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     Agility is a fun event you can do with your dog either in competition or just for recreation. Chances are once you try it, you will be hooked!

     Your dog will probably be hooked, too, as long as you remember that the whole purpose of agility is to have FUN. In the club I train at, we don't allow the word "NO!" Agility will build confidence in a dog, strengthen your relationship with your dog and give your dog a much needed physical and mental challenge.

     Dogs of all sizes and shapes participate in agility, from Chihuahuas to Great Danes. If your goal in agility competition is to be a highly competitive team, then a Bernese Mountain Dog is probably not the best choice breed for this. The Border Collies and Shelties seem to have the edge when it comes to speed, which is critical to getting first place. But, if you want to have a thoroughly good time and learn to laugh at yourself and your dog, a Bernese Mountain Dog will do just fine!

     When participating with a larger breed like a BMD, it is very critical to radiograph to check for sound orthopedics and to get your BMD in good physical condition by cutting down on their food and cross training to get your athlete ready for participation. This includes you, the handler, as well! It is very easy to sustain an injury to both dog and handler if you don't focus on physical conditioning, stretching and cooling down. A BMD in good shape will also have a much better chance of being competitive if in good condition!

     BMDs are working dogs that can do very well in agility as they seem to enjoy the challenge of always getting to try a new course. Unlike obedience, the pattern is always changed and keeps them on their toes. A BMD usually requires its handler to be a bit of a cheerleader to encourage it to speed up. (I think they just like to make us look and sound silly).

     There are 3 major agility organizations: United States Dog Agility Association (USDAA); North American Dog Agility Council (NADAC); and American Kennel Club (AKC). AKC is the only organization that requires dogs to be registered to participate; the first two allow all dogs, including mixed breeds.

     The ideal in agility is to be able to complete a course with your dog off leash (and without a collar in USDAA & NADAC). There are three levels in each organization, basically beginning, intermediate & advanced. The course is measured and assigned a course time and the dogs must complete the course within that time, otherwise they will be penalized time faults. The amount of yards the dog must complete per second increases with each level, as does the number of obstacles and difficulty of the course.

     Agility is a labor intensive sport which requires a lot of space to set up equipment. The best way to get started is to contact your local obedience club and ask for information about where to find the local agility club. Besides not having to invest in your own equipment, you can also learn a lot by sharing ideas and points of view with others.

     It is very important to take baby steps in introducing your dog to agility equipment at first. It will pay off later when it all comes together!

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