Today we are excited to share our fifth post in our new series, The Versatile Collie. It's our hope that through these guest posts more people will come to appreciate the amazing and special collie breed. Collies are such versatile dogs, they excel at many different activities, including the exciting sport of agility. Our guest blogger is Michael Vorkapich, and he trains his dogs to compete in Agility. His blog, The Agile Dog Blog, has great information on competing in agility, and some beautiful pictures of collies in action! We are very grateful to Michael for taking the time to write this for us!
The Collie in Agility
By Michael Vorkapich
Of the Agile Dog Bog -Creative, positive and fun dog training thoughts and ideas
My name is Mike Vorkapich and I have been competing in Agility with Collies for 14 years. I started with my Smooth Collie, Charlotte. As a young dog, she tried to destroy our house! My wife one day told me that I needed to find Charlotte a job. We tried many many dog sports and finally settled on Agility. I had no idea what I was getting into. Charlotte loved Agility. She loved that she was allowed to run around like crazy and quickly figured out that Agility provided her with a playground. Charlotte, as my first Agility dog, was the recipient of all my mistakes and my learning. We had a great time but never achieved much.
My second Smooth Collie, Holly, was also a high energy dog as a puppy. Pretty typical puppy energy. So it was natural that she joined Charlotte in the Agility training when she was old enough. Holly and I did much better than I ever did with Charlotte. We went to the Collie Nationals in 2010 and earned first place in Excellent Jumpers on both days. We attended the Canine Performance Events National Competition in 2012 and earned High in Trial. I am currently working with my fourth Agility Collie and looking forward to my fifth.
The sport of Dog Agility started in 1978 at the Crufts dog show in England. John Varley, a committee member for the 1977 show was asked to provide entertainment during some down time between obedience and conformation. It was designed after the sport of equestrian jumping.
Currently there are 13 organizations in North America that sanction dog agility trials. They each have a different focus, from extreme competition to friendly gatherings to a focus on youth.
Agility is a high-speed, wild ride of a sport. It is a cooperative effort between dog and handler. The handler directs the dog through a series of obstacles. The dog must climb, crawl, jump and more. The handler is not allowed to touch the dog or the equipment. There is a time limit, typically around 60 seconds, to complete the obstacle course. The dog must run at full speed through the obstacles with enthusiasm. It’s a great time to loosen up the requirements and just enjoy the time with your dog! Each of the obstacles is standardized and has performance criteria. However, the order and number of obstacles changes. The course is numbered and the handler gets a chance to figure out where they are going before their turn. Because of the time component, the dog needs to be confident on each piece of equipment.
You may think “I can’t run very fast, there’s no way I could ever do Agility!” If this is you then you could consider NADAC as an organization. Their focus is on working at a distance from your dog. No running for the human! Or you may want that competition. AKC and USDAA are for you. Things are extremely technical and precise. And there is everything in between.
You can attend Agility Trials in order to earn placements, titles and ribbons. There are National and International competitions. You can attend local events and earn a place at these larger competitions. However, there are plenty of opportunities outside of competitions. There are demonstrations, fun matches, and group practices. In my area, there is an Agility League, which is a friendly competition held over a span of 8 weeks in the Fall.
The world of dog agility is dominated by just a few breeds. The Border Collie, Shetland Sheepdog and Papillion. However, any breed of dog can compete in agility. These breeds are what most people have due to the myth that they are the best breeds for this sport. This is simply untrue.
The Collie is ideally suited for agility because they are happy, enthusiastic and eager to please. If you get a young Collie and work with them, they can achieve all the same things a Border Collie or Shetland Sheepdog can.
I have discovered over the past decade and a half that Agility really requires positive reinforcement for all behaviors in order to improve that enthusiasm and get maximum drive and accuracy. So my fourth, and current, Collie was trained in Obedience using completely positive reinforcement. This has worked really well for us and he does quite well in both Obedience and Agility.
How can you get started? Agility is a sport that requires a bit of training. So you will need to find a good instructor. One way to find a good instructor is to attend local Agility Trials and talk with competitors. Let them know you are interested and would like suggestions for instructors. Everyone is friendly and helpful and will want you to succeed so they will suggest the best instructors.
A few things to consider:
- · Your dog should not be doing any repetitive jumping until their growth plates are closed. Consult your veterinarian before starting Agility.
- A good instructor will recommend some foundation training and probably won’t want to put you on any actual equipment for several weeks at least. Foundation work can be done before the growth plates are closed.
- Agility will not interfere with other dog activities. If people tell you that it will, they simply have little experience with Agility. My dogs compete in Agility, Obedience, Rally, Herding, Conformation and more. They know how to behave in each environment.
- Agility is addictive! Once you get started, you won’t want to stop.
- The American Kennel Club isn’t the only game in town. There are 13 sanctioning organizations and they each have a different feel to them. Find the one that appeals to you most.
For further information:
Want to learn more about agility? please visit Michael's blog by clicking below:
Want to see the other things collies can do? click below: