Dog Behavior & Training

Charlie’s Adventures in Dog Agility

Charlie posing in front of the Dog Agility Equipment at Lollypop Farm
Written by Rachael Sando

After earning his Canine Good Citizen (CGC) certification a couple months back, our little wiggle butt puppy expressed some serious interest in taking an agility class.

How do I know, you ask?

Well, we have always been amused that Charlie watches TV. One night we queued up a video of a dog completing an agility course and he watched in complete amazement (nipping at the screen when the dogs ran in and out of the picture, ears at full alert). We just knew we had to get him involved!

Our Golden Retriever Charlie looking over the dog agility course he is about to run

We’re not in Kansas Anymore

When the time approached for his first class, we both were excited! Walking in, Charlie was immediately blown away; these weren’t his classmates from CGC and he thought it was playtime! One of the things our trainer stressed right from the beginning, was that this was NOT a dog socialization class. Charlie was going to have to adjust!

A friendly dog in Charlie's beginner agility class at Lollypop FarmBut Mommm….he looks so friendly!

Our First Class

I would love to say that our first class was a smashing success but if I’m being real with you, it was a DISASTER! (I even thought about withdrawing him from the class!)

Charlie is a bit confused by the dog walk obstacle in his first agility class! Don't worry, he eventually gets the hang of it!

He was afraid of everything and most importantly, didn’t seem to be enjoying himself at all. I ultimately decided to give it one more class, just to see how Charlie adjusted. The next week, it was completely different! Charlie was focused, attentive, interested, and (with some cajoling) a little more brave! We BOTH had fun exercising together! 

A Slow Roll

The class was a slow introduction to the sport, designed for beginners who had never run agility. Before tackling any of the equipment, we learned to stretch and warm-up our dogs and worked on basic obedience to focus their attention on us. Over the course of the next several weeks, we learned and practiced each of the apparatus below. Slowly, carefully, and always with supervision!

Charlie practicing his place and target dog commands during his agility training

A Rundown of Dog Agility Equipment

Dog Walk – Three 8 to 12 ft planks each 9 to 12 inches wide. The center plank is elevated about 4 feet off the ground, so that the two end planks form ramps leading up to and down from it.

Tire/Hoop – A wrapped tire/hoop suspended in a frame. The dog must jump through the opening of the “tire”; which is adjusted for the dog’s height.

Charlie on his first day of dog agility training wondering what he is supposed to do with this hoop!

Weave Poles – 5 to 12 upright poles,spaced about 24 inches apart, through which the dog weaves.

Jumps – Two uprights supporting a horizontal bar over which the dog jumps.

A-Frame – Two broad ramps, usually about 3 feet wide by 8 to 9 feet long, hinged together and raised so that it forms a peak that is between five and six-and-a-quarter feet above the ground

Charlie conquering the A-Frame obstacle in his agility course! He did so well in his Beginner Agility class at Lollypop Farm!

Chute – A barrel-like cylinder with a tube of fabric attached around one end. The fabric extends about 8 to 12 feet and is closed until the dog runs into the open end of the chute and pushes his way out through the fabric tunnel.

Charlie Making his way to the chute obstacle in the agility course. He must run through to push the fabric open on his way out the other side!

Charlie running through the Dog Agility Chute in his obstacle course! This photo was taken during a training class at Lollypop Farm.

Tunnel – A vinyl tube, than can be extended from 10ft-20ft, through which the dog runs.

Looking through the agility tunnel - one of the standard obstacles in a dog agility course

Table – An elevated square platform onto which the dog must jump and pause, either sitting or in a down position, for a designated period of time

Charlie finally conquered the table obstacle! A dog must wait on this table for a designated period of time before continuing

If you are wondering whether agility is right for you and your dog, consider the top 5 benefits that we have identified below:

Charlie posing in front of the Dog Agility Equipment at Lollypop Farm

Top 5 Reasons You Should Do Agility with your dog:


Fun For All! – Agility is fun for the dog and the handler. I have a smile on my face from the moment I arrive to the moment that we leave. It is a joy to watch as Charlie problem solves, pushes himself, and has a silly, goofy time. I don’t have human kids, but I think its similar, you watch what they and the other dogs in the class are able to do and you can’t help but smile and have a Proud Momma Moment!!

Charlie traveling down the A-Frame in his dog agility course

Courage Booster – When Charlie first came to live with us, he was afraid of everything outside of our home (cars parked on the street, leaves blowing, garbage cans, loud or sudden sounds). Since doing agility I have used positive reinforcement and behavioral shaping to introduce him to things that were initially really scary for him. Charlie has conquered his fear of the (wobbly) table as well as the dog walk! We are seeing a happier (I didn’t think this was possible) more courageous pup emerge daily!

Communication – Since starting agility our non-verbal communication has improved tremendously! One piece of wisdom our trainer imparted on us in the beginning was that “the dog doesn’t know the course, only you do”. If the dog makes a mistake, they shouldn’t be admonished for it. Our errors are because I have not communicated what I wanted from him. I have come to understand Charlie better since running agility. I see little changes in his behavior or mannerisms that might indicate he is losing focus or needing a direction/prompt. I feel like I understand his little puppy brain so much better!

Charlie conquering the hoop obstacle in the agility course at Lollypop Farm!

Physical/Mental Activity – Charlie is an active and energetic little pup who requires daily walks (and still would be up for more activity). When we leave agility, he is completely zonked out! He lays down in the back of the car and only gets up once to walk in the house, get a drink, and then sleep the rest of the night away! He is mentally and physically exhausted!

Charlie practicing his "target" command in his training class

Focus – Day 1 was a disaster because Charlie was overstimulated and couldn’t pay attention to me with so many other distractions around. Weekly, I have seen improvement in Charlie’s ability to tune out external stimuli and focus on me and the work we are about to do. It’s amazing to see him grow and though we are not directly working on obedience, it is helping to improve his ability to focus on my words and actions in all settings.

So How Did Little Charlie Do?

By the end of our 6 week schedule, Charlie was able to run a few different routes (without me messing him up too much)! Needless to say, he ended up loving class! Proud Momma Moment!

Here is Charlie posing with his beginner agility certificate!

Charlie posing with his certificate of completion for beginner dog agility! He took this course at Lollypop Farm in Rochester, NY.

Uh Oh! It looks like Charlie got caught by trainer Alyssa nibbling on his agility certificate from Lollypop Farm!

Uh oh! Trainer Alyssa is always watching!

So, what’s next for us?

Beginner Agility 2! Look for more updates as Charlie tries to master more advanced agility skills! It is sure to be hilarious and goofy, just like our sweet little Chuckie Ducky!

Don’t worry – We haven’t forgotten about Harley – our sweet senior boy is going to be trying his sniffer in a nose work course coming up!

Harley is our trusted navigator through Gosnell Big Woods Reserve in Webster, NY

If you are interested in trying agility check out Lollypop Farm or your local positive dog training facility!

About the author

Rachael Sando

Rachael is a School Psychologist with degrees from the University of Rochester and RIT. Though a lifelong dog lover, this passion has taken on a new direction through the utilization of therapy animals in her day job. Charlie, our Golden Retriever, works with Rachael as a school therapy dog in a local primary school where he brings comfort and support to students and staff on a daily basis.


  • That’s awesome and we look forward to hearing how the nose work course goes. It is awesome for older dogs as well as younger ones. Mom would love to do agility as she loves to be moving around all the time herself, but with our longer backs and short legs, she felt the risk of injury is more than she wanted to take, so we do nose work and tracking instead, but we have our own tunnel at home if we feel an “agility urge”. Can’t wait to hear more!

    • We are so looking forward to an introduction to nose work. I don’t think these golden noses are quite as powerful as your hound nose, but I think he will enjoy it! I bet you would be good at agility, but Mom always knows best and has to watch out for your health! We will definitely check out the t-shirts now!

  • What a great post! There was an agility course set up at a dog festival that we went to and we ran Miley through it. It was so much fun for all of us. I really need to look into this locally! Great job, Charlie and good luck, Harley!!

    • You definitely should. Our local dog festival had something set up too…thats how we got started! Let us know if you decide to do it!

  • Good job! We just started session 2 of our agility as well but Ziva has missed the first two weeks thanks to getting kennel cough.. 🙁
    But I’ve still been going and absorbing as much as possible without her, on a good note our instructor is giving us makeup days to go use the agility arena so long as it’s not during another class time and we can practice. I can’t wait!
    It is amazing how she’s so in-tuned to me now! Charlie looks like he’s doing great! Ziva hasn’t tried the A frame yet but she loves tunnels, jumps, and doesn’t seem to mind the walk too much.

    • The dog walk and table were really scary for Charlie! I hope that Ziva is feeling better…she is going to love it I bet! We got a litle extra time ebfore class one day and it was amazing to really be able to practice without other distractions so I think that will be great for making up classes!

    • We are loving it! Really looking forward to seeing how he develops and how it impacts his overall obedience!

  • Great fun, glad you stuck with it. Loved all the photos! I often think about agility with Gambler as he really has speed and loves to jump but I’m such a dork with things like that I would really mess him up. LOL

    • Give it a try! You would be shocked at how fun it is. Charlie was a star in his behavioral and CGC classes. He is not a rockstar in this, but it doesn’t matter because he has LOTS of fun doing it!

    • I bet Kilo is so good at it. We have a little pug in our class, Dracula, and he is a rockstar!!

  • Yay Charlie! Glad you stuck with it. I recognize Lollipop farm- I had no idea you were based near me! I do agility with my dogs and we absolutely love it- it gets addicting fast! Have you been to an agility trial to watch? There’s one this weekend, and another in two weeks. Not only is it fun to relax and watch the runs, you can learn a lot by watching experienced teams and even volunteering. I wish I had done that before I entered my first trial.

    • Yes! We live in Rochester and have gone through Lollypop for our cat adoptions as well as behavioral, CGC, and now agility courses with Charlie! That is a great idea, I will have to get some information and check it out. Our trainer will often bring her border collie in and I am absolutely amazed at all that she can do. Where do you do agility? Charlie will need some practice before we enter any trials 🙂 That little puppy brain!

      • I’m in the Utica area so haven’t had much directly to do with Lollypop, but have definitely heard of them- especially when I went to college at Keuka. I do agility mostly in the Syracuse area (where the trial is next weekend the 20-22). I do sometimes go to Farmington which would be closer to you. Boometown Canine Campus has a lot of agility trials, as well as flyball and lots of other dog related classes and events. My 1 year old Wager is just starting agility training- a bit of an introduction to obstacles, but mostly foundation work and flatwork. VERY important to get the basics before jumping into courses. I didn’t know to do that with Shiloh and though he does very well (we’re working on our championship now) I can really see the gaps in foundations. Agility is so much fun and so beneficial to both the dogs and people. I think the beginning training is the best part. It can be the most frustrating, but also the most rewarding.

  • Oh, what fun! Yay for Charlie getting his certificate! I want to do agility with Luke but right now with his bad knees, we don’t want him jumping, so we’re going to try nose work instead. If/when we get his knees fixed we might try agility then. We do have a tunnel at home that all the dogs love to play in though, and some weave poles we haven’t tried yet. Did Charlie try weave poles? I didn’t notice those in the videos.

  • Go, Charlie & his Human Mommy! Congratulations on your Beginner Agility Certificate & lots of fun for your next agility class! What a wonderful way of combining both physical AND mental workouts!

  • I’m glad you liked your first agility class! Pretty soon you’ll be joining the ranks of Agility Addicts Annonymous

    • I hope so. We just started agility 2 and are really struggling again. He is having such a hard time focusing, I can’t even get him to SIT!! Thought the second visit would be better and it only moderately was. Advice?

      • Check out an online agility store that has a whole section of training books and DVDs. There’s many titles that deal with this issue. Focusing around so much excitement is very hard for a young dog, and a common problem but important thing to train. My own pup is having the same issue (but he’s reactive so it makes it much more complicated!). I love my new trainer and she’s helping us so much. But books and videos from trainers you wouldn’t otherwise have access to can be a huge help. I would suggest starting with the Crate Games DVD, and Control Unleashed, or the InFocus series. Clean Run actually has good prices on most items (their treats and toys are usually way cheaper than I can find in stores!), but you can also use the site to narrow down what you’re looking for and see if you can find it cheaper or used elsewhere. Can help you with that, too, if you’re interested.

        • This is great! Thanks for sharing such a wonderful resource!Right now, Charlie is struggling with focus so this is perfect!

    • We are needing some encouragement now. We just started agility 2 and are really struggling. He has such a hard time focusing this time around :/

  • That’s awesome! We can’t wait to hear how Charlie progresses! Just saw your notes above, too. Just remember you’re doing this to have fun, right? Keep it fun and celebrate even the smallest successes! We also did TONS of foundation work before ever getting on obstacles. So if you have to take a step back and play focus games (like touching your hand or a target plate), just do it! You can also play chase games to get your dog used to coming to your left and right side (for a tasty treat, or fun toy, of course! Rocco thinks the foundation skills are super fun and we still work on the basics everyday. Charlie’s doing awesome for his first class!

  • Charlie is so silly! Hope he didn’t rip up that certificate! Chewy wishes class time was play time, too. We do obedience/fitness classes and sometimes they bring out some agility equipment. Chewy LOVES the A-frame, but he’d much rather run around the jumps than over them!

  • Hey there – great article…I can’t help but caution you about those floors pictured in the article – a slippery hard surface is not great for dogs doing agility and could lead to injuries easily.

    • Hey Lori – thanks for the concern! It might be tough to tell from the photos but the floor is actually soft and rubberized – kind of like an outdoor track. The dogs nails can grip right into it!