Jess Cuthbertson Agility Series: My Tips for Getting Started in Dog Agility

An unstoppable powerhouse, Jess Cuthbertson is one of our newest ambassadors and we couldn’t be happier to stand beside her as she conquers the Agility world. She’s chosen Poppy’s Picnic raw dog food to feed her exceptional dogs and we’re thrilled to support them all. In this fifth part of our six part blog series, Jess shares her top tips for young individuals on how to get started with dog agility training, and what to expect when taking their first steps into the agility world: 

My dogs and I were young in age and immature in knowledge when I first started training them in Agility. I was a beginner and had no idea what I was doing. In hindsight, there are a million and one things I would do differently and perhaps follow some different advice, but these early experiences taught me a lot. We all have to go through a learning curve and I had to start somewhere. Now, I have better guidance to help ensure I am doing the best for my dogs. Skye was about 14 months old when she started, and Cuba and Rico both started around 6 or 7 months old. Back then, training mainly consisted of playing fun little confidence building games, as well as body awareness activities to help them stay strong and prevent injuries. 

I may be biased because I have never competed in any other category, but I think Agility is the best one out there. My dogs and I always have fun on the courses! I think anyone competing in an Agility competition needs to be resilient , motivated, and driven if they want to be successful.  I have found, however, that the most important skill and attribute someone competing in Agility should have is to be positive. It is also essential to keep in mind that at the end of the day, it is only a game with our dogs and it should be FUN for both the dogs and you!! On the other end, you learn a lot of new skills by competing too such as good preparation skills and how to manage when things don’t go to plan. I still have a lot to learn in this area, though, as I always find that I’m not the best at preparing myself well for a run.  

The biggest thing about my journey is that I’ve learned  to overcome weaknesses by training both harder and smarter. I tend to train my dogs 2 to 3 times a week, no more than that. I will either train them in longer sessions or shorter sessions depending on the season and how much improvement I think we need to make.  During the longer sessions, I run a full course with them and repeat as needed. For the shorter sessions, I focus on one obstacle that may have been challenging for them and work on improving those skills and developing consistency over time. It is important to know your dogs’ limits and make sure that they are still enjoying themselves while training.

I am completely in love with this sport and encourage anyone interested to go for it! My first advice to someone who wants to start training in Agility is to be careful who you go to for advice. The Kennel Club website is a great place to start for accredited Agility trainers who know the correct way of teaching the dog safely and carefully. Finding the best training club for you and your dogs can be a long process, but you live and you learn.  You outgrow places and, unfortunately, sometimes you have to go through a few to find the one most suited to your partnership and relationship with your dogs. I am lucky enough to have the most amazing trainers with me at the moment and I am finally at the stage where I can teach myself! If you just keep practicing and trusting in yourself and your dogs, you will get there too. 

When looking for a coach, you should seek out someone with knowledge about the sport itself, who competes or has competed successfully in Agility, and most importantly, understands the safety of it.  At the end of the day, it is the dogs who could potentially get injured, not us, so look after them like you would yourself. If you are unsure about a trainer, ask for references or ask advice from someone who has competed under their training before. Many people also want to know how young you can start.  I started when I was 12 years old, but I have heard of some starting as early as 6. As you can see, though, you can start competing at a young age and in my experience this has meant a stronger bond with my pups. We not only train and improve together, but we also get to grow up together. 

A common question I get asked is if I find it difficult to fit in training around school.  For me, Agility always came first. I’m not sure everyone agrees with me, but I always prioritise my dogs in my life and I wouldn’t change anything about that. I put them before myself in a lot of ways, and I think that is why our relationship is as strong as it is.  That is also a large reason why I chose to make the switch to Poppy’s Picnic raw dog food. I trust my dogs and they trust me on the course, so I want them to be able to trust me with their health as well #POWEREDBYPOPPYSPICNIC.

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