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Dog-Agility Course For Beginners

Looking to spruce up your dog park? Consider adding a dog-agility course.

There are many options in creating one, and you don’t need to spend a ton of money.

“A dog-agility course consists of a variety of obstacles that are loosely based on horse-agility obstacles,” says Heather Smith, public-relations and communications manager with the United States Dog Agility Association (USDAA). “Using some of the same obstacles, you can make a simple course for novices to enjoy.”

For safety, obstacle heights should not exceed 1 foot above the ground since most of the dogs using the park are not experienced at running on a course, and dog owners might be equally inexperienced in training and running a dog. Obstacles any higher than 1 foot may cause an injury if a dog falls from an obstacle.

Building Obstacles

A dog-agility course consists of a few components. Advanced courses and competition courses feature an A-frame obstacle, which resembles a scaling wall; however, this is dangerous for dogs that are not trained. Skip it and move on to more manageable and less-dangerous options.

Dog Walk

One common obstacle is the dog walk. Think of a balance beam with ramps. The end boards are angled at 45 degrees to the center plank that is no more than 1 foot above the ground. This can be made from a variety of weather-resistant woods; however, do not use treated lumber.

An alternative is high-density polyethylene (HDPE) boards because they do not need to be treated, and last longer than lumber. If using this lumber, place supports every 2 feet. The planks should be at least a foot wide since the course is for novice dogs and their owners.

Barrels

Barrels for dogs to run through or leap over are another feature to add without breaking the bank. Plastic HDPE barrels can be found at a variety of places for free. Seek out food-grade containers as opposed to those that have housed chemicals--they could pose a danger to dogs. Contact local food or beverage manufacturers to see if they are willing to donate a few barrels.

To make a barrel into a tunnel, you need a jigsaw with a multipurpose blade and the help of another person.. One person holds the barrel so it doesn’t roll, and the other person uses the jigsaw to cut the top and the bottom of the barrel. Recycle the ends, and rinse the barrel well. Drill a few drain holes along the side that rests on the ground. Use rocks or stones on both sides of the barrel to prevent it from rolling. Place several barrels in a row to create a tunnel.

Hurdles

Those who are crafty with Schedule 40 PVC can easily and relatively inexpensively build a set of hurdles with one, two, or three bars. Build them separately to avoid someone getting hurt by stepping on a PVC bar that has been left on the ground. To build a single hurdle, you’ll need:

• At least one 3-foot section

• Two 2-foot sections

• Two elbows of ¾-inch schedule 40 PVC

• PVC cleaner

• PVC glue

Use a jigsaw blade or a hacksaw to cut the PVC. Remove any burs and dry-fit the sections together to make a “C” shape. Press the legs into the ground until the center bar is no more than 1 foot above the ground. Pry apart the sections, and clean and glue the connections one by one until the piece is reassembled. To make a double or triple bar, use T-connectors for the bottom and center bars.

Jumping Through Hoops

A circular feature to jump through, such as a tire or a Hula-Hoop, can also be added to a course. Regardless of the circle used, the obstacle should be less than 6 inches above the ground.

Weave Poles

“Weave poles are set up in a straight line, and the dog has to weave through the poles,” says Smith. “The dogs have to enter a certain way so they can exit a certain way.” Using Schedule 40 PVC, insert the poles in the ground about 1 or 2 feet, leaving about 2 feet sticking above the ground. Use two contrasting colors of duct tape to mark the poles, alternating the colors. Use end caps to seal off the end of the PVC pipe.

Pause Table

One of the last challenges in professional dog-obstacle courses is the table. After the dog has raced through a variety of obstacles, it has to stop and lie down on the table to show control.

Getting People Interested

The USDAA, American Kennel Club, Canine Performance, and Humane Society have groups available for people who want to learn how to train their dog to run an agility course. “If the park contacted the groups, they might find someone who could come in and provide a short training session,” says Smith.

“The training sessions would help introduce the dog owners on how to train their dog with positive reinforcement by using treats and toys to show the dogs that it is safe and it is OK to do the obstacle.”

For younger handlers, there is a 4-H Dog Agility Project, with the following goals:

• Provide positive motivational-training methods, interactions with the dog.

• Enhance a working relationship between the dog and handler.

• Provide a better conditioned dog and handler.

• Promote good sportsmanship and citizenship.

• Promote a well-rounded handler and dog team.

• Build confidence in both dog and handler.

• Provide a variety of competitive areas for the dog project.

Start Small And Build

Just as with dogs that have never experienced an agility course, start small and build confidence. As more dog owners use the course, build a base of loyal fans by communicating with them through a park’s website, e-mail, Twitter, and Facebook page. You’ll need their support and enthusiasm before moving on to a competition-level dog-agility course for your park.

Tammy York is the owner of LandShark Communications LLC which specializes in media and public relations for outdoor recreation businesses. Her book, 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles: Cincinnati, is available online and in bookstores. You can reach her at tammy@landsharkcommunications.com.

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