Dog Blog

Reconnect With Your Clients (And Get New Ones) By Offering Sports Training Classes - Part 2

In our previous newsletter/blog post we discussed how professional dog trainers could reconnect with their former clients by offering classes in the growing area of competitive canine sports. Many pet parents who used your services for obedience training may be interested in more advanced classes that could help them and their pup get started in a fun, popular sport like Agility, Dock Diving or Flyball. In the last newsletter/post we gave an overview of these sports. Here, we will discuss in greater detail how trainers can move forward holding classes in some of today’s hottest canine-human activities.

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Agility

Agility is a sport in which dogs navigate an obstacle course consisting of jumps, tunnels and other hurdles, directed by voice and body cues from their handler. The obstacles on an Agility course may be laid out in a variety of ways, but they typically consist of:

Standard jumps
Weave poles
Dogwalk
Pause table
Tunnel
Tire jump
Teeter board

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Before You Jump In -- Trainers should require that dogs be at least 12 months old to be admitted to an Agility class. Puppies under one year may suffer serious injuries and even permanent joint damage from the repetitive high-impact jumping involved in the sport. Since Agility involves rigorous physical activity for both dogs and handlers, it’s also advisable that four-legged (and two-legged) students get a medical checkup before starting training, just as they would with any new exercise program.

Another pre-requisite for successful Agility training is that the dogs have a good grasp of basic obedience commands – Sit, Lie Down, Stay, Come. These commands are essential in teaching dogs to navigate an Agility course, so trainers may want to start out with a refresher on the basics.

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Crushing The Obstacles -- Complete Agility obstacle kits can be purchased inexpensively online. But you can start your class with as few or as many obstacles as you like. One efficiency of having a lot of obstacles set up is that it allows the dog-handler teams in your class to work on different hurdles simultaneously. While one team is working on the tire jump, for example, another can be learning how to negotiate the weave poles. Each dog can spend time learning how to navigate one type of Agility obstacle before rotating on to the next.

Teaching a dog to master an Agility obstacle involves the same type of positive reinforcement used in any other type of canine training. Start by coaxing the dog to jump over the bar, crawl through the tunnel, weave through the poles etc., offering plenty of praise and delicious food rewards like Pet Botanics Mini Training Rewards when she makes a move in the right direction.

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Getting On Course -- Once each dog in the class has been trained to navigate the individual obstacles, it’s time to put it all together and create a full-blown Agility course. Here again, start out slowly at first, guiding the dog through the course with verbal commands and hand signals. Provide praise and food rewards when the pup moves along the correct route. As the dogs become familiar with the course and more skilled at surmounting obstacles, you can gradually pick up the pace.

Most of all, make the experience fun for dogs and their parents. Not all canines are destined for Agility stardom, but pups and humans can still enjoy a great time and healthy exercise even if they never reach the sport’s competitive level.

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Dock Diving

Dock Diving is a water retrieving sport in which dogs run down a 40’ dock, then jump into a pond, lake or ocean to retrieve a toy or object that has been thrown in (a swimming pool can be used as an alternative). Dock Diving competitions may be judged in several ways: the height or distance of the jump, or the time it takes for the dog to swim to the object and bring it back.

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Before You Dive In -- Obviously, the trainer must first arrange for the use of a body of water with a dock – or a swimming pool – where the class can take place. When choosing a dock, it’s a good idea to see if you can use one that belongs to Dock Diving club in your area or has been the site of Dock Diving events in the past. The Dock Diving club will most likely have done their homework on the site, ensuring it’s safe for diving (no hazards such as rocks) and that there are no statutory restrictions such as leash laws.

For dogs, the ability to swim and having a level of comfortability in the water are essential pre-requisites for participation in a Dock Diving class. It’s also important that before the actual lessons begin, trainers make sure the dogs know how to exit the pool or body of water they will be swimming in.

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Getting In The Swim -- As a first training step, dogs should go into the water with their parents and swim around, starting in a shallow area where they can touch bottom. Next, while the dog is in the water, his parent should throw one of his favorite (floating) toys a few feet away and command the pup to “Fetch.” If the dog starts swimming toward the toy, the parent should praise and reward with a treat. It’s important to keep the treats small so the dog doesn’t get filled up while in the water. Pet Botanics Mini Training Rewards, which come in an ultra-small 1.5-calorie size and are available in delicious Chicken, Beef, Bacon and Salmon flavors, are ideal for this purpose.

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Making The Leap -- Once the dog is consistently pursuing and retrieving the toy in the water, it’s time to start working on the dive itself. Some experts recommend that dogs first be taught to dive in a swimming pool before they’re taken to a dock. This is because docks are typically 2-3 feet above the water, and some dogs won’t leap off a surface this high until they are comfortable with the more lateral jump from a poolside.

Start teaching jumping by throwing the toy into the pool from the side near the shallow end. Many toy-driven dogs will make the jump instinctively without requiring much encouragement. If a dog doesn’t, suggests Steven Appelbaum, president of the Animal Behavior College, a vocational school for dog trainers, “’try throwing the toy at the edge of the pool near the steps. The downside of this method is that some dogs learn only to be comfortable entering the pool via the steps, when, of course, the sport requires ‘diving.’” So this approach should only be used if all else fails, stresses Appelbaum, and should be regarded as an intermediary step.

When the dog becomes comfortable jumping into the pool, slowly increase the length of the jumps by tossing the toy further distances – from 3’ to 4’, 5’ etc. After the dog is reliably leaping 6’-8’ into the water to retrieve a toy, and has no problem exiting the pool, she is ready to move up to a dock. After this point, if the pet parent wants to continue with the sport, it’s advisable to join a local Dock Diving club, which can be easily found via an online search.

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Flyball

A true pack sport – and one that’s super fun to teach in a training class -- Flyball is a relay race between two four-dog teams over a 51’ obstacle course with four jumps. The first dog runs down the course to retrieve a tennis ball from a box, then sprints back to the second dog, who races over the hurdles to get the next tennis ball, and so forth. The first team to have all four dogs complete the course with no mistakes wins.

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Before You Dart Off -- As with most competitive canine sports, obedience training is the foundation for success in Flyball, so it’s a good idea for trainers to start off with a lesson in the basic commands. Having a strong Recall – coming when called – is particularly important for dogs participating in Flyball.

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Learning To Fetch -- Even dogs who already like to “Fetch” need to be taught to retrieve a ball with total consistency, and do it when the distractions of other dogs and humans are present. Start out teaching fetching with short throws – from 5’ for beginners to 25’ for more advanced dogs. Once the dogs are regularly fetching balls from over 50’ (the length of a Flyball course), it’s time to start adding hurdles.

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Jump It Up -- It’s a good idea to use adjustable hurdles on your Flyball course, since this allows you to start low and increase the height as the dog advances, as well as to accommodate teams of different-sized canines. Begin with a hurdle of no more than 4”-6”, stand 5’ or 6’ away and throw the ball over it. While some dogs will jump over the hurdle, others will run around the side to get the ball. If this happens, put the dog on a leash, throw the ball, and have the pet parent run and jump alongside their dog over the hurdle. Once the dog gets the hang of this, the leash can be dropped as she runs toward the hurdle and, eventually, taken off completely. When the dog masters jumping over the hurdle, put a second one 10’ from the first, and train her to jump over both to get the ball. After repeating this with a 3rd and 4th hurdle, you’re ready to have groups of dogs participate together and turn it into a true team sport!