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If you're looking for a new training opportunity for your pet, take a closer look at the world around you! It's time to incorporate environmental agility into your training sessions with your pet. What does environmental agility mean? Let's explain that with an example: a park bench.
While you may see this as just a a simple park bench, I see:
A new surface for your pet to navigate during a Sit or Down
A balance beam
A tunnel to crawl under
A spot to tuck
A hurdle (for bigger dogs/skilled jumpers)
Utilizing the environment around us opens up a whole new world of possibilities whenever we head outside with our pets. Retaining walls, landscaping boulders, stumps, logs... the world is full of obstacles for you and your pet to explore together!
Right about now is generally when someone says, "Ok, Laura, sure. My pet can do this with some coaching and guidance from me, but why should I make them interact with our environment like this?" Well, my friend, there's lots of reasons!
The more we ask our pets to do new things -- in a structured, positive way -- the bolder they become! If you teach your pet to navigate slippery surfaces now, it won't be so scary when they're on the stainless steel exam table at the vet or visiting a new building or camping at the cabin. Coaching your pet through new experiences helps them to build their confidence so that they easily navigate new environments and challenges when we need them to do so!
Environmental agility can also strengthen your relationship with your pet! When they weren't sure so sure about jumping over that log because they couldn't see what was on the other side, you told them it would be ok. You coached them through it. When they finally jumped over it, they landed firmly on the ground (no jumping into the jaws of death today!). Each time you guide your pet through something like this, you are showing them that they can trust your assessment and leadership. Plus, it's just plain fun! If you have a pet that loves to jump and run, environmental agility is probably going to become one of your favorite things to do together.
Do you have a large dog that plows into everyone like a bulldozer? Do you sometimes question if your dog even knows that they are also in control of their hind end? Environmental agility can challenge your dog to move each part of their body independently and to bend and twist in new ways. The more obstacles your pet is able to navigate, the more aware of their entire body they'll become. Some great environmental challenges for body awareness include walking your dog through a ladder that's laying on it's side and getting a sit or down from your dog on a small stump or in a box.
Therapy Animal Work
Environmental agility is a great way to prepare your pet (and you!) for your work as a therapy animal-handler team. When visiting a new facility, your pet may need to walk on new surfaces, encounter elevators, and maybe even place their front feet on a stool to be easier to reach for petting. Working through environmental agility obstacles in your free time will help prepare your pet for their next adventure!
Using your environment doesn't have to be all about agility either! Shopping at a pet-friendly store? It's a great opportunity to boost your pet's confidence near wheeled objects like shopping carts! At a park with a stretch of straight, paved sidewalk? What a great opportunity to work on heeling or loose leash walking! When you take in your environment with your mind on training, you'll be discovering new opportunities to proof your training, boost your pet's confidence, and prepare for other adventures each and every day!
A note about using benches, picnic tables, etc for Environmental Agility:
Please be kind and responsible pet people when looking for opportunities for environmental agility. If your pet's paws are muddy, it's probably best to stuck to stumps and rocks instead of getting mud where others may sit. I generally try to avoid picnic tables and benches in busy areas so we don't disrupt people around us. Walking through your neighborhood? Be respectful of others yards! But if you have a neighbor with some retaining walls that could be a fun balance beam course... it never hurts to ask if you can try it out sometime! Remember to follow leash laws when you're tackling agility with your pets... it will help improve your leash handling and communication anyway!