Learn agility with your dog — 4 essential steps to get you started

May 16, 2023

If you want to learn dog agility, you’ve come to the right place! We’ll cover four basic steps you need to consider when you start training your dog (and yourself) to play agility. There’s no need for fancy equipment to get started, all you need is your dog and yourself!

Agility is a fun activity that brings joy to dogs of all breeds and sizes. And the OneMind Dogs approach makes it even better for dogs and their owners by showing them how to train from the dog’s perspective.

How we teach agility

OneMind Dogs believes that all dogs speak the same language, and it’s our job to teach humans how to “speak” it, too. When you understand what cues your dog instinctively understands, you can start training them in a way that’s not only more effective but intrinsically more rewarding.

We developed our framework from our founder’s deaf dog, Tekla, who lost her hearing. OneMind Dogs founder and coach Janita Leinonen realized that she needed to find a better way to communicate with her dog — one that didn’t require constant talking and verbal cues. Watch a video about Tekla here!

Over time, Janita came to realize that all dogs understand the same innate behaviors and mannerisms. So, she categorized this form of instinctive communication into seven essential elements. Today, she shares her findings with students all around the world, and helps them build more rewarding, magical connections with their dogs through OneMind Dogs.

Now that you know more about our approach, let’s talk about how to learn dog agility as a beginner!

Understanding How Dogs Learn

Why doesn’t my dog listen to me? It’s a common question we get all the time. Owners are following all the instructions they read online, but they still can’t get their dog to respond to them on command.

You have to understand why dogs listen to us. They do it because they get something they value out of it, not because they think they should. In order to make training more effective, you have to discover what motivates your dog, and pair that with your training sessions.

What motivates your dog?

Some dogs are highly food-motivated, but others respond much more to playing with a favorite toy or getting verbal praise. Think about what gets your dog excited in everyday life and that will give you a hint as to what sort of rewards they might enjoy (and yes, we do have students rewarding with a hose or a pretend bird on a string to make it “fly”).

Once you’ve found what your dog truly values, you’ve discovered the key to easily training them to do almost anything, including agility.

Positive reinforcement is the way to go

It’s most important to realize that dogs become more confident through positive reinforcement. Training should always add something good to their lives, learning agility is no different. Using forceful methods to achieve what you want will not deliver the results you’re hoping for and is a quick way to break your dog’s trust.

Instead of relying heavily on correction, think about how you can reward your dog for the right actions. The more they realize, “Hey, doing this means I get something awesome!” the more likely they are to repeat desirable behaviors.

Another reason to focus on positive reinforcement is that it builds trust. Dogs will never listen to someone they do not trust. They won’t even be open to learning new behaviors if they are worried about being scolded or fear your reaction to any actions they offer.

So, success is about how you structure training, not what your dog does or doesn’t do. Focus on how and when you deliver rewards, the goals you set, and how you’re adjusting to your dog’s needs along the way.

With that in mind, let’s look at four ways you can start to learn dog agility today!

1. Learn agility by Yourself or Join a Group

You can sign up for an online dog agility training program like ours if you want to start teaching your dog agility from home, there’s no need for fancy equipment or even to leave your yard or living room!

You’ll get access to over 70 short, easy videos that tell you what to do and how to do it. They’re extremely easy to follow along, and they’re designed to help trainers of all levels teach their dogs basic agility — no experience required!

Even though our program is designed to be self-guided, you are never really alone. By joining OneMind Dogs, you’ll get personal support from professional coaches along the way. You can even send in videos for feedback to fine-tune your training.

Video feedback is so helpful because it helps you know you’re always on the right track. There’s no need to second-guess your training. The coach can easily see what you’re doing well, and tell you how to improve any skills that may need work.

Here’s a video form one of our online students:

Maija and Lysti started agility with OneMind Dogs!

Grab our FREE dog agility Starter Kit if you’re keen to learn more about training agility online!

For those who prefer face-to-face training, you can look for local agility training clubs near you. There are many classes available for dogs of all ages and levels. National organizations (such as the American Kennel Club if you’re in the USA) are also a great place to get information on local clubs.

These classes are the perfect way for your dog to meet new pups and for you to connect with other owners. Group classes also help your dog learn how to focus more and ignore distractions during training.

Or, you can get best of both worlds by attending live classes and using online learning to support your progress. This way you will ensure you are doing the best thing for your dog and working at your team’s pace, with support from experts in agility!

2. Find a Method that Suits You Both

Whenever and wherever you train, make sure that it feels right for you. If you’re not confident and happy, your dog wont’ be either.

It’s best to start in a quiet, familiar environment with little to no distractions. Your living room and backyard are great examples. Here, your dog already knows what to expect, so they’ll have a much easier time keeping their attention on you.

It’s also a good idea to work from the dog’s perspective, so you can create agility training courses that are fun and exciting for them. OneMind Dogs is focused on helping you have fun with your dog and strengthening your connection above all else.

If you find a local club or trainer, make sure their methods align with your values. Most importantly, make sure they are focused on building solid foundations and making every session fun for both you and your dog!

3. Focus on Foundations

Agility foundations are essential to help any dog succeed. And before they can start agility outside of them home, they need to master some basic skills. Namely, they should have a strong recall (come when called), and know how to focus on you and stay still when asked. Luckily, you can also build these skills while learning agility foundations from home, with our Foundation for Agility program.

As humans, we tend to have perfect visions in our mind, and we jump right into things expecting an amazing end result. That’s not how training dogs works.

Instead, start where your dog is, not where you wish they were. This takes off so much pressure and stress on the both of you. Instead of feeling frustrated when your dog runs off or ignores a cue, you can backtrack and start at a point they are tuning in and build from there.

Remember, agility is not about the obstacles. It’s about the relationship between you and your dog. Every action you take as a handler should be done with your dog’s benefit in mind.

What’s going to make them the happiest? What will inspire them to keep working with me in this moment?

When you see agility handlers at competitions, they work so well with their dogs because they’ve spent hundreds of hours working together. And even then, it’s not too uncommon for a dog to run off track or decide to take things into its own paws!

Whether you aspire to compete or just want to learn dog agility for fun, nothing is more important than a good foundation. Make sure you develop a good mindset from day one, so you can always approach training with a positive mindset that makes the activity fun for you and your pup.

4. Don’t Forget Your Dog’s Perspective when learning agility

Whenever you’re planning a training session, think about how your dog will perceive the exercise. You need to understand things like how they interpret your body language, and how you can teach them your goals in a way they understand and care about.

A lot of owners think that their dog is making “mistakes,” but in reality, they’re just being dogs and they’re teaching your something about how dogs think and learn. They do whatever comes naturally to them. And many of the “errors” handlers see on an agility course are actually caused by misdirection or miscommunication.

By refocusing on your dog’s point of view, you can clarify tasks and help your dog stay connected to you on and off the course.

In our Agility Foundations course, we dive deeper into this concept to understand everything from your dog’s eyes. Doing so helps you prepare for any surprises and respond in a way that supports your dog’s happiness. When you learn dog agility, it’s very important to keep sessions short and fun, watch your dog and respond to their behavior. If they are starting to tune out, stop the session before they lose motivation.

Get Started With Our Ultimate Agility Starter Kit today!

Ready to learn agility? We’re ready to teach! Sign up for OneMind Dogs Agility Foundations and instantly access 70+ on-demand videos that walk you through training step-by-step.

Our program will lead you through all the agility basics using our unique philosophy, taught entirely by expert instructors. Being a member also gives you access to our coaches, who love hearing about your experiences and helping you and your dog make the most out of our training!

Do you want to learn more about agility? Fill out the form below to grab our Ultimate Agility Starter Kit (it’s free!)

You might also like…

Dog agility training for puppies: Essential tips and exercises

Dog agility training for puppies: Essential tips and exercises

Starting agility training for puppies isn’t about teaching them cool tricks on agility equipment. It’s about having fun together while building a high level of communication and connection. It’s where the joy of playing together meets the satisfaction of learning something new.

Should you set up a dog agility course in your backyard?

Should you set up a dog agility course in your backyard?

Building a dog agility course in your backyard is a great way to give your dog an outlet to put their speed, smarts, and athleticism to work. Training and playing together builds an incredible bond between you, and is a great way to tire them out and keep them happy. Training agility at home can be a great way to get started in this fun and addictive hobby, as long as it’s done thoughtfully!

Subscribe to our Puppy Training newsletter!