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Posted on Tue, Apr 5, 2011 : 5:24 a.m.

Dog agility training at home?

By Debbie Harrison


Twizzle thinks tunnels are a blast!

Whether you want to just have some fun with your dog or get some background in agility before actually starting classes - there are quite a few dog agility exercises and skills you can practice at home. I am always telling students they don’t need $10,000 worth of agility equipment to train agility at home.

Here are some ideas:

1. Jumps - They don’t need to cost $50 or even look like a traditional jump. It’s all about jumping a horizontal bar (dowel rod, etc.). What holds it up is irrelevant — it can be anything from empty milk jugs to cans of peaches to buckets, etc. Just make sure the bar is displaceable, i.e. can be knocked off/down if the dog hits it, to avoid injury. Also a good rule of thumb is not to jump dogs higher than their elbow height, especially for puppies under a year old; they should be jumped much lower, if at all.

2. Tire jump - The goal of the tire jump is to jump thru the circle. What is holding it up is irrelevant, so you can get a hoolahoop at a local dollar store and bungee it to a fence post, side of your deck, a chair in the house, etc. The dog just needs to find the circle and jump through it. Again, keep the height low as with the regular hurdle jumps as discussed above.

3. Teeter type activities - The teeter totter is the only obstacle in dog agility that combines height, noise and motion, and most dogs have a issue with one or more of these attributes of the teeter. So we break them apart and teach them separately — to work on motion, you can put a small board on a brick (so that it tips back and forth), teach the dog to slam doors and drawers, ride a skateboard and/or walk across playground sway bridges. To work on noise, we want to be sure the dog has no aversions to metallic slamming noises that the teeter makes. Dropping cookie sheets, silverware, etc. on the floor and rewarding them for not reacting negatively to the noise is very helpful. For height, we need to find safe obstacles that the dog can get up on that are above the ground; again playground equipment can helpful.

4. Dogwalk type activities - First, you can have a milk crate support one end of a board, so the dog walks up the slanted board. Then set a board on two milk crates and walk the dog across it. Then you can find other objects to slant the board onto.

5. Tunnels - Kids' play tunnels can be purchased at local children’s toy stores and are great starters tunnels for dog agility training at home.

6. Balance and body awareness - For the dog to safely negotiate any agility obstacles safely, they need to have a good sense of balance and good body awareness. Activities/skills that enhance these are:

• Teaching the dog how to back up straight
• Walking, then slowly trotting the dog through a ladder
• Backing the dog up through the ladder
• Teaching the dog how to figure-8 around your legs
• Teaching the dog how to walk across a board on the ground
• Teaching the dog to bow, dance or do a kick back stand
• Teaching the dog to circle a bucket or cone
• Teaching the dog how to sit up or sit pretty
• Teaching the dog how to climb stairs backwards

These are just some of the many things that you can teach your dog at home that are fun and also helpful if you should choose to enroll in a dog agility class. The key principles involved with all of these are good dog training skills — i.e. the correct and appropriate use of positive reinforcement and firstly, at all times, being aware of your dog’s safety.

Also strive to never scare or frighten the dog; once they are scared of an obstacle, it is very hard to get them over it, so patience and a positive attitude are always a must.

Happy training!

Debbie Harrison is a community contributor on's pet section and entered the world of dog agility back in 1992. She has since loved, trained and competed with two Dalmatians, two Jack/Parson Russell Terriers and three Border Collies in several dog sport disciplines. She is owner of Agility Synergy LLC in Ann Arbor. Contact her via email.