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Agility Training of the Border Collie
By Deborah Bates

I started the hunt for my very first agility dog two years ago and when I saw Panda, a cute, sweet little six month old rescue Border Collie, my search ended. I got her and started training her within a few weeks. Since Border Collies are without a doubt one of the smartest breeds of dog, training them in agility is rewarding as well as challenging.

I “clicker” trained her by treating and clicking a clicker whenever a desired action was accomplished. Soon she knew that the click meant that a treat was coming, which came in very handy with distance work. This method is very effective in agility and in six months, when Panda turned a year old, I started showing her. She is currently in Excellent Standard and Excellent Jumpers.

Just teaching Panda a command does not insure that she will do it 100% of the time. Dogs, especially puppies, need repetition to be good agility dogs, and such commands such as “come-to-heel” should be practiced daily. My Border Collie was somewhat slow at first, compared to the breed, and that was bothering me because under no circumstances did I want a slow Border Collie. What fun was that?! Quickly, though, she began picking up speed and started passing me on the course. My agility teacher and the best dog trainer in the business, Denise Thomas, told me “Get down the basics and the speed will take care of itself”, and boy was she ever right! I was getting speed now alright, but not enough control. To solve this problem, I had to go back to come-to-heel work and now I have an under-control dog. So remember, Junior Handlers, to always reinforce the basics even with an excellent dog.

I’ve talked a lot about training in general, so the following is a brief synopsis of training techniques I used for Panda, for each obstacle:

  • Jumps-there’s not much to say about this category. Panda’s a Border Collie; jumping is what she does! On those rare occasions when she does knock a bar, it’s usually because I have thrown my hand up or called her too soon over a jump or called her too early in a rear cross.
  • Contact Obstacles- my trainer taught us a “two-on-two-off” method, which is when the dog stops with two paws on and two paws off the contact to insure better control and a definite hit. Panda picked up on this very quickly and hasn’t missed a contact in a very long time.
  • Table-this was a tricky obstacle for me because my B.C. did not want to stop her forward motion by getting on a pointless box and doing some stupid trick when she could be weaving. The answer to this problem was to make the table more exciting by playing with her once she got on the table and giving lots of treats; after a bit of this, her “Table Terror” was extinct.
  • Tunnel and Chutes-some dogs have phobias about going through the chute but thankfully my dog did not have any such issue, so the tunnel and chute were no problem.
  • And, last but not least, Weave Poles -- this obstacle is my personal favorite and my dog’s favorite, as well. She took to them right away and in a matter of a couple weeks was doing a set of twelve, no sweat. Aren’t I lucky? People who do have trouble with the weave poles could try to guide their dogs with treats, toys, or guide wires.
Training Panda, even though tough and challenging, was thrilling in many ways. She learns things so quickly that I can ask someone to give me a trick, go upstairs, and in half an hour come down with one more trick added to my dog’s repertoire. Border Collies are fast, agile, quick learners, and most love agility. If you want the best dog for agility, you should get a Border Collie!