Disclaimer: This DIY Backyard Agility Course is not training or preparation for competitive agility. The equipment and techniques are for fun and mental stimulation.
- Are you looking for something fun to do with your dog?
- Need to work on some commands but obedience is boring?
- Have a reactive or fearful dog that needs to gain some confidence?
- Need some fun outdoor/backyard fun for your dog?
- Looking for some interactive mental stimulation?
Backyard Agility may be the answer! If nothing else it is fun for you and your dog. Agility builds bonding, communication and makes you laugh at yourself and your dog!
Perfection is NOT the goal here. FUN is the goal!
- 6 – 4 – 5ft Garden Stakes $0.99 each at Menards
(I bought 10 stakes just in case)
In hindsight, I would buy the 4 ft stakes so I could reach over them when luring.
- 6 – Pool Noodles $0.97 each at Walmart
In hindsight, I would buy 6 more noodle slip over weave stakes to provide some safety with the large size of my dogs and then I could use shorter garden stakes.
- 4 Hula Hoops $5.97 each at Walmart
(I saw some at Dollar Tree but they were gone when I went back)
- 4 Orange Cones 2 for $1.00 at Dollar Tree
- Old Twin size flat sheet – Spring cleaning my linen closet
- Sturdy square Laundry basket, rectangle or circle could work too just must be heavy duty if you have big dogs
- Velcro cable ties
- Fence posts, Clothesline poles or extra garden stakes to attach Hula Hoops to
- My total purchases for this current course were $45.
I set up my weave poles first in the flattest section of my yard and spaced them about 24” apart. You can also space them the width of your lawn mower so you can easily mow around them. I have big dogs so I wanted to make them wide enough they could weave easily. All of the agility standards I looked at mention 22” – 24” with most stating 24” with a minimum of 6 poles and maximum of 12. I would stick with 6 until your dog is really good and built up the strength and confidence to do more.
Ultimately you should stay on one side and use the “Weave” command and your hand to lure the dog around each pole. The first pole should be on the dog’s left. Ideally your weave poles will allow you to lure and shape the dog’s path with one hand/arm.
Note: My poles in my DIY Backyard Agility course are too tall so my luring is not very fluid. In hindsight, I would purchase 4ft garden stakes and additional noodles to slip over the poles making them safter to leave in my backyard so my dogs (Newfoundlands, Bloodhound/Mastiff and Chesapeake Bay Retriever mix) don’t get hurt on them when they are roughhousing.
I set up these four cones in a square just far enough apart for my dogs to be able to do two figure-8’s around them with me ideally standing in the middle using the “Around” and luring the dog in a large tear drop shape around the cone making sure your lure path is large enough so the dog’s back legs follow the same path around the cone as the front legs and they do not knock over or step over the cone.
Lay 3-4 noodles on the ground so the dog has to pick up their paws and step over each noodle. The distance between noodles will depend on the size of your dog. I like to have each noodle with the same spacing but you can change the spacing to have them go from distance where one paw touches the ground between each noodle or maybe multiple paws or strides between. This is a good way to have the dog work on their back leg awareness as most dogs are quite conscious of their front paws but not so much of where their back paws land.
Lay another 3 or 4 noodles on the ground wider apart and have the dog walk with you in a serpentine at your side. This is a great exercise for practicing loose leash walking and having your dog match your pace and direction.
You can vary the length and width of the serpentine to change it up and vary the difficulty. You can add more noodles or different patterns to also increase difficulty and add variety.
Hula Hoop Side-by-Side
I used one velcro cable strip to secure two Hula Hoops to the post of my clothesline. I have the Hula Hoops resting on the ground so there is no jump at this point just going through away from me and then back to me.
I use the “Through” command and again lure them through the first hoop with my hand from the backside. It is a bit awkward but put your hand with the treat over the top of the hoop and then stick your hand back through the hoop to the dog’s nose. Using the treat in your hand, lure the dog through the hoop. Mark and Reward. Then use another treat to lure the dog in a half circle to the second hoop. With a new treat, stick your hand through the hoop to the dog’s nose and lure the dog “Through” the hoop back to you.
I used a laundry basket and since I have big dogs they can’t get on it and sit so I just had them stand with front feet on it and hold for 5 seconds. You can use any sturdy box that is large enough for your dog to stand on with 2 paws or ideally large enough for them to jump on top and sit or lay down for 5 seconds. Make sure the box is stable, does not wobble too much and strong enough to hold their weight for 5 or more seconds.
I use the “Up Up” command and lure them with a treat. This is a harder command so you may need to start with something not quite as tall as the laundry basket and work your way up in height. Table height should be very low for puppies and seniors. Competitive agility tables adjust to heights, such as 8″, 12″, 16″, 20″, and 24″ or 26″.
Tunnel or Chute
Tunnels can be quite expensive, especially if you have big dogs. If you have a little dog, you can often find kid’s fabric tunnels very inexpensively at second hand children stores. I was able to craft a short tunnel with 2 hula hoops, an old twin flat sheet, velcro strips and my fence. I velcroed each hula hoop to the fence and then draped my sheet over the top. If you have some duct tape you could tape the sheet so it stays taut and doesn’t slide off. I am still working on my tunnel so will try that next time.
You could also use a longer sheet or 2 sewn together to make a chute which is much harder for most dogs as they can’t see an exit. Maybe in Part 2 I will figure out how to create that and teach my dogs to go through a chute. Tunnels are the best place to start.
I like starting with a short tunnel like my handmade one as it is easier to build up their confidence. You may even want to start without the fabric covering and just get them to go through the 2 hoops. Then add the fabric and try to keep the line of sight open through the tunnel. I drop treats inside the tunnel and then call and lure from the backside. You can use a Wait command at the start to get them to Wait at the front of the tunnel while you get positioned to the backside to lure them through. I use the command “Tunnel” and direct/lure like I am tossing or pointing inside the tunnel and then put my hand and treat on the exit side of the tunnel.
Overview video of the course using the equipment listed.
Here are videos of 2 of my dogs and 1 of my clown on their first attempt at this backyard agility course. Guess who the clown is???