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Training Dog Agility

Updated on September 25, 2015

Target Training

The easiest way to teach agility is to use a target: hand or lid. The goal of target training is to teach the dog to find the lid and touch it whenever he is told to do so. To use a target, choose a plastic lid that is not too small or too large for the dog's nose.

  • You can begin by tapping on the lid or waiving it. Reward any movement towards the lid.
  • If the dog touches the lid give him a bigger reward.
  • Repeat this until the dog can reliably touch the lid.
  • Add a cue word; "touch" and "target are common cues.

Another way to teach the dog how to respond to the target:

  • Touch the lid to the dog's nose and say the cue word.
  • Reward each time.
  • After a few repetition, begin to put the lid close to the dog's nose, but not all the way.
  • Give him the cue word and reward him if he touches the lid.
  • Continue and pull the lid a little further away each time, until the dog can reliably touch the lid while it's on the ground.

Hand Signals

Hand signals are helpful to teach the dog before it is introduced to the obstacles. The hand signals must be perfected, so the dog doesn't make mistakes in the course run and should be very clear.

Remember to keep your body as straight as possible because too much twisting of you upper body to check on the dog's progress will confuse the dog. You should trust that the dog will find the correct hand.

If the dog already knows basic obedience, begin to add a hand cue with the command. When you say the command, give the cue at the same time. Reward the dog with praise and a treat when he obeys. Continue working on the hand signals, making them clear and precise, so that the dog is without a doubt positive as to what to do.

Teaching the Obstacles

Teaching the obstacles is a combination of making the dog comfortable with them and teaching him how to perform them. You should not force anything upon the dog because forcing him to do something that he doesn't want will not improve his comfort. You should be patient and enthusiastic.


Teaching a dog how to jump correctly can be a lengthy process because you must teach exactly where to take off and how to adjust his pace between jumps.

  • Start by teaching the dog what "jump" means (go between the upright posts, not around them).
  • Begin with the lowest jump possible, teaching them to go over something. Try not to make it any higher than the dog's ‘wrists'
  • Hold the dog's leash and walk with him over the jump, right before he goes over, say "Over."

Repeat the process until you think that the dog has the hang of the behavior. Work up to where you do not have to walk over with the dog but can stand beside the jump and tell him "Over" and he does do. Once the dog has the hang of it, raise the bar.

You can use the lid target after the dog understands that he is to jump between the posts, not go around them. Place the lid on the other side of the jump, and give the dog the cue to go over and touch the lid ("Over, Touch"). This teaches the dog that you, the trainer, do not have to be on the other side of the jump for him to go over it.

If the dog continues to go around the jump instead of over it, you may have one of the following problems:

  1. Set the bar too high, so lower it for the next few sessions.
  2. The dog has yet to fully understand what you want him to do, so go back to walking over the obstacle with him.
  3. You may not be excited enough for the dog to understand when he has done it well. The rewards should be proportional to the accomplishments the dog has undertaken.
  4. If all else fails, a decrease in performance may be a sign of health problems, so the dog may be in pain and could benefit from a visit to the vet.

Training Bar Jump

Training Tire/Hoop Jump

Contact Obstacles

Remember that contact obstacles include the A Frame, Dog Walk, and Seesaw. When training these obstacles it's best to use target training, which will help teach the dog that he must touch the area at the bottom of the obstacles.

By doing this:

  • Place the target object at the end of the obstacle with enough room so that the dog must have two feet on the ground and two feet on the obstacle.
  • Have the dog touch the his target object.
  • Reward the dog only if there are two feet on the obstacle.

When pulling the entire obstacle together, lure the dog over the obstacle with his treat, and towards the end, give him his cue word to touch the target. Praise and reward the dog.

When teaching the contact obstacles, do not force the dog into the obstacles if he is weary. You do not want to create more fear upon the dog when he is learning, as you will have more trouble training him that particular obstacle in the end.

When training the contact obstacles the purpose is safety, as the A Frame and Seesaw are both tricky obstacles, in which the dog could fall and hurt himself.

Training Contact Obstacles

Training the Seesaw

Dog Agiltiy Chutes and Tunnels


You may want to start with the chute tunnel, taking off the material. Starting with a pipe tunnel is taking on the assumption that the dog trusts entering and exiting the tunnel. Some dogs do not like not being able to see an exit, so those dogs should be started off with the chute tunnel and gradually moved up to the pipe tunnel.

  • Have one person hold the dog at one end of the tunnel, while you call the dog's name and say "Tunnel."
  • Try to time when you say "tunnel" when the dog is looking into the tunnel.
  • Once the dog seems comfortable entering the tunnel, place the lid target on the other side.
  • Shorten the tunnel again and place the dog at the entrance.
  • Give the cue, "Tunnel, Touch" so that the dog knows there is a target he must touch at the end of the tunnel.

If the dog has trouble going through the tunnel, try a few of the following ideas:

  1. Have the tunnel as short as it will go and stand in front of the tunnel entrance with your legs spread. Toss the treat into the tunnel.
  2. With the hand closest to the dog, toss the treat through the tunnel while standing next to its entrance. Once the dog goes through the tunnel, go to the other side as quickly as possible and point out a second treat placed on the lid target.
  3. Use baby gates to build a V-shaped chute at the entrance of the tunnel to aid the dog into the tunnel.

Tunnels tend to be the favorite obstacle among most terrier breeds and are usually one of the easiest to teach them.

Training the Chute

Pause Table

The pause table is an area where the dog must stay for five seconds. This obstacle is extremely easy to teach, but it is not always as easy when in the middle of a run.

  • Point to the table, making sure you are facing the table and pointing with the closest hand to the dog because it helps move your body towards the table, swinging your hand in a more inviting manner.
  • Once on the table, have him ‘stay'.
  • When the behavior is complete, say "Ok" and throw a treat on the floor, indicating that it is okay to get off the table

Remember to not point across you body.

Training the Pause Table


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    • profile image

      Krysta 10 years ago

      Thankyou Whitney,

      I checked out those sites! This will help my dog not to be so clumsy.

    • Whitney05 profile image

      Whitney 10 years ago from Georgia

      You should definitely make sure that she knows the basics, as agility training is based of of basic training. If you decide to just train agility for fun and exercise, you won't need to be as strict on the dog, but if for competition, you may want to find a professional trainer who has experience with agility.

      You may want to check out the other hubs about agility that I've composed (Dog Agility Equipment nad Obstacles; Dog Agility Course) they will help you with a better understanding of agility training.

    • profile image

      Krysta 10 years ago

      I would like to teach my dog those tricks.

      When do you think I should teach her ? as soon as she masters the basics?