Canine agility is the most popular dog sport in the UK, and one that is equally exciting and enjoyable to watch as it is to compete in. One of the most popular events at the annual Crufts dog show is the agility heats and hotly contested final, when the atmosphere in the arena is almost electric and both competitors and spectators alike really get into the mood and every turn, jump and obstacle can make the difference between saving-or losing-a few seconds.
As is the case for many of us when watching high level competition of any type that we are interested in, watching dogs and handlers at the top of their game going through their paces can provide a lot of incentive and motivation to get out there and do something similar with their own dogs. However, many owners and dogs that might well get on ok with agility and really enjoy it are sometimes nervous of getting started, when comparing their own skills and knowledge to the top-level competitors we see on TV.
Additionally, while high-level agility competitions requires fitness on the part of the owner, you do not have to be an athlete or even in very good shape to get started, and as you and your dog improve and learn more, your fitness will improve along the way!
Canine agility might be the most popular dog sport in the UK today, but it came into being by accident. Back in 1978, a rider and equestrian who also worked with dogs was asked to put on a display at that year’s Crufts event, which was meant to be entertaining and humorous rather than the start of a new sport!
During the display, the dogs were tasked with jumping, cornering and generally taking part in feats more commonly associated with show jumping than dogs, but the response from the spectators (both in the arena and from those watching at home) was so positive, it ultimately turned into the formation of a new sport.
Whilst competing at an event like Crufts is of course reserved for only top-level dogs and handlers that have taken part in heats during the year leading up to the event itself, most dogs and owners can enjoy some of the benefits of agility simply by joining a local group of attending a have-a-go day-and this is in fact how some of the best in the business today got started!
If you are wondering why dogs and handlers enjoy agility so much or what it can do for you and your dog, read on to learn more about how canine agility can benefit both you and your dog.
Agility has a huge range of benefits for dogs, whether they are high level event winners or barely break into a trot during a have-a-go session, and the more agility you do, the more your dog will reap the rewards.
First of all, agility is great exercise! Even if your dog is not particularly nippy or fast, agility will help to push them (even if only a little bit) and encourage them to get some exercise, and this then becomes self-perpetuating as the dog gets fitter and enjoys the fun and excitement of the sport.
Agility is good for mental exercise as well as physical, and the problem-solving skills and accuracy involved, often at high speeds, help to keep your dog switched on and engaged. This not only keeps them mentally alert and gives their brain a workout, but can actually help to stave off age-related brain aging and degeneration over time too.
There is more to agility than just haring around as well-fitness comes accompanied by flexibility and helps to support healthy bones and joints, which again can provide value as your dog gets older. Your dog’s stamina and coordination will improve too, which is again, great for both their day to day fitness and long term health and wellness.
Dogs that take part in agility also get a massive confidence boost over time, and they get to socialise with other dogs and owners as part of training and competition, which is good for all of the dogs involved.
Whilst a dog needs to be reasonably responsive and obedient in order to thrive in agility, agility also helps to really hone these skills too-dogs that have only attended a couple of sessions soon pick up on the need to listen to commands and think on the fly, and this can help hugely with your dog’s training and obedience in other areas of their life, including vitally with recall.
Agility is just as good for owners and handlers as it is for dogs, as any hobby or sport usually is! Owners obviously get lots of chances to socialise with other dogs and people too, and learn and fine-tune team related skills and working with others.
The bond between a working or sporting dog and their owner is also by design much greater than for other pets, and this can help to improve your overall relationship with your dog.
When it comes to the fitness side of agility for handlers, this often puts off many would-be agility fans, because the perception is that you have to be super fit to compete. Whilst top level competition certainly needs high-level fitness in the handler, when starting out, virtually anyone who can jog a few steps can get going, and as your interest and ability improves, your fitness will too, so don’t let this put you off!