If you are a proud owner of a borzoi, you are most likely aware that when they want to move, they move quickly, leaping over hedges and weaving through trees also looks a lot like an agility course so it makes sense that a borzoi would be good at agility.
However, you may also be aware of the stubborn, independent nature of your borzoi and how you could never imagine them listening to you for more than a minute at a time.
Maybe it is impossible, or maybe with the right amount of hard work and dedication, your borzoi could be the next one standing on that podium.
What is Dog Agility?
Dog agility was first introduced by the ongoing dog show ‘Crufts’ in the 1970s in the United Kingdom. It took its inspiration from horse jumping and the only initial goal of dog agility was to entertain the audience during intermission. Since then, it has gained a lot of traction all around the world and has now become recognized as one of the most popular dog sports.
Crufts is not the only place where you can find dog agility, there are also numerous dog agility courses held locally that you can start off with and build from there.
The way in which dog agility works is that the off-leash dog runs beside the owner who is giving directions and commands throughout the duration of the course. Some dogs require more direction than others but it is mostly down to the owner to ensure that dog tackles each obstacle in the correct order.
Before the competition starts, dog handlers are allowed to walk through the course without their dogs so that they can figure out the best position to be in at what time and what obstacles to anticipate. When it is time for the dog and the handler to start the course, they have one chance to finish the course as fast as they can without any mistakes. If there is a fault on the obstacle(s) then the handler will usually get five seconds added onto their finished time.
There are also penalties that refer to course faults and time faults.
Obstacles in Dog Agility
The usual obstacles that you would find in a dog agility course are made up of jumps, constant obstacles, tunnels, and others that do not fit these specific categories. The way in which these obstacles are measured and constructed depends on the organization but other than this, they are very similar.
These obstacles are made of ramps and planks and have ‘contact zones’ that the dog must have their paws on at a given time. If they do not then they face a penalty. Two of the most common constant obstacles include:
The seesaw (or teeter-totter) is much like the name suggests. It usually has a length of 8 to 12 feet and the dog must run along the length of it before stopping at the contact zone until the opposite side of the seesaw has hit the ground.
Another one is the A-frame which is three planks organized into the shape of an ‘A’ that the dog must run up, along, and then down without losing contact with the plank and jumping off too early.
Jumps are a big part of the dog agility course and there are many different kinds that vary in height, length, and distance from other obstacles. Depending on the size of the dog running, the jumps are adjusted to make it fair. It is common to see about three jumps that are placed in the course consecutively after one another so that the dog must jump after only having contact with the ground once.
There are also jumps known as tire jumps which require the dog to jump through a tire that is suspended with a bungee inside of a frame. Like the other jumps, the height of the tire is adjusted to match the size of the dog. Even though the tire jump is generally safe, tires have been introduced in recent years that will break away if it comes into contact with the dog to ensure that the dog is not injured by jumping into the tire at high speed.
Tunnels are great fun and are simply tunnels that your dog must navigate through on its own once you direct them inside. The open tunnel is usually 10 to 20 feet long and 24-inches in diameter which is swapped for a wide tunnel for bigger breeds.
Another common tunnel is the closed tunnel which has light fabric held up at the entrance but collapsed at the exit which the dog must run through.
The crawl tunnel is a bit more challenging than the other tunnels because the dog must crawl under several low hurdles that form a 6-foot tunnel.
There are miscellaneous obstacles that do not fit into the above categories but are frequently seen at dog agility courses. The weave poles are a series of poles placed 24 inches apart in a line that the dog must weave through, preferably at a running pace.
Unless the dog is experienced or a very quick learner, it will be a hard obstacle to tackle and will take time for them to be able to run through it. It is a rule that the dog must enter the weave poles with the first pole to their left.
Benefits of Dog Agility
There are many benefits to dog agility for both the dog and the human. If you have a dog with high energy levels and the long walks aren’t cutting it then dog agility is a great outlet for all of that pent up energy, and it does wonders for stimulating the brain so that your dog comes home at the end of the day physically and mentally tired.
It doesn’t just give your dog a good workout, but you will be feeling the burn at the end of the day as well as you must be there running beside your dog every step of the way. With the amount of practice that agility requires, you will see yourself getting fitter and fitter, and soon you will be flying through the course.
It is a common phrase that a tired dog is a happy dog and with the introduction of agility into your dog’s routine you will likely see a change in their behavior with them appearing calmer and less impulsive. It also appeals to their natural instincts of running, chasing, and hunting and will scratch that itch that they have had since puppyhood.
Doing agility with your dog will build your bond that will also make your dog more willing to listen to you and obey commands as agility builds trust and communication that you would not have had before.
Finally, dog agility is super fun for you and your dog, and it’s easy to get into as there are local groups you can join that will give you access to courses and training. If you get really good then you can also expect to travel the world to compete and show off your hard work.
Can Borzois do Agility?
Now that we have covered what dog agility is and what it entails, it is time to apply that to a borzoi and figure out if they would make a good fit for the sport. They are graceful, have long legs, and can run very fast but a dog needs more than just these three characteristics to be successful at agility.
If you have not already gotten a borzoi and you are hoping to enter it into agility, first make sure that you get a puppy or adult that is outgoing and confident. If your borzoi is not these things, then they will really struggle with the loud noises and crowds that you cannot avoid at dog agility.
But do not be disheartened because if you don’t plan on entering competitions and only plan to do it for other reasons such as exercise and bonding then a shy, sensitive borzoi should still be able to do it if it’s in a quiet environment such as an enclosed field or empty training room. If you have a borzoi that struggles with confidence issues, agility is a great way to build this up and make them better equipped for competitions.
As well as temperament, it is important to have a borzoi dog that does not have joint issues such as hip dysplasia that they can be prone to. Agility is a high-impact sport and a dog with orthopedic problems will be in pain and will make the problems much worse over time.
Before taking part in any agility training, get your borzoi checked over by a vet to make sure that the borzoi is in perfect health and can keep up with the physicality that agility requires.
Training a Borzoi for Agility
It is no secret that borzois are independent and stubborn so trying to get them to listen to your commands can take a lot longer than other breeds. You must first achieve basic commands such as down, sit, and come and only use positive reinforcement to keep your bond strong and your dog confident.
If you use negative punishment if your borzoi does not do what you ask of it, it will only make them less inclined to listen to you and they will not trust you, never mind follow you through an agility course.
Once you have mastered the basic commands you can start to think about foundation agility classes. You could try and train your borzoi yourself with rented obstacles or ones you made at home in the garden, but the progress will be much slower especially if you have no past experience.
To ensure that you are not practicing any bad habits then it’s best to go to classes held by a professional, most of these classes are very affordable and will be worth every penny.
If you are starting with a borzoi puppy, you can start them on the road to agility by simply getting them used to walking on different surfaces. By doing this, the new textures that they will be faced with in agility class will be a lot less daunting. It’s best if you have a naturally curious puppy but if you keep praising them and make the training fun, they will soon think that agility is the best thing ever.
In conclusion, like most dog breeds, it depends on the borzoi’s temperament, training, and health condition if they would be good at agility. If they are healthy, naturally curious, outgoing, and obedient then they would be a strong contender in dog agility.
However, it may be a bit of a challenge to get an especially sensitive, independent borzoi interested in agility, and sometimes it’s best to accept the fact that no matter what you try, it won’t be for them and that’s okay because dogs are not robots and there are plenty other sports and activities out there that you could try that you would both enjoy.