Recently I was asked some questions about the benefits of agility for dogs. The primary question was:
‘Does agility improve their health?’
Of course there is never a simple answer, but broadly speaking I would suggest it does from two perspectives:
- Health-wise, an agility dog will not be overweight. The RSPCA suggest that some 20- 25% of ‘pet’ dogs in the UK are obese. In agility this would be almost zero. Overweight dogs are more likely to have complications such as osteoarthritis, hip dysplasia and diabetes.
- Mentally, agility stimulates the dog. Therefore other ‘unwanted’ behaviours emanating from boredom are less likely to occur.
Of course agility can be done wrong. Poor teaching methods, training an unfit dog and using bad equipment can all result in acute / traumatic injuries (i.e. muscle sprains and tears) or longer term chronic issues such as back or joint pain.
‘What age can dogs start doing agility?’
Unfortunately there is a perception that agility is turning up one day and the dog doing all the jumps and fun equipment from the first minute. It doesn’t work like that!
Small to average size dogs can start doing equipment from six months old. But it would be at a very simple level with any equipment on the floor and definitely no jumping or getting on the high contact equipment. This work is called ‘working on the flat’. It forms an important part of the dog’s foundation and continues until they compete at 18-months-old. Larger breeds will take longer to mature so don’t start at a similar time to smaller type dogs.
Most importantly, all training should take place under experienced and skilled instruction. Clubs will have the latest equipment, all to Kennel Club specifications, including the latest innovation, rubber lined contact equipment.
There is a large market today in ‘home’ equipment sold by major pet stores. This is of a very low standard of manufacturing and is no more than a garden toy. To be honest we don’t recommend this as it can result in injuries with a lack of supervision ‘playing in the garden’.
‘Which breeds can do agility?’
Any – it really is suitable for a miniature toy-type breed through to a Great Dane! The most common include Border Collies, Kelpies, Shetland Sheepdogs, Spaniels and Jack Russell Terriers.