Today is a Dog Agility Blog Event Day. Check out all the other blogs on this topic here.
When I started agility about eight years ago, I was a novice and so was my pup. There are several things I would do differently now looking back. But my main piece of advice is: Don’t blame the dog!
As a novice starting out there are so many things to remember to do, watch the dog, give your cues, move your body, watch where you are going, and remembering where to go next!
Train your dog and train yourself! In the beginning you are training your dog to do obstacles. I have found out that training the dog is the easy part. It was training myself that is hard. The handler must be the leader, providing the dog with timely cues on what obstacle to take and where they are going next. Your dog will go exactly where your body tells it to go.
When I watch novice handlers at trials I sometimes see handlers frustrated when their dog goes off course when their body language is clearly sending them that way! Dogs pick up on your emotions, frustration, and disappointment. Please do not de-motivate your dog.
Stay upbeat. Do not scold or become upset with your dog. Your relationship with your dog is much more important than any Q. That can be hard to see when you are first competing and you really want to do well. I found out that I was a lot more competitive than I thought I would be. But think about the your partner, he needs to be having fun too. When you make a mistake use that as information for next time. Just continue on and praise your dog, he is working his hardest for you. Always keep the fun in agility! If you keep up the fun, your dog will always be willing to play with you.
I am lucky, my Jack Russell Terrier was and is highly motivated to do agility. He was very forgiving of me and my mistakes! I didn’t understand as a novice handler that mistakes were my fault. I thought I needed to keep training the dog when I needed to improve my handling.
Try new things and listen to your dog. When it became clear that my Jack Russell Terrier, Stewie really disliked 2 on 2 off contacts, we tried something new. I went to running contacts which he very clearly preferred. Now one of his favorite things is “making air” over the A-frame.
Enjoy agility with your dog, and remember to play with your dog and have fun, that is the most important thing!
Please check out many other blogs on this topic at If I knew than what I know now.