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Agility handling (for someone with no experience)

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(I am reposting here because I posted in the wrong forum)

I have always wanted to get involved in agility (since childhood), and after much careful discernment and research, I have decided to get a border collie. I am not sure whether I would do agility competitively or not, because for me the priority will be working as a team and having fun together, but at the same time... I am kind of a competitive person and will probably take it fairly seriously even if it is for fun. 

I do not actually have a border collie (I am on the waitlist for a litter that is being planned - you can see how obsessed I am), but I think it would be beneficial if I could learn the basics of agility handling before I got the dog so that I have some idea of what I am doing and don't slow down the progress. 

How would you recommend going about this? Are there any resources that you know of that would help? Should I try to self teach? Are there programs that teach handling without the dog? 

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The best way to learn is to do, but the next best way is to watch.  I learned a lot when watching things like Crufts or Westminster agility trials, or look at international trials.  Watch to see where dogs made mistakes, and the difference between how handlers approach a course and the tricky bits where mistakes were made.  The mistake might just be going wide, or not turning nicely, or knocking a bar, going the wrong way etc.  Another helpful thing is to go to agility trials and watch people run their dogs.  How do they handle the start line?  When do they turn their shoulders; how do they cross their dog's path?  How do they 'walk the course' i.e. working out how they are going to approach the course, working out what position they want to be in compared to the obstacle and their dog, and where they are going to cross so their dog handles from one side to the other.

There is a whole language as well.  I learned a lot of it at trials, but otherwise something like Clean Run magazine has useful information.  I think they have older copies online for free.

A lot of handling I found depended on the dog, how fast, how well it would work at a distance, did it have a favourite obstacle?  A lot of dogs will choose to take a tunnel rather than a jump if given a chance (tunnel-suck).  My first dog preferred the scramble/a-frame.  So I had to be aware when working out how to handle a course to block the scramble if it was a chance to be chosen.  Timing is almost impossible to work on until you are on course with a dog.

Be prepared to make mistakes.  My dog usually failed because I did not have my timing right and he would find his own course because I was not clear with where he had to go.  Mistakes are part of agility.  It makes the good runs all the better.

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I agree with much of what D'Elle and Lawgirl have said.

First, realize that agility training is never done. Just like regular training is never done. There is always a next step, or a subtle improvement to a well-known skill. Many top agility handlers will continue to train for handling or obstacle improvements throughout the competition lifetime of the dog. I think that is what makes agility so challenging and fun.

Personally, I have never started actual agility training until around 9 months (some people start earlier which is fine if there is no jumping involved) - flatwork, tunnels, wrapping a wing, handling skills on the flat,etc. - but there are a lot of puppy skills that you can work on before that - impulse control, recalls, bonding, retrieve, drop it, etc. Around 12-14 months, I will start weave pole training. At 14-16 months, the jump height increases.

If you have agility classes that you can attend in-person, it can be beneficial for your dog to learn to focus on you and perform skills with distractions. I would recommend that since you have never done this before, and it will be beneficial to have immediate, one-on-one feedback. I have been doing agility for about 12 years and use online classes, but would prefer in person classes if there were someone good in my area. (I started with in-person classes for many years.)

Definitely go to an agility trial or watch runs on Youtube to get an idea of handling. If you can attend an agility trial, maybe someone friendly will explain what is going on - but don't bug people just before or just after they run their dog. I think most people would be helpful.

A free resource can be blogs from agility people. I often listen to Bad Dog Agility free podcasts. I think they have over 300. (They also have an online training program for $$, but the podcast is free.)

Hope this helps.



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I applaud you for actually thinking this through before you even have a puppy.  So now is a good time (while you have the time, since puppies are soooo time-consuming) to do your research.  Check out classes in your area.  Attend with permission to watch.  If there are multiple classes in your area, this is a great time to formulate where you would like to go and which would be best for you. Then when you are ready, you already have a plan. 

There is a ton of agility stuff on you-tube and all over the internet.  Dedicate some time to watching and learning.  I think handling is something that is learned through repetition and experience, so I wouldn't worry about it now.  Most people have to tailor their handling to their dog and how he runs and reacts.  You'll have plenty of time for that.  

Full-blown agility is for the more physically mature young dog.  However, there is plenty you can do with your puppy to prepare for agility.  Most people don't do this, but I start mine with obedience classes so I have control.  Also, mine were barely home from the farm when they were going to & through a tunnel on command (short, hard tunnel that is in the play yard.) It was then that I learned how amazing and quickly they sop up the learning.  Puppies can do flat work only - no obstacles or weaving.  However, they can learn a short tunnel, feet position, start-line stays, recalls.  All this can be done at home with very little equipment.  As they got a little older, I was also able to rent ring time and work flat work in the agility ring, getting them used to and comfortable with everything around them.  Also, I wanted to add, that with these dogs I taught channel weaves.  So it was easy and not harmful to start them running a straight line channel when they were young.  So even though the poles were not positioned to weave, it got them used to working with poles.  I found this every helpful as they progressed. 

Looking back, I sort of miss those early days (uh oh).  My last 3 dogs were rescues and therefore older when I started agility work with them (I got them all at about 18 months - my favorite age for getting an older dog.)  Comparing them to the puppies, I can see the benefits of starting puppies early.  

I'm excited for you with anticipation of a new puppy and a new sport!



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