Training Classes at WPHS

The Western PA Humane Society is proud to offer a wide variety of training classes to the community, from basic obedience to advanced dog sports. Many people are familiar with teaching dogs how to sit, stay and shake paws, but there’s an awful lot more that we can help you teach your four-legged buddy how to do. In this blog entry, we’d like to share some information about our dog agility training classes, as it’s a sport you may not be very familiar with.

Before we get into the details, here’s a video of one of our students and her furry friend in action to demonstrate:

Pretty Impressive! But what is it? What exactly is dog agility training?

In a nutshell, agility training is a sport where dogs are taught to successfully navigate an obstacle course. Agility training is popular at dog shows, it’s the sport you see when dogs are jumping over hurdles, running on ramps and crawling through tunnels. There are many organizations out there that run competitions for skilled dogs and trainers.

What obstacles must a dog navigate in this sport?

-Hurdles or jumps. The dogs must go over these without dropping the bar. The height of the bar is determined by the height of the dog at the withers, which is the highest point on the dog’s back. Each organization has its own standard for how high a dog must jump. Within the jumps there are bar jumps, panel jumps, broad jumps, doubles, triples, and tire jumps.
-Tunnels or chutes. Dogs must successfully make their way from the correct end of the tunnel to the other end. A chute can be open or closed, and tunnels can be 15′ or 20′ long.
-Contacts. These are the ramps and platforms that dogs must navigate. There are three main kinds: a dogwalk, a frame and a teeter. The dogs must go up one side and down the other. In several competitive organizations, the dog must have at least one foot in the yellow zone when going up the ramp. In all competitive organizations, however, the dog must have one foot in the yellow zone when going down.
-Weave poles. The dog must zig-zag through these poles like a slalom skier, entering with the first pole on his left and completing a section of either 6 or 12 poles.

Does my dog need any prior training to get involved in this sport? How long does it take to learn?

Some obedience training is helpful and a good relationship makes everything happen faster, but it varies for every dog and handler. Most dogs can compete within a year, but top dogs and handlers take years to make. Lots of patience and practice is needed but this is a great way to bond with your pet.

How much does it cost to participate?

The training courses offered at WPHS cost $80 for Humane Society members and $95 for non-members. There are three levels of agility training offered: beginner, intermediate and advanced. Each course runs for 6 weeks, meeting once per week. Check our website for the most up-to-date information regarding schedules and availability. Be aware that taking your dog to competitions can be expensive; a weekend trial can cost anywhere from $100 to upwards of $1000, depending on the distance and the number of dogs you enter. Most entries are about $100 to $150 for one dog per weekend.

What organizations sponsor competitions in this sport?

-AKC: American Kennel Club
-CPE: Canine Performance Events
-NADAC: North American Dog Agility Council
-USDAA: United States Dog Agility Association (this group sponsors most of the international events)
-TDAA: Teacup Dog Agility Association for dogs under 17″
-ASCA: Australian Shepherd Club of America, open to all breeds
-DOCNA: Dogs on Course in North America
-UKC: United Kennel Club

Dogs compete in agility in any of the organizations listed above. In each organization there are levels, the dog moves up to the next level as the team qualifies a certain number of times at each level. Depending on the organization, dogs either have a limited number of faults or no faults at all before being disqualified. What constitutes a fault also varies depending on the organization. The faults can include going off course, dropped bars on jumps, incomplete obstacles, and refusals (when a dog refuses to do what it’s supposed to do). Many people compete every weekend, traveling to various trials. Pittsburgh has local AKC, CPE, USDAA, NADAC and TDAA chapters. In the summer there is a trial almost every weekend in the immediate area. Like the faults, the entry costs, number of runs and games played can vary somewhat from organization to organization. All competitions have a standard run and some form of jumping-specific course, however.

This is just one of our many advanced training course offerings. There are lots of other fun games and unique skills you can teach a dog, many of which are taught by our experienced training staff right here at the Humane Society. If you’re interested in dog agility training or in browsing the rest of our course offerings, be sure to check out our website at www.wpahumane.org.

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