Winter Agility Fun

By Greg Kirmeier (October 2012)

Editor's note: This article was originally published in the Saint Paul Dog Training Club Newsletter. It is reprinted here with the author's permission.

As I sit down to write this article, it's the Sunday after Thanksgiving. There was snow on the patio when I let the dogs out this morning. From the window, I can see the sad little side yard where I do my summer agility training. The ground is covered with wet leaves, and the weave poles look lonely and sad. Probably, I'll put everything away this afternoon, and the summer fun will be done for another year.

Now is the time to organize my plans for indoor training. Just because I don't have a ton of space doesn't mean I can't manage to do some quality training during the winter.

I start with three basic rules:
1. Anything is more than nothing: I try not to think of what I can't do with the space I have, and concentrate on what I can do.
2. Focus on small things: Winter is a great time to work on small refinements of things my dogs already know, and to add to our understanding of basic concepts.
3. Think brief and frequent: I try to limit my sessions to one or two things at a time. Fifteen minutes isn't a lot of time, and if I try, I can find that quarter of an hour every day.

Here are some ideas for indoor training:

  • Jump Work: This is good conditioning for my dogs, and it helps us focus on keeping the bar up, and most of this work will fit into my living room or basement. There is an excellent DVD by Susan Garrett, Fun with One Jump, that will get you started. If your work area is a wood floor, linoleum, or basement concrete, you should consider buying some interlocking play mats to provide a good work surface.
  • Start line stay and set up: Tired of broken start lines? Now is the time to go back and proof your stays. Work at home, and then see what you have at class.
  • Contact trainer: You don't need a full A–frame or dog walk to work on your contacts. A simple practice board will suffice. Most often dogs break because we have failed to really teach the end position. My dogs get a review of end position and release at least every two weeks.
  • Tricks: Teaching your dogs a trick or two is wonderful interaction that builds a strong relationship between the two of you. Many tricks such as "sit pretty" or "dance for me" are excellent conditioning exercises that develop rear end muscles and coordination. Simple tricks like walking backwards or a hand-touch on command can become part of your warm up and start line ritual. They build focus and help to prepare the dog for your run.
  • Play games: Just playing with your dog is never a waste of time. To do well at agility, your dog needs to think you are the most fascinating person in the world! Games of tug and fetch are great relationship builders. Just remember: You start the game, and you end the game!
  • Feed your head: When you have no energy left and it's just too cold to do anything, make some popcorn and sit down with your dog to enjoy a good agility video or book. There are DVDs or books available to cover literally any training problem you have. A good source for these products is Some of these products are a little pricy, and some are a lot better than others, so ask your instructor for advice before you buy. You can always consider splitting the cost with a friend who has a similar training concern, and then sharing the DVD. The Internet provides some inexpensive alternatives. There are many YouTube videos demonstrating various agility techniques, but once again, not all are as good as some. Many fine trainers have blogs and Web sites that offer good advice. Susan Garret's blog, or Agility Nerd are two good choices.
  • Plan ahead: A last suggestion is to plan ahead for the summer. This might be the time to build a couple of jumps for your yard. A quick Internet search will give you plans for any piece of equipment you might need.
  • How about planning a road trip? Many well-known agility trainers offer summer workshops and camps that might be fun for you and your dog. If this interests you, now is the time to figure things out. Many of these summer workshops will be full by March or April. Another fun trip might be to pick a trial out of the metro area to enter. Last year, several of my Terrier friends made the pilgrimage to Montgomery County, for four days of all-Terrier agility. They had a great time, made new friends, and saw many handling techniques that were new to them.