Saturday, July 24, 2010

On the topic of agility equipment...

A couple of my intro students are at the point now where they're deciding whether or not to take the agility plunge and buy equipment. They're doing a bit of goal evaluation, where they are in training and what they want to work on at home between classes. There's a temptation to feel overwhelmed and there's always the danger to get over-equipped right at the start. Most of us can't (and shouldn't) go out and buy a full field of agility equipment after a six-week introduction to agility class - and a lot of us that have been doing agility for a while don't own a full set of equipment. I have an adjustable teeter in my backyard that I plan to re-finish with a rubber skin this summer, a few jumps (agility and obedience jumps) and a couple of sets of weave poles (metal bases).

I don't think you need to invest a lot of cash buying or time building equipment to have enough things to work on between classes. I generally don't want students to buy or build anything during their first six-week session. That first class is about safely exposing dogs to the equipment. I take great care in controlling the environment for my intro classes so that dogs and handlers have positive experiences. Outside of class I want folks working on relationship issues and very specific handling (mostly on the flat) skills.

When students ask me what they should buy or build first I know that they're hooked! My answer is always weave poles. Once you've got the basics of how to train weaves (I teach a shaping method - but this is true regardless of method) I think it's time to make or buy weaves. BUT they don't need to be gorgeous competition quality weaves. They do need to be at least a set of six (12 is better) and you do need to have the spacing setup properly. There are a few options for making or buying weaves:

Stick in the ground weaves:
Depending on the type of dog and their weaving style, stick in the ground weaves (like THESE from Affordable Agility) are a really economical way to have your own weaves. A landscape spike inserted through a drilled PVC Cap with a capped 36" PVC pole attached gives you a pole with a spike. Do yourself a favor and buy (or make your own) a measuring strip like this one from Max200.

Now all you have to do is roll out the strip and stick the pole spikes through the grommets. EASY. All dogs can start with stick in the ground weaves - but as your dog becomes more a more confident weaver you might end up with a dog that drives through the poles physically you'll find yourself resetting the poles after each rep (particularly with sandy soils). This might not be an issue with smaller dogs and even with the larger dogs by the time the pole movement of stick in the grounds becomes a problem you're probably already addicted and can upgrade as necessary. A 24" grommet strip will set you back about $12, six stick in the ground weave poles can be made for about $20 (if you're handy). If you're so inclined a set of 6 stick in the ground poles (pre-taped with a color of your choice) can be purchased for about $45 from Max200 or $38 from Affordable Agility. The obvious disadvantage to stick in the ground (SIG) weaves is that they can't be setup inside if you're one of those types who want to weave in your dining room. 

PVC Weaves:
There are plans on the Internet for building a set of PVC weaves or the folks at affordable agility have a pre-made set (at right - $55). To be honest, I can't recommend that anyone try to build PVC weaves - My first weaves were made from PVC and I ended up scrapping them after struggling with them for a couple of sessions. In my experience PVC joints move and you end up with weaves at weird angles - unless you glue them, When you glue them you can't take them apart. If you can't take them apart you can't travel with them. On a positive note if they're glued they won't move if you have a physical weaver.

If you'd like to try building your own - here's a plan for a PVC weave base.

"Competition" quality/Metal Base:
Not all so called competition bases are what I would consider competition quality. I have a set of the competition weaves from Affordable Agility - which are essentially a six piece base (2x) that are bolted together. I have mine setup as two sets of six. These work for me because it's MUCH easier to travel with six 48" pieces of base than two 12' bases. I actually have a 20" set as well (also from affordable agility) in a 3-3-3-3 configuration - currently taking up space in my garage. I'm no longer training 20" weaves, but the set of three 20" poles traveled just as easily as my 24x2 bases. I wouldn't use them as "competition" bases - though they have held up nicely to all of the daily abuse that waggles throws at them. Some of the more expensive "competition bases" are solid sets of six - usually with a slide that secures the two halves into one solid piece - not so portable - even if they are hinged.

After weaves, I think the next thing to add is a jump or two. You don't need a lot of jumps - even at the higher levels of training. Check out my "four-jump" series for some ideas. You just need to challenge yourself to think outside of pinwheels and straight lines.

There are two main styles of build it yourself jump designs. One with a solid "fixed" bottom bar and the other with two individual jump standards. From a construction standpoint the fixed bar version is the least expensive to build - you'll need two "T" joints per side. The downside of this design is that in competition you will see jumps with single bars - the picture changes for the dog. The second problem is that for little dogs it might be that your ONLY bar is a fixed bar. There's a potential for injury if your dog can't displace the bar he's jumping over - but it's possible to teach your dog not to be careful BECAUSE they don't have to keep bars up - not to mention the safety factor of getting hung up on fixed bars.

My preference is to have separate jump standards (no fixed bar). These cost a little more ($65 from Affordable agility) but are worth it in terms of flexibility and ease of storage. The bases can be setup to "nest" along a wall in my garage - Very helpful for winter storage. I also have 4' and 5' jump bars and can use them interchangeably depending on where we're working. When I go out to the school I generally bring the 5' bars. When we're working in my smallish backyard I use 4' bars. You will need a 5-way PVC joint to build your own - which are available from Clean Run. I bought jump cup strips (also from clean run) which gives me 2" increments from 4" through 26". One of my students mentioned that they bought the same strips, but cut them in half for their terriers who will ultimately jump 16". They were able to use the other half on another set of jumps - essentially stretching one pair of jump strips over two jumps! The same could be done with larger dogs too - just mounting both halves at 16". Other options include single jump cups - which are fine if you never want to move jump heights, but aren't terribly accurate or practical if you're moving them up and down all the time.

If your preference is to buy pre-made jumps Affordable Agility and Max200 have some great options. You can also look for local agility trials - very often clubs rent equipment from an equipment vendor - and that vendor will sell the "gently used" equipment after the trial is finished. Especially for contact obstacles there's HUGE savings on shipping if you can take delivery at a trial, but even the equipment used only for the weekend (maybe 300 runs) will be discounted as much as 30%.

Tunnels can't be made and are relatively expensive. There are some less expensive fabric options, but know that they won't hold up like the competition tunnels. This is the time of year when Bed Bath and Beyond and The Christmas Tree Shop have collapasable hampers (for dorm rooms). Cut out the bottom and stitch a few together and you have a suitable practice tunnel. These hampers tend to be 18" in diameter which is smaller than a regulation tunnel - but for most dogs (those shorter than 20") they'll work well (in the initial learning phase) as a practice tunnel at home. Again, tunnels are a great thing to buy at a local trial as they are expensive (heavy) to ship - but will also fit in most personal autos.

If you don't have room for equipment - or can't decide what you want to buy - don't despair. There are always facility rentals where you can use all of the equipment for an hourly rental fee. At Waggles (for example) rentals require an annual membership - but can be booked several weeks out. You can plan for "Wednesday Afternoons" all year long to work what you need to work on that week.


Anonymous said...

Good evening

Awesome post, just want to say thanks for the share

Anonymous said...

Good point, though sometimes it's hard to arrive to definite conclusions

Anonymous said...

how are you?

Can I link to this post please?

Anonymous said...

Hi - I am certainly happy to find this. great job!