If you have ever watched agility training competitions on TV, you probably instantly think of breeds such as Aussies and Border Collies. These dogs do make great competitors because they are high energy breeds that need lots of exercise to release built up energy, but any dog can benefit from agility training. Pit bulls, for example, are normally not seen as very agile dogs however they are a breed that has a lot of energy. Providing a positive release for that energy such as agility training can have enormous benefits for this breed. Many people don’t know this, but pit bulls are some of the most focused and easy to train dogs on the planet. This makes it very easy to train them on the agility field. Now they may not win any competitions (let's face it those border collies are pretty darn fast) but it can help solve a number of behavioral issues seen, not just in pit bulls but in any dog.
Here are some of the top behavioral issues that can be improved through agility training:
Shyness around others or fear/anxiety in social encounters. You know the drill - the doorbell rings, the dog starts barking and then runs and hides under the table or, even worse, pees on the carpet every time someone walks in the door. Agility training builds confidence in your dog as they are awarded at every step and the more steps they complete the more confident they become. This new found confidence will flow over into other areas where they maybe aren’t as confident. A shy dog can often become more social after they have built up their confidence in agility training which results in them being more active in big groups or in situations where they are meeting new people or other dogs.
Bonding or trust issues. If you have ever rescued a dog from a shelter, you know many times they need time to adjust to your home. With a rescue, you don’t always know their story or their history and even when you do, sometimes that can affect how you act around them which can actually make issues worse. You are providing a new life for them and the best way to do that is to bond with them and establish trust to let them know things are going to be okay now. Agility training strengthens the bond between you and your dog as you help lead them through the course. They look to you to help and guide them through the various obstacles. Once you do, they will trust you in other areas as well and feel more comfortable in their new life.
Look Mom, a squirrel complex. We all know humans that suffer from a lack of focus, heck you may be one of them. In dogs, especially high energy dogs or dogs with a high prey drive like terriers, this issue is compounded if an outlet for it is not provided. It can lead to distracted dogs that chase everything in sight, an unfocused dog that doesn't listen/mind, or excessive barking for attention. Agility training lets them harness their natural instincts and prey drive in a more productive way. Obstacles on an agility course mimic the obstacles dogs would face while chasing prey through a forest. Giving them an outlet for their natural instincts can help them improve focus, ignore distractions, and satisfies their need to chase something.
Disobedience. Do you have a dog that ignores every command or gives you the “side-eye” when you ask them to do something? This can be frustrating. Many times, this is caused by either a lack of motivation, misunderstood communication, or sometimes lack of proper structure between dog and human. If you treat your dog like a human, it can lead to a host of problems, including disobedience. You have to establish a solid dog/human relationship. You have to figure out what makes your dog tick, what motivates them, then and only then, does communication and respect start to improve.
Agility training can help you with both of these. Dogs are rewarded throughout the training for every task. Run through the tunnel, get a treat, jump over the pole, get a treat. If they aren’t food motivated usually they are object motivated. For some dogs a tennis ball is more valuable than a treat to motivate them. For some codependent dogs a hug or praise from you is the ultimate reward. Agility training can help you figure this out in a way that is fun for both dog and human. Agility training also Improves communication between human and canine. The dog depends on you to communicate and direct them through the course with verbal and hand cues and signals. This creates a very special bond between human and canine that comes across both on and off the agility field.