Agility training is a relatively young sport—it debuted in 1978 as a demonstration at a dog show in the U.K.—that’s enjoyed my many older dogs. Though these seniors can’t perform at the intense level as younger dogs, they still have a great time running around, having a crowd cheer them on, and getting lots of attention from their trainers.
However, agility training isn’t for every senior dog. In fact, only seniors that are in extremely good condition for their age should be considered candidates for agility training. That’s because true agility training is physically draining and can challenge even younger dogs. Once a dog reaches his golden years—8 years or older—he may simply lack the vigor, coordination, eyesight, hearing, and attention span to perform. In addition, senior dogs may also suffer from joint problems that can severely limit their ability to run and jump safely in an agility course.
A look at a typical course gives you a good idea of why agility dogs need to be in peak physical condition. Here are some of the challenges they face:
Jumps. These can include hurdles and some specialized obstacles, like a suspended tire, or whatever else a show's organizers devise.
Climbing Obstacles. The dogs clamber along a beam, A-Frame, and seesaw. To officially complete the task, they must touch the yellow paint at the end of each climbing obstacle.
Weave Poles. These are a series of upright poles that the dogs literally weave between. They begin passing on their left shoulder and weave through to the end.
Tunnels. The dogs run through a solid pipe constructed from assorted materials. The most entertaining type to watch is called the chute. This tunnel has a barrel at the opening with collapsed material attached, running to the end. The dog must burrow through the collapsed material to the exit.
Pause Table. As the name suggests, the dog must mount this table and then remain still for 5 seconds before continuing. This can be a challenge for an excited dog who often just wants to keep going.
Before attempting agility training for your senior dog, consult with your veterinarian. If your dog is deemed in good enough shape for some level of training, you might want to consider a modified course that leaves out or minimizes the obstacles that require jumping and climbing. But your dog may still have a great time running through tunnels, weaving around poles, and catching his breath at the pause table.