I was stood at an agility show a few months ago watching a friend do an amazing jumping round with their young dog. The ladies mum then also did an equally fantastic round, making a small mistake, but the dog was so fast and their handling and communication together was just beautiful.
As they were both stood outside the ring together a passer-by said “What do you feed your dogs? They’re so fast!”.
The comment was said a little jokingly… but it made me think how naive that person was to think that what a dog has to eat is what affects it’s speed in the agility ring.
In my opinion there are a number of vital elements that increase the speed of a dog round an agility course, which any agility dog should have;
Agility is a physically demanding sport for all dogs and therefore as the owner we owe it to our dogs to ensure they are fit and strong enough to put their body through the demands of agility. Weaves, tight turns, dog walk, etc all have quite an impact on the body.
Equally it’s worth being aware that some dogs will just be physically faster than others. However some dogs are quicker in a straight line and others can turn very efficiently and therefore make up speed where the straight-line fast dogs loose it.
This for me is the most important element. If your dog is not enjoying agility then it’s probably not going to be very fast. It makes me so sad when I see dogs plodding around the agility ring, not even breaking in to a run. I’m not the owner and therefore don’t know the dog in and out but I really do question if that dog is enjoying it.
Enjoyment starts in training. Does your dog enjoy going to training class? Is it too stressful for them? Are you ensuring training is fun? Are you putting too much pressure on your dog? If they go wrong do you show it? Are you asking too much of them too soon? Are you giving them 1 piece of biscuit for doing a whole course or do they get a handful of cheese just for doing 1 jump?
Consider how long I spend rewarding Zebby compared to how much time we actually did any agility in this video.
Your dogs needs to completely understand what to do on each piece of equipment in agility in order to do it successfully and therefore with speed. If your dog often misses their contacts then question if they really understand what they should be doing on the contact. Like, REALLY understand… where to place each foot, when to stop (if stopping) and when to go.
Does your dog understand a rear cross signal? Do they REALLY understand their wing wrap command. Can your dog get their weave entry from any side at any angle? Can they perform 12 weaves independently while you do cartwheels?
If a dog is lacking clarity then they are likely to be slower. The fast dogs are the confident dogs who really know their job.
I absolutely love watching Charlotte and Scandal run, Charlotte has beautiful, clear handling and clearly has trained Scandal very well as she understands what to do.
Scandal doesn’t look the fastest when she runs, but it just goes to show that the dog doesn’t need to be going hell for leather to win. There are so many other important elements that make a champion dog.
Understanding leads nicely on to confidence. Once your dog has understanding of what to do then you can build their confidence in doing it with successful repetitions and rewards.
You should also look at how confident your dog is in the show environment.
They may be super fast in training but if they are really slow in competition then it sounds like the environment is having an effect.
Try to train in lots of different places. Find a show that allows Not For Competition (NFC) runs and go in to the ring and replicate exactly what you would do in training.
Create a routine for queuing to give your dog confidence around other dogs while waiting for their turn.
I think Guinness’ issue with start line waits was often due to a confidence issue.
Your dog may know all of the individual elements of agility but it is your job to navigate them around an agility course in the correct order.
Tell them where to go early enough so that they can prepare for it.
If you want them to wing wrap a jump then tell them this before they get to the jump… (remember this should have been practised in training first).
There’s no need to shout at a dog, they can hear you. Dogs can understand the most subtle of shoulder changes. Keep your signals clear and consistent and they will be able to understand you if you have done your training right.
Speed isn’t everything
Yes, at the end of the day, the fastest dog with a clear round will win the class, but a key part of that is clear round.
Consider how aroused your dog is while running agility.
An over-aroused dog may be super fast but it’s likely that they’ll be struggling to follow your instructions and may loose form and knock poles.
Consider how much (or not) you need to wind your dog up before a run.
If your dog is confident, your handling is clear and they enjoy agility then everything will fall in to place and you should have a smooth, fast run.
But also don’t be disheartened if your dog is not as fast as others. As long as both you and your dog are enjoying your agility journey together then that’s all that matters.
But if you feel like your dog could be quicker then consider re-visiting any or all of the above elements.
Dog agility may just be your hobby, but we owe it to our dogs to ensure they are enjoying their training and are physically safe while doing it.