Agility is an important part of any protection dog’s training. It is naive to assume that your dog will only be protecting you and your family on level ground, with no obstacles. A good example is of a would-be thief pointing a fire-arm at a clerk behind the counter of a general store. In such a situation, a security dog kept in back will have mere seconds to get across that counter to disarm the criminal. This is just one of many situations in which a dog’s ability to quickly and easily traverse tough obstacles can mean the difference between life or death.
Agility training is performed through the use of various obstacles set up in a course which the dog navigates with verbal instructions from the handler. The most common obstacles include pipes and tunnels, poles intended to be weaved around, A-Frame structures intended to be scaled and descended, elevated planks and boardwalks, see-saws intended to be traversed from one end to the other, and various hoops and jumps. As the dog advances in training, higher jumps and more complicated courses are introduced. It is often beneficial to re-arrange the course regularly in order to maintain an element of unfamiliarity.
Before engaging your dog in agility training, it is a good idea to review your dog’s health and physical capabilities. Breeds developed as working dogs, such as the German Shepherd, Dutch Shepherd or Belgian Malinois, are naturally very agile. However, all dogs doing agility-training should be pre-screened for health defects such as poor eye-sight or hip and elbow displaysia. Health problems affecting the joints and eyes can not only make agility training difficult, but can also make it dangerous.
While the bulk of exercises are designed for adult dogs, there are certain exercises, such as tunnels and low jumps, which can be performed by puppies. It is not a bad idea to start training early, but leave more intense jumping and weaving exercises to young adults who’s skeletons have fully developed. Obedience training should always precede agility. Often, a leash can become entangled or interfere with obstacles in a course, so training for off-leash control is essential. It also a good idea to condition your dog through basic exercise, such as swimming, in order to build muscle and cardiovascular endurance.
We at Command Control K9 don’t train our protection dogs using traditional agility training methods. Our course is comprised of barrels, ladders, skids, wooden planks, corrugated metal, glass, and plastic. We expose all of our German Shepherd puppies, Belgian Malinois puppies, and Dutch Shepherd puppies to our agility course at a very young age. In fact, we start them at 5 weeks of age. We feel that the most important time for a pup is between 5 to 8 weeks; this is more important then the next 6 months of the puppies’ life. At 5 weeks, the puppy is exposed to different environments and surfaces. The pups learn rear foot placement by practicing on an elevated four-inch plank. Rear foot placement is necessary for more advanced exercise such as climbing a ladder or scaling a wall. It is also helpful for getting a dog used to heights. It sounds extreme, but it’s necessary when, for example, a protection dog needs to be deployed up the wall to apprehend a suspect.