Small Dogs and Agility: Why It’s a Better Fit Than Many Realize!

When people think of agility, they often picture Border Collies or Australian Shepherds; not Chihuahuas or Havanese. Even when I was trialing with my Shepherd mix, Stark, I would always see the vast majority of dogs at trials jumping in the top jump height category and only one or two brave little dogs in the 4" group.

Small dogs can be just as speedy, smart, and eager to learn as bigger dogs! 

Downsizing in Agility: Offering Agility Classes for Small Dogs 

When I first had the idea to offer an agility class specifically for small breed dogs, it was mainly just a way to keep small dogs and their owners interested and engaged with training. It was also a fantastic way to keep the littles active throughout our harsh winters here in the North (I teach training classes in Ontario, Canada!).

My class here filled with a variety of small dog breeds — Yorkies, Poodles, Frenchies, and an adorable array of mixed breed dogs — and it quickly became clear that not only were these dogs (and their owners) having fun…but they were pretty good at agility too!

Some clients with small dogs felt intimidated by attending a class with larger or more 'traditional' breeds for agility, or as if agility classes were 'not for them' until they saw the success of our up-and-coming Small Dog Agility group.

When I taught my first Small Dog Agility class, I didn't even have a small dog of my own. Little did I know I would soon be training to compete with Nuggy, my feisty little Chihuahua mix rescued from a Reservation in Northern Ontario! We didn't get to compete this year due to COVID restrictions, but we will be out there at trials with the big dogs soon enough.

Lessons from Training (and Competing!) with Small Dogs in Agility 

From coaching others with their little dogs, to training my own tiny tornado, I've learned a few key things:

Small dogs are challenging in their own way. The world can be big and scary when you're only 8" tall! Agility became a great way to build confidence in many different areas. For example, body awareness exercises are an important part of agility foundations. Going through different exercises to increase their body awareness and spatial awareness can help smaller dogs feel confident about everyday tasks like going up or down the stairs, jumping up on the couch for a cuddle, or using a ramp to get up on the bed.

Agility training can help reduce barking! Training the foundations for obstacles like the teeter/see-saw includes desensitization to noises and movement that little dogs are notoriously known for barking about. Confidence building with different sounds and strange movements can decrease barking at every little thing around the house or on walks, making life more enjoyable for both the dog and the humans!

In addition to what the dogs get out of the class, the humans gain new knowledge and skills as well. Handling and running an agility course with a little dog required me to adapt in order to help guide her through the obstacles smoothly. A small dog's line of sight is different than a taller dog and that meant adjusting my footwork and other body language cues to give her the friendliest, fastest path possible.

If competition is the goal, small dogs are welcome in any agility venue. Jump heights are often as low as 4" tall for the smallest dogs to reduce strain on their tiny bodies, and contact obstacles like the A-frame are sometimes lowered for small dogs as well. There is even a venue specifically for Teacup dogs with miniature obstacles.

In a time where small dogs can be seen as fashion accessories or 'untrainable' yapping machines, people can fail to see that they are smart, capable animals who enjoy all the same enriching activities as a dog 5 times their size! Small dogs deserve more than just a walk around the block now and then. Training for a sport like agility can be motivation for us as small dog owners to set goals for fitness, enrichment, and socialization to give our little ones a well rounded and fulfilling life with us.

E201: Nicole Wiebusch - "Beyond the Backyard"
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