Now that warmer weather is approaching, you may be looking for some new activities that you and your dog can enjoy together. If organized activities are right up your alley, you may want to consider training your dog for flyball or agility competitions. Not only will it provide mental and physical exercise for you both, but it will also strengthen your bond.
Flyball is relay race for dogs. Races occur between two teams, each with four dogs that race side by side over a 51 foot course. The race starts when the first dog runs down the course, jumping over four jumps that are 10 feet apart. When they reach the end, they activate a spring-loaded box which causes a tennis ball to be released. After catching the ball, they head back up the course, again jumping over each jump until they reach the starting line. At that point, the second racer starts, and so on.
Dogs who participate in agility trials are trained to run through a timed obstacle course. The obstacle courses vary in each competition, but typically include obstacles such as jumps, tunnels, weave poles, and contact obstacles (like teeter-totters and A-frames to scale).
Both of these activities require more than just basic obedience, so if your dog has had no training, obedience classes are a perfect place to start. Once your pup can follow basic commands, you will have the tools with which to build him into an expert.
One note, though: Don’t start trying to train your dog for both flyball or agility when he’s too young. Puppies have growth plates in their bones that are particularly prone to injury from trauma or repeated activities, such as jumping. Start basic training with your puppy, but hold off on the more rigorous training required for flyball and agility until after his first birthday.
Dogs who participate in flyball and agility are very fit. Added pounds will be a burden on your dog’s joints, so if your pet is carrying around winter weight, get him to a lean weight before starting training. Also be sure to also keep your pet’s toenails very short – torn toenails can be a common athletic injury, particularly on agility contraptions.
Dogs who participate in rigorous sports like flyball and agility are more prone to injuries, such as cranial cruciate ligament rupture, medially luxating patellas and groin injuries. Injuries like these may require surgery with extensive rehabilitation. It is important to pay attention to your dog’s gait and look for signs of pain while training and competing.
Not all dogs are interested in or made for agility and flyball. Jack Russell Terriers seem born to excel, while dogs like Basset Hounds and Dachshunds might not make the best – or most willing – competitors. However, even if you have a breed that isn’t typically associated with these kinds of competitions, it doesn’t hurt to try – they may surprise you! If they just can’t be enticed up and down that A-frame, don’t fret. Maybe an activity like tracking or herding will spark their interest!