple dogs at once – accidents happen quickly if several dogs are racing around the same agility field

If your dog has recently been injured and has been recovering, you should check with your vet before returning to your usual agility training.

collie and owner

Positive training

Train your dog with lots of rewards. These can be treats or toys – depending on your dog’s preference. Whenever your dog does something right, reward him! You cannot really reward your dog too much, but you sure can reward him too little.

Nearly all owners starting out in agility make this mistake and use too few treats and reinforcement. If you want your dog to work together with you as a team on the agility field, you need to be an enthusiastic and encouraging team leader.

Of course, you should never punish your dog for a mistake in agility – this would make agility training cruel. On the one hand, dogs don’t make mistakes on purpose but just don’t know how to do it better. On the other hand, a lot of mistakes in agility are due to the owner “messing up”. This is especially true for sending the dog to the wrong obstacle or having a dog that drops bars – these can often be caused by incorrect handling or insufficient training on the owner’s part.

How to know if agility is not good for your dog

Every dog is an individual and we need to treat them as such. If you notice that your dog has a severe apprehension against agility, take it seriously. Some dogs that continually refuse to jump for example have an underlying condition such as hip dysplasia that makes jumping painful for them. Other dogs might have undiagnosed shoulder issues that cause them to be uncomfortable while running and navigating hurdles.

Especially if your dog is otherwise enthusiastic about training but not about agility, you should consider that there is some physical issue going on. Of course, in this case it is not good to continue agility training with your dog. Have him checked out by a veterinarian. If it turns out that he is unable to continue in this sport, there are many other ones he can try out!

The Bottom Line

As long as your dog is healthy and sound, agility is a great sport for him. It can even help with a variety of behavioral issues. Always make sure to only start running complete courses with dogs that have finished growing and do not push puppies too much, too early. In order to have your dog enjoy agility for a long time, you need to train on safe equipment and soft ground, as well as give him regular rest days.

Treat agility like any sport – strive for a healthy balance of activity and rest, and build up a solid foundation of skills in your dog. That way, agility will be very good for him and he can enjoy it for a long time to come!