Most any dog can use an agility course—it’s good for them physically and mentally. The key is to make it fun for your dog. Some dogs need a “job,” and completing this course with you can become their favorite task! I will discuss how to create a standard agility course right in your own backyard.
Agility can be a bonding experience between you and your pooch. Your enthusiasm is key—especially when dealing with a shy or older dog. Speed is not an issue at first; it’s best to help your dog become comfortable with the course itself at any pace. If Fido needs coaxing, use his favorite treats, a toy, or an enthusiastic voice to familiarize him with the course. After an agility course is set up, it’s best to let your dog sniff it and be around it before running through it.
The best part about an agility course is that it can be created on any budget. You can find most products at thrift stores, home improvement centers, bike stores, children’s stores, or garage sales. A standard course will include jumps and “weaves” (poles placed vertically in the ground that dogs weave through) but also tunnels, an A-frame for dogs to run up and down, a “tire jump” (a hanging tire to jump through), and a pause box or table for dogs to stop and stand on, among other obstacles.
Weaves and jumps can be made out of PVC pipes and T-connectors from a plumbing store. You can dress them up with some inexpensive lattice too. Typically, jump bars are 4- to 5-feet long and can be wrapped in tape for visibility. Jumps can have two bars—the bottom bar is 2 to 6 inches off the ground, and the other (the one the dog will jump over) is adjusted according to your dog’s size—usually, they are 4, 8, 12, 16, 20, 24, or 26 inches above the ground.
Tunnels can be purchased at a children’s consignment store. Closed tunnels need to be purchased through a supplier that carries dog agility equipment. Regardless of what type you use, you need to secure it to the ground, and landscape fabric pins are a great solution for that.
The A-frame is constructed out of two wood panels (the size will vary according to your dog—they’ll range from 30 to 50 inches wide and be about 9 feet long). They need to be connected so that a dog’s toe or foot cannot slip through it. Use a nonslip surface such as outdoor carpet or Astroturf with slats placed every 12 inches across the paneling for footing. Keep in mind that if your dog is large or afraid of heights, you shouldn’t make the A-frame too high-large dogs can injure themselves when they jump, and timid ones will give up.
The tire jump consists of a rectangular frame (it can be made out of PVC pipe) and a tire or round object that has a 24-inch diameter. The tire is suspended from the frame—it should be firmly secured with heavy wire from each corner, about 6 to 12 inches off the ground, depending on the size of your dog.
A pause box or table can be created out of a spool from your local telephone company (I have found them at garage sales too). Cut a piece of particle board to go over the top, cover it with carpet or Astroturf, and secure it with screws. Dogs tend to be nervous about pause boxes—if this is the case with Fido, put his favorite treat on the table, put him on his leash, and let him stand next to it, or just let him sniff it for a couple of days prior to using it.
Also, have a large sod area in which your dog can play fetch or Frisbee.