For active, energetic dogs, an agility course you can set up in your backyard can be just the outlet for their endless reserves. A homemade backyard agility course is also great for those times when you want to stick close to home and provide the exercise your dog needs to stay active and healthy.
What are canine agility courses and should you build one?
So, exactly what is an agility course for dogs, anyway? What you do is build or set up a series of obstacles, such as hurdles, weave poles and tunnels, and train your dog to maneuver in, on and around these obstacles in specific ways. If you’re training your dog for a competition, you’ll focus on helping your dog improve speed and accuracy.
Dog agility courses can also be just for fun in your back yard. The training and responsiveness required on the part of your dog gives them plenty of mental stimulation — more so than the typical jog in the park — and physical exercise. Because the dog isn’t leashed, this is his big chance to sprint with everything he’s got! A good perk is that the combination of using brain and muscle power tires your dog out. You know the old adage: a tired dog is a happy dog, and one that’s less likely to destroy the house. Agility training also builds confidence and impulse control.
You as a pet parent also benefit from canine agility training because it can teach you a great deal about working with dogs, and how to communicate what you want from them.
Best of all, because you have a fun activity you enjoy doing together, agility training forges a deep bond between human and canine. If you want to cultivate health and happiness in your backyard, an agility course is the way to go. Watching your best friend weave and dart happily around and through objects on your command will bring both of you a lot of joy that will be hard to match.
Investing in specially made agility equipment built just for dogs is one way to go about it. But if you’re doing it just for fun (and not to enter your dog in the local competition, which will have its own set of requirements that take extra time and training), there’s no need to shell out hundreds of dollars.
Even if you choose to construct your own out of PVC pipe, as you’ll find in this detailed tutorial, obtaining the needed materials can set you back. If you want to set up a DIY agility course inexpensively, here are some ideas.
DIY agility weave poles
Weave poles are an essential piece of any backyard agility course work. Weaving back and forth through the row of six upright poles works the dog’s flanks, joints and muscles.
Fortunately, there are plenty of DIY options when it comes to fashioning a backyard weave pole course. Just take a look around the house and garden shed to create your own homemade course.
- Bamboo garden stakes inserted into the ground can do in a pinch, without destroying your turf. Simply add stripes with colored tape to help them stand out to your pet.
- If you have some of your child’s old soccer cones in storage, those can also get you started.
- You can also place sturdy objects in a wide row. Just rinse out six gallon jugs and lids really well, and fill with sand or water so they don’t tip over. Make sure they’re spaced apart enough to keep collisions to an absolute minimum.
Begin training by leading your dog through the obstacles. Lead with a treat if needed. As your best friend catches on to the movement, slowly increase speed.
To keep your dog safe, here are a couple things to keep in mind about agility weave poles.
- Adhere to the current industry standard of spacing agility poles no closer than 24 inches apart. You don’t want the high-speed twists and tight turns to injure your dog’s spine.
- Agility weave poles are not suited for dogs with a history of ACL tears, given these quick, tight maneuvers. Even if your dog’s old injury healed up without surgery, your vet will likely strongly recommend that you omit the weave poles altogether.
DIY jump hurdles
For dog breeds that are prone to hip and joint issues, exercise that gets them jumping is a good preventive measure for maintaining good joint health. Jumping also works to develop the muscles in their hindquarters, while also providing plenty of fun for dogs.
Creating a homemade jump can be easily accomplished with a few objects found around the home and garden shed.
- For a jumping rod, look for something long and sturdy, such as the handle of an old broom or shovel, or shower curtain rod. If you want to cushion any collisions, try encasing the handle in a pool noodle.
- For the foundation for your jumping rod, take a couple of chairs and set the rod on the rungs, securing with duct tape, if needed. You can also slide it through the openings of a two laundry baskets, a pair of plastic storage crates placed upside down or a pair of cinder blocks.
- A jumping hoop is an excellent option for dogs that have that spring and bounce to make the leap. Take a hula hoop or pool noodle and duct tape between two old chairs.
For training, start low, and coax them through with a command, treat and plenty of praise. As they catch on to what you want, you can raise it higher.
But make sure you’re not raising the bar so high that it causes injury to your dog.
- Make sure that the height of the bar is appropriate for your pet’s size. To find a maximum height that’s safe for your dog, reach out to a local kennel club. (Your local, independent pet supply shop can help you find local groups that host dog agility courses for fun and competition.)
- Before you start jump training, factor in your dog’s age and physical condition. When in doubt, consult with your vet.
To give you an idea of the appropriate height for your dog, here are the jump measurements from the North American Dog Agility Council for dogs competing in the skilled category. (The withers height of a dog measures the distance between the highest point of the shoulder blades to the floor.)
- Withers height 11 inches and under: 4-inch jump height
- Withers height 11 to 14 inches: 8-inch jump height
- Withers height 14 to 18 inches: 12-inch jump height
- Withers height 18 inches and above: 16-inch jump height
DIY agility tunnel
What dog doesn’t love zooming through a tunnel? Adding one to your repertoire is a fantastic way to score early success, and as you may already know, success provides the foundation you need to train your dog.
- While you may want to invest in a tunnel that’s made for dogs, many home-agility studios make do with a child’s play tunnel. The nice thing about these is they’re easily folded and put away for easy cleanup. And if you don’t have one at home, a new one can be had for a small upfront cost.
- Tables pushed together can also serve as a tunnel in a pinch. To create that sought-after tunnel effect, drape a floor-length tablecloth (or old sheet) over two sides. For a longer tunnel, push together several tables.
All right, so some dogs do balk when presented with the end of a tunnel. For most dogs, a little coaxing and training will quickly help them overcome their hesitation. Have a treat in hand to coax them to enter and get through.
As you get started on agility training, keep in mind that most dogs in good physical condition can learn and master the different obstacles. But like any lesson, some dogs catch on more quickly than others, so if it’s taking awhile, keep at it, be patient, and if one method doesn’t work, try a new approach.
Throughout agility training, be sure and keep plenty of treats on hand to let your dog know when he got it right! Your dogs will love NutriSource Soft and Tender treats. These small bites are highly fragrant so you can keep your dog’s attention without piling on to their daily calorie count. They’re also soft, but won’t crumble in your hand or pocket. Find them at your locally owned, independent pet supply shop.