Australian Shepherds are active, intelligent dogs who are at their best when they have something to do. Agility is an ideal sport for Aussies because it occupies mind and body while providing the opportunity to strengthen their bonds with their owners. For owners who are interested, dogs can earn titles from various clubs and organizations, joining what the American Kennel Club calls “one of the fastest growing dog sports” in the United States.
Australian Shepherds can earn agility titles in trials held by various clubs, including the American Kennel Club, the United States Dog Agility Association, and the Australian Shepherd Club of America. The titles, courses and requirements vary between clubs, but in general, the dogs work against the clock over a regulation course including various kinds of obstacles. The ASCA breaks down the competition into three classes: Regular, Gamblers, and Jumpers, and these classes are further broken down based on the dogs’ levels of experience into novice, open and elite categories.
Agility obstacles include a combination of jumps, tunnels, contact items and other challenges. Many of the obstacles are the same size for all dogs, such as the teeter-totter, tunnels, weave poles, and the A-frame. Jumps are set according to the size of each dog. They differ slightly between the clubs, but in general, an Australian Shepherd will be required to clear jumps that are at least 16 inches high, depending on the particular class and level of competition.
The AKC recommends getting started in agility by joining a local agility training group. Such groups typically meet once or twice a week and work on specific obstacles as well as full courses, so that all dogs in the group are well-trained and understand what is expected of them. The AKC, ASCA, and the USDAA all emphasize that safety should be a primary concern, and inexperienced handlers trying to train their dogs for agility without the guidance of more experienced trainers are putting both themselves and their dogs at risk of injury. Dogs initially work on a leash, and you can expect to guide your Aussie through each obstacle many times as you teach your dog what to do. Gradually, as your dog gets the idea, you can transition to off-lead work.
It takes many repetitions of the same tasks before your dog begins to be a reliable agility dog. Once you have learned the basics of agility and how to keep your Australian Shepherd safe, you may want to get a set of agility obstacles for your yard or for the park to use between the group sessions, so that your dog is not limited to training once or twice a week. Many people find that they can easily make obstacles such as tunnels, weave poles, and jumps from inexpensive materials that are readily available. A child’s play tunnel can be anchored to make an obstacle for your dog, and PVC pipes are easy to turn into weave poles and jumps. You can also buy kits that include all of the essentials, if you prefer. Just be certain that anything you get is safe for your Aussie to use, and sized so that your Aussie is comfortable using it.
References & Resources
This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by, your veterinarian. Always seek the advice of your veterinarian or other qualified professional with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard or delay seeking professional advice due to what you may have read on our website.