Guide to Agility Training for Dogs

golden retriever running through agility training weave poles

Agility training is a popular dog sport among energetic working breeds. However, it can work for dogs of all sizes and activity levels. It’s a fun sport for both dogs and humans and can help your dog burn off some energy. Here’s your guide to agility training for dogs:

What is Agility Training For Dogs?

Agility training is guiding a dog through an obstacle course. These obstacle courses focus on jumping, running, pivoting quickly, and dodging obstacles. They will also weave between poles and crawl through tunnels. Agility training is great for dogs because it keeps them physically and mentally healthy. It’s also a fun dog-friendly summer activity to try with your pup!

Some dogs do agility just for fun while others train for competitions. During competitions, the team of trainer and dog compete for the fastest time in completing the obstacle course. While energetic working breeds excel at these competitions, most breeds can participate as well.

How to Train a Dog for Agility

There are some questions to ask before your dog starts agility training, such as “is my dog healthy enough?” Most dogs start agility training pretty young, between the ages of one and two, but be sure your dog is fully grown before you begin intense training.

Puppies finish growing at different rates, so ask your vet if you’re not sure. Waiting until a dog is fully grown helps reduce the risk of injury and avoids damage to developing bones and joints. Here’s how to begin training your dog for agility:

1. Start Early

While you need to wait until your dog is fully grown to begin more intense physical training, you can start to work on agility training at a very young age. A large part of agility training includes obedience. One of the benefits of puppy training classes is that it helps teach essential skills like obedience.

Begin by teaching your dog how to sit, stay, heel, lie down, and other basic commands. Your puppy also may benefit from taking obedience classes with other dogs as it will help teach proper socialization. Once you’re ready to start agility training, look for an agility class or group in your area.

2. Get the Right Agility Training Equipment For Dogs

There are a few pieces of agility training equipment for dogs that will make training a bit easier. There are also online tutorials for creating your DIY obstacle course to help your dog train.

Open Tunnel

Dogs will run at an open tunnel, approach it from any angle, and run through it. Open tunnels are a great place to start because it’s one of the easiest tasks to master.


An integral part of agility training is jumping. Dogs must jump over a bar or board without knocking it off its stand. Help your dog master jumping by setting up jumps for them to practice. Pick something portable and lightweight so that you can move it around easily.

Weave Poles

Weaving poles are another task dogs must complete in agility training. Dogs enter the weaving poles from the right and must weave between the poles In as much of a straight line as possible.

3. Introduce Contact Obstacles

There are several contact obstacles dogs must complete, such as the A-frame, teeter-totter, and the dog walk. They are called contact obstacles because there are certain places your dog must touch with their paws.

Start by training with these obstacles at their lowest point possible, and as your dog becomes more confident, increase the steepness or height.

The A-frame

The A-frame is two planks propped up at an angle forming an A. Dogs must walk up the steep incline and down the other side. The steepness level can be adjusted for training.


The teeter-totter works like the typical teeter-totter or see-saw you would find at a playground. Dogs must be able to balance themselves while walking up and down the plank.

The Dog Walk

The dog walk is a balance beam your dog must walk across.

4. Move to Jumps

Once you get the go-ahead from your vet, it’s time to start working on jumps. Do not start your dog on high jumps. For medium to large dogs, start with the bar about one or two inches off the ground. For small dogs, keep the bar on the ground.

Start teaching your dog to jump while on a leash so they can’t simply walk around the bar. Give your dog commands, such as “big jump” and approach the obstacle briskly. In most cases, your dog will jump over the bar. Be sure to reward them exuberantly and with some treats.

If your dog refuses to jump, try setting up a jump in a narrow hallway. Your dog will have no choice but to jump. Encourage them with treats and praise to encourage them. With some practice and confidence, your dog should be jumping in no time.

5. Introduce Tunnels

Tunnels are typically pretty easy for dogs to learn. Start with a short tunnel that your dog can see to the other side through. If possible, have someone on the other side with treats or their favorite toy. Bring your dog to the entrance of the tunnel and say “tunnel”.

If your dog seems hesitant, try throwing a treat or two into the tunnel to encourage them to go through it. Most dogs will be motivated by the treats and find their way through it. As your dog becomes more confident, you can work your way up to bigger tunnels with more curves.

6. Tackle Weave Poles

Weave poles are a set of poles your dog must weave through while still walking in as straight a line as possible. This is one of the most difficult tasks to teach. But, with some patience and hard work, your dog can grasp the concept.

To start, stagger the polls so they are about shoulder width apart from one another. Leash up your dog and begin walking through the poles. Go over this activity a few times and then move the poles closer together so it forces your dog’s body to weave between the poles. By the time the poles are in the correct position, your dog should have learned how to weave their body in between the poles.

7. Stay on the Pause Table

The pause table is a table your dog must jump up onto and pause on, by performing a sit-stay or down-stay. Most pause tables are no higher than your couch so it shouldn’t be too difficult for your dog to jump onto. Throw a treat onto the table, and pat the table while saying jump. Most dogs will jump with a bit of encouragement.

The difficult part of this trick is getting your dog to stay. If you’ve done obedience training recently, your dog will probably pick this track up a little quicker. But, if they’ve forgotten some of that obedience training, it might take more work.

Start small. Have your dog stay on the table for one count. Reward them with a treat and let them jump off. Gradually increase the length of time and when they can stay on the table for five seconds, begin practicing with distractions.

There will be lots of distractions at agility training courses and competitions, so introducing your dog to that now will help them at competitions. It may also help to teach your dog nose targeting to help gain and maintain their focus in distracting environments.

8. Put it All Together

Once your dog has mastered the different obstacles, it’s time to start performing them in different sequences. It is your job to lead your dog through the obstacle course.

Start easy by linking two obstacles. Try starting with a tunnel into a jump. Run the sequence a few times. Next, add in some of the contact obstacles, such as a dog walk. Once they master a longer sequence, add more obstacles until you’ve completed the whole set.

Once your dog has successfully run through the course a few times, mix it up by changing the order. This will make your dog rely on you for commands rather than choosing the next obstacle themselves. It is your job to lead your dog through the course and they must follow your commands.

4 Benefits of Agility Training for Dogs

Agility training is one of the most popular dog sports. There are many benefits of agility training for dogs:

1. It Helps Develop Self-Control

Untrained dogs often rarely have self-control. They will run from activity to activity, disobey orders, or simply not listen. The benefit of agility training is that it helps teach dogs self-control and to listen to their owners. If you start agility training young, this can work in tandem with regular training, but if your dog is a little older, this can help reinforce some basic training.

During agility training, you as the owner and leader, must show your dog which activity or task comes next. They might have the urge to try and run off to another obstacle, but with a lot of practice, they will learn to follow your lead. As they practice this form is self-control, you will see this in other areas of their behavior. Having a dog who has learned self-control will be much easier to work and live with.

2. Agility Training is Great Exercise

Starting agility training with your dog is a great way to exercise with them. Not only is it an excellent outlet for physical energy for your dog, but it’s also a great source of exercise for you. In order to train your dog for agility, you must lead them through the course. This will require at least some brisk walking, but you can adjust to a higher activity level if you and your dog can handle that.

3. It Builds Confidence

When your dog starts agility training, it can help build confidence. Agility training will help your dog overcome fears of unknown spaces, activities, and surfaces. The best part about agility training is that it’s done with your dog, meaning your dog will feel safe and secure because you’re there.

Rewarding your dog during and after each training session will also help build confidence. When your dog receives a reward after a training session, it reinforces that they are good at that activity which will help build more confidence for the next time. This confidence will spill into other areas of their lives, like meeting new people, entering new situations, and trying new tricks and activities.

4. Agility Training Helps Release Physical and Mental Energy

If your dog is an active breed, agility training is a great way for them to release some physical energy, but also exert some mental energy. Breeds that are considered working dogs need tasks to perform in order to keep them from becoming destructive or bored. Becoming destructive is one of the biggest signs your dog isn’t getting enough exercise.

However, agility training can also be good for dogs who are not as active. Mental stimulation is important in every dog, not just the working or active breeds. Making sure your dog is mentally stimulated daily can result in better behavior. You can easily adjust the level of activity to fit your dog’s particular needs.

This is a guide to agility training for dogs. With practice and patience, your dog will be able to master obstacles and may even be ready to compete. Keep in mind, however, that your dog may not enjoy the competition. It’s still a fun activity to do at home and a great way to exercise with your dog.