Dog agility is one of the fastest-growing dog sports in America. It is not only fun, but it is an incredible exercise for both you and your dog. Great Danes are known for their strength, intelligence, loyalty, and big-heartedness, but how well do they do in agility? Do their massive bodies and long legs hinder them from being major competitors in this sport?
Not only can Great Danes participate in agility, but they’re also known to be surprisingly good at the sport. Their obstacles are set up further apart than say, a border collie’s, but they can crawl through those tunnels just like any other breed.
Before you start your Great Dane in agility training, it’s important to visit the veterinarian before starting. This will ensure that they have a clean bill of health before engaging in the physical effort required in agility.
When you decide to start your dog in agility training, it is an exciting and tiring time for both of you. If your dog is going to succeed in agility, you must first be dedicated. But agility goes further than the obstacles too!
In order for your Great Dane to succeed in the sport, he will need to be in overall outstanding shape, and this includes what he is eating and drinking along with some other things too.
Tips for Getting Your Great Dane Started in Agility
Agility is a labor-intensive sport with the possibility of incredible outcomes if executed properly. However, it is also possible for your Great Dane to become injured from the sport if the proper precautions are in place.
Before you learn the basic tips for getting started in agility training, it is first important to understand the basics of the sport.
The basics of agility:
Dog agility is a timed sport where a dog is directed through pre-set obstacles by his owner.
Typically, the courses have somewhere between 14 and 20 obstacles.
The common obstacles include:
- Dog Walk
- Panel Jump
- Spread Jumps
- Broad Jump
The contact obstacles include the A-Frame, Dog Walk, Table, and Teeter obstacles. On each of these obstacles, there is an area or areas that are painted yellow.
At least one of the dog’s paws must physically touch each yellow area. The owner will instruct the dog to do so, and this ensures the dog won’t attempt to jump on or off an obstacle that is at a height that could pose a risk of injury.
You may not see all of the above-listed obstacles in a given course, though, because some could be repeated. Each obstacle is completed successfully by your dog looking to your body language and signals letting it know what to do.
If you are looking to begin training your Great Dane in agility, you must first assess your dog personally. Typically, dogs with more energy and who get along with other dogs and take instruction well will do better in agility.
Breed-specific precautions to consider:
While Great Danes may not be the “ideal” dog for agility, it doesn’t mean that they aren’t competent.
However, there are a few Dane-specific precautions to keep in mind. Great Danes are typically slower to reach maturity than other breeds, and this combined with their size, calls for some things that you need to take into consideration before starting your Great Dane in agility training.
If you do not follow these precautions, there is a good chance he could end up injured from his training. A possibility for great mental and physical exercise can quickly turn into a dangerous task.
First and foremost, it is critical to be informed on what age is appropriate to begin training your Great Dane puppy in agility. In all reality, training should start as soon as possible but it’s not of the obstacle variety!
Taking your puppy on long walks and teaching them basic tricks like “sit” and “lay down” will get him in the mindset for agility. A puppy that is exposed to regular exercise and training early on will have an easier time learning the courses later.
That said, it is recommended that you do not put your Great Dane on competition-sized obstacles until he is at least two years old. This is critical. Before two years old, your Great Dane is still growing into his tall and full-frame.
If he is put onto competition-sized obstacles before he is ready, it could lead to injury. His joints simply will not be ready to handle the impact yet.
Once he is older, the obstacles will not harm his joints, especially if it is something he has been working up to his entire life.
It is also recommended to get hip and elbow x-rays done at a year and a half to ensure everything is sound and your pup is ready to progress onward.
Below is a nice guideline for obstacle heights at any given age:
- Under nine months = Pastern height
- Nine to twelve months = Midway between pastern and elbow height
- Twelve to 18 months = Elbow height
- 18 to 24 months = Midway between elbow height and shoulder height
- 24 months and older = Shoulder height
Additional safety tips
One of the most critical points is not to over-train – which is easy to do. A fifteen-minute practice session no more than twice a week is all your Great Dane will need to succeed. Along with regular walks and a healthy diet.
You want your dog to love agility, and working him every day won’t make him better; it could actually make him worse. Besides, when a dog loses focus because he is tired, he is at a higher risk of injury.
A week before a competition, you can train for five minutes every day, but regular practice does not need to be and should not be too vigorous.
Just like humans, warming up is a must. Going for a slow job is a great way to warm up both of you.
It is also a plus if you can teach your dog to stretch his legs and back on command, as this will loosen him up in preparation for the obstacles.
All equipment should be non-slip without any rough edges. Safety is always the number one priority in this sport. It is also important to note where the obstacles are set up.
There shouldn’t be any sharp turns. Smaller breeds can handle sharp turns, but Great Danes need more room to turn without hurting themselves properly.
You always want to make sure your dog’s nails are trimmed short to ensure they don’t get caught on anything during the course.
Look to also inspect their paw pads from time to time as well to check their condition.
Weight is also a big thing.
The more excess weight your dog carries makes it that much harder on his bones to successfully complete the obstacles. Another thing to keep in mind is the type of collar your dog wears.
If he trains in a collar at all, it should be snug and flat to his neck. You don’t want any studs, bows, or dog tags getting caught on the obstacles.
It is important Great Danes remain well hydrated at all times. They are a bigger breed and will require more water breaks than some of the smaller dogs.
To continue, you want to make sure you let your dog go to the bathroom before beginning practicing. He will feel better and can focus better on the task at hand.
Lastly and most importantly, if your Great Dane is stiff at all after practice, then you’re overdoing it! He shouldn’t be stiff at all at this point to help avoid possible injury.
Tips for beginners
If you are looking to get started in training for competitive agility, then your best bet is to join a training club. These clubs have obstacle courses already set up and have weekly classes you and your dog can attend.
The only downside is the added cost. Training classes and competitions can run up a big bill, but a lot of places will give you a discount if you work or volunteer at some events. It is always good to call and check it out!
However, if you are an owner that isn’t sure how your dog will like this new sport, you may be looking to do some training on your own first.
This can be more difficult, especially if you are completely new to the sport, but there are many Youtube channels (here’s a good video to start with) now that can help you out with the basics of training, as well as building your own obstacles as safely as possible.
If training from home is more your cup of tea, then here are a number of tips to keep mind:
Just have fun
Agility is meant to be a fun new way for you and your dog to bond while also staying healthy. There is no need to put stress on how quickly or slowly, your dog learns new tricks.
Set your dog up for success by starting with the bare minimum. This will help you and your dog learn together, and you can get an idea of how quickly he seems to catch on to new things. This will let you know when it is time to add another small challenge for him.
Remember to give lots of encouraging feedback, as well. Dogs respond to praise; that is how he knows he is doing something right or wrong.
Whether the practice is going smoothly or not, though, remember that the practice shouldn’t last more than fifteen minutes at most. It is important to stop before your dog loses interest in order for it to be fun for him.
How well your dog does in agility goes hand in hand with how well he can tune out distractions and focus on your cues. It is important he learns to maintain his focus even during exciting situations.
A good way to increase his focus is by teaching him to pay attention to you with cues like “watch me” or “look” and then appropriately rewarding him for doing so.
It works kind of like the obedient skill “stay.” You want to increase how long you can get your dog to keep eye contact by gradually lengthening the time before he gets a treat.
Even before you hit the obstacles, it will help if you practice different tricks with him first. Specific tricks that help with agility include teaching him to touch his nose to your hand or a target.
If you move your hand or choose a strategic target placement, you can adjust your dog’s position. This skill will come in handy for the contact zones in the courses.
Teaching your dog to walk backwards is another great skill because it will teach him basic awareness of his body. Walking backward will force him to pay attention to all four of his paws.
Another trick that is great practice is teaching him to jump through a hoop. This can first be done by holding the hoop low to the ground and fairly close to him.
Then you hold a treat on the other side and have him get used to walking through the hoop.
Flexibility is just as much a part of agility training as the physical activity itself. Teaching your dog to spin will get him twirling right and left to stretch out his sides.
At first, you can use the nose-to-target trick to get him to walk in a circle. Teaching him to bow is a trick that will stretch his back. Lastly, while your dog is still a puppy, you can teach him to weave through your legs for a treat.
Doing so will get him ready for weaving through poles later on, and it is also a great way to stretch his body out.
Tips for increasing awareness
Relatively speaking, dogs don’t really have the greatest body awareness. Their front paws sort of lead the way for the rest of their body. Certain obstacles require your dog to be aware of exactly where his paws are going.
Some great practice for this is with an upside-down box or footstool. Teach your dog to place each paw on it, to jump on it, and sit down on top.
These tricks will get him ready for pause tables, as well as being more aware of where his paws are going. Teaching him to walk inside of a box will also teach him more about what his body is doing.
The goal is to get him to fit his whole body in the box.
Confidence in moving objects
Obstacles that move like the teeter obstacle can be quite intimidating for your dog at first. Teaching him to stand on a skateboard or in a small wagon will get him used to the ground moving beneath him.
Show him how to put a paw on the object and give him a treat every time he shows interest in the object. Then eventually try to get him to jump in on his own.
The unstable ground will also teach him further body awareness and balance.
Confidence in dark places
Sometimes learning the tunnel can be difficult for Great Danes. Not necessarily because of their size but because it is an unknown dark area, they are being asked to walk into.
Tunnels tend to make a lot of noise once they crawl in too, and if your Great Dane isn’t aware of what his big body and long legs are doing, he could really get startled.
To get started with this, building a larger “tunnel” out of blankets and chairs. This will get him used to being in enclosed spaces. Then you can progress to a large open cardboard box, and teach him to walk through.
Once he gets comfortable with this, add another box to the end, so it is more like a tunnel. This will gradually get him ready for a real tunnel.
These tips aren’t the only things to get your dog ready for agility. Be creative and have fun with it! Getting started will teach you more about your dog than you originally knew, and you will be surprised what ideas pop into your head.
Run with it, and submerge yourself in the culture. Attend dog shows to help you meet other people in the community and learn their tricks of the trade if you will.
Don’t Forget About Your Own Health!
Agility extends further than just the obstacles. You are also a major part of your dog’s agility training. If you aren’t in good enough shape to run through these obstacles, your dog’s performance will be lacking as well.
It becomes a lifestyle for you and your dog. Whether you are practicing or relaxing at home, you will want to make sure you are both doing all you can to be healthy.
Don’t get me wrong, though; this definitely includes rest days. Pushing you and your dog too far will only create problems for both of you. To help prevent yourselves from overdoing it, you can also consider getting a smart collar for them to wear that tracks their activity. One that I recommend taking a look at is the Fi Smart Collar (full review linked).
Remember to slowly increase the difficulty level of your practice to yield the greatest benefit. This will also ensure that you won’t get burnt out on the sport as well. Remember, it is only fun for him if you are having fun too.