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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I am a rescue dog person. I will probably always be a rescue dog person. (I have no interest in conformation showing, and most sports/competitions have mixed-breed divisions. I love the idea of giving a dog a second chance, and I love helping them work through their "issues". I see no evidence that a purebred is any better than a mutt in trainability, loyalty, affection, energy, or any other trait. And for a hundred more reasons, I just love rescue dogs.)

How can I best go about choosing a dog for an agility partner? Is there some kind of "test" I can apply to tell if the dog will have the right amount of drive, trainability, and, of course, energy? With a mix, I certainly can't rely too much on it's apparent breed mix to determine this. (Of course, if I get a dog and it turns out that it doesn't like agility, I'll love it all the same, but I'd really love to be able to do agility with a new dog.)

As a second question, I am also hoping to, at a later time, adopt a senior dog from a rescue. What are some things I could do to have fun with a senior dog/keep him happy while my other dog is doing agility?
 

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Are you talking about agility as a backyard hobby, earning titles, or competing?

I think any reasonably healthy shelter dog can do agility and earn titles. If you are looking for atypical high drive stuff... I mean, I can tell you what to look for but I can say even more about the behavior challenges that are likely attached.
 

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How serious do you want to be in agility? Want a steady pet that can title in local trials? Or do you want to make the national championships or world team? If it's the former, then look for chase drive, interest in playing with you, and ability to recover from being startled. Decent conformation is always good, since you don't want injuries. Matching angles front and rear, without excess angulation is best. Lean, lighter-bodied dogs typically make better agility dogs than blocky, heavy-bodied dogs. Think Corvette, as opposed to Hummer. If it's the latter, then a purpose-bred purebred or sport mix from a breeder who knows what they are producing is your best option.

Nosework is a great sport or casual activity for senior dogs.
 
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All I can add is what I said in another thread - an orthopedic surgeon once told me if you want to do Agility, your best bet is a border collie or a dog of that size and build. He didn't mention energy level and temperament - risk of injury was his field - but since so many bc's excel at Agility they're probably ideal all around. After that, I'd second what LeoRose said about good basic conformation.

While I've never done Agility, my experience in other events has led to a belief biddability and confidence are right up there in what you need. Independent dogs can do it, but it's much harder to motivate them. Agility supposedly increases confidence in shy dogs, but personally I'd rather not work with a dog that doesn't enjoy it from the get-go. It's supposed to be fun, right?

I'm not sure how you evaluate an adoption candidate for a sport unless you get the opportunity to foster to adopt. A dog can change so much in a different environment and with different handlers.
 

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I'd definitely read up on how to evaluate conformation. Some things are going to be obvious - long backs, angular limb deformities you get in breeds like bassets and bulldogs, back legs so straight that the dog doesn't appear to have knees, etc. But subtler issues involving the angulation of the shoulders and hips, whether the back is sloped or roached, etc. can also indicate weaknesses that make the dog prone to injury in an agility context. Some people suggest x-raying hips and elbows before even starting agility, but I think that's extreme if you're just doing it for fun. It is worth mentioning that, if these dogs are pain-free to begin with, even the ones with more extreme conformation issues often can 'do' agility if their handler is careful about modifying tasks that might be less safe, monitoring their problem areas, and not pushing too hard. Titling may be possible depending on the dog but high levels of competition are likely out.

If you're just doing agility for fun and maybe a title or two, I'd look for a small to medium dog with a pretty moderate structure, nothing too extreme in any direction, who seems engaged and eager to work with you. Breed rescues might be a great option too - they often take in mixes of their target breed as well, and if you're looking at breeds common in agility you might get lucky and have someone on staff at the rescue who can point you towards good prospects. But if you're thinking border collie, just read up on them you jump in. They're odd dogs, very sensitive, and very unforgiving of handler errors and unclear communication. While you see many doing well on the agility circuit, not all are able to succeed just because they're BCs, and while they're amazing dogs for some people and you'll meet plenty who will never own another breed, they're just not a good fit for everyone.

Seconding nosework and similar scent-based sports for dogs with physical limitations. Great option that gets you a lot of bang for your buck in terms of the amount of mental stimulation dogs get out of it for minimal physical exertion.
 

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Any somewhat active mixed breed will do. There are poodle mixes, Shi Tzu mixes, lab mixes, shepherd mixes, pit mixes, and Heinz 57s at our club. The vast majority seem to love it. My own dog is reportedly an Australian Shepherd/Collie/maybe lab mix (I call him a herding mutt) and he's good at it, he's fast, and he loves it. So, really, it depends on how serious you want to get and how good you want to be.

Your herding dogs are going to be your go-to breeds to look for. Border collies and mixes thereof are generally the top dogs at agility competitions. They are blazing fast and respond to a literal drop or raising of your shoulder. If I was going to gauge wether they have any drive for it or not, I would be rolling a ball on the floor for them and see how interested they are in chasing it. Their herding instinct often translates into a really excellent agility ability.

HOWEVER. Getting a herding breed from a rescue can be a gamble. SO MANY have "stranger danger" issues, reactivity issues, are afraid of men, or anxiety issues. So, they may be great and love to do agility at home or in a small group, but when they get into the hubbub of a trial, they shut down or perform like crap. My own dog is reactive and has stranger danger issues, but I lucked out incredibly because for some reason that all goes away when we do agility. He suddenly becomes a dog that gives not a fart about anything around him, handles dogs screaming at him and a loose dog ramming her nose up his butt, and actually shows interest in meeting new people because they might have a treat for him. BUT, because of his issues outside of the agility environment, it makes traveling or staying outside of our home for agility trials difficult.

There are also many herding dogs who are OUTSTANDING in practice where there are few people and little noise, but when they enter the trial environment they are far too overwhelmed and just completely shut down, or they become incredibly reactive and even dangerous.

So, in a nut shell, if you want to go with a herding breed from a rescue, I would choose either an adult with a set personality who has been in foster long enough for the foster to gauge their personality, or I would go with a reputable breeder who has consistently produced decent performance dogs and can assure me their dogs won't develop "stranger danger" and severe anxiety. There are even a number of breed specific rescues who have adult dogs that may have taken an agility class or two, or even already have titles.

I've also seen a number of really incredible lab/lab mixes who are both quick and accurate, but they are on the leaner, longer legged side of the lab spectrum. Small shepherd mixes are also some of the stand outs at trials. They are usually not particularly fast, but they clearly enjoy the game. Small terrier mixes are speedy little things who love the game, too, but their owners report they can be independent and sometimes just want to do their own thing.

If I were going into a shelter looking for an agility dog, I would avoid the Shi Tzu mixes or the small, independent companion type dogs. I've seen a number do agility, but I feel like their owners have to work really hard to keep them interested, and sometimes no matter how much encouragement they provide they end up wandering off. They generally seem to enjoy the game and are so fun to meet and play with outside the ring, but when they don't want to play the game...they don't!

As for games for your potential senior dog, depending on health, they do have "Preferred" in agility which allows the dog to jump 4 inches shorter than their required height based on their height measurement. So if your dog measures 23 3/4 inches tall and is supposed to jump 24 inches, they can jump 20 inches in preferred classes.

Rally or scent-work would also be options.
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
Thanks for all the suggestions everyone. I will look into more information on conformation for agility. And I had actually never thought of breed-specific rescues, thanks.
I currently have a BC mix, we think, although that could be very off- but based on her build and a lot of her behavior, that's our guess. (she actually resembles a Small Münsterländer, but given their rarity, probably not lol) So I do understand a bit about herding breed rescue pups- certainly not as much as I could, though...

Ideally, I would like to go to nationals- if the dog enjoys it enough, of course. AKC has a lot of mixed breeds competing in nationals, and that's where I'd like to get to if possible. I do realize that a reputable breeder is my best bet for getting to that level, but I am not really interested in a breeder pup.

@Lillith, thanks for the tips re: the senior. I will look into the preferred agility, as well as considering Rally/scentwork. And thanks for the warning on rescue herding breeds. I do plan on fostering before adopting, and the rescue near me is pretty good at telling you about potential temperament issues. Would you also be concerned about puppies? There's a BC mom there with some mixed pups currently that will be adoptable soon.
@Canyx, what were you meaning by the attached behavior problems? You mean just excessive energy, or something else?

And, are GSDs considered to be good at agility?
 

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Well if you want to go to Nationals then you are probably looking for high energy, medium sized, decent conformation, abundance of focused prey drive (ie, ball, tug).

It will be hard to find that kind of dog in a shelter or rescue. I won't go into specifics in a public forum, but generally speaking I have personally worked with organizations who look for those kinds of dogs for working purposes. And although they find that type of dog in shelters, it is more rare than you think. A shelter employee might think 'Oh we have those crazy dogs all the time! Let's send them to sport or working homes!' But the same qualities that make a dog an excellent agility dog also make them hard to succeed as a companion. High drive (that likely has already been channeled poorly), usually lack of an off switch, the tendency to never give up in trying to get what they want (whether appropriate or not) over arousal, usually some issue with other animals or dogs or people. Again, those dogs are out there. But it's not just a normal level of crazy or drive. And I can say from personal experience that the same qualities that make those dogs succeed at X task means you need to put a huge amount of effort into training the task, then 10x that amount of effort to teach that dog to succeed in normal society. In fact, I would be willing to bet money that if you find a dog of that caliber in a shelter, it will come with at LEAST one or more of the following behavior challenges: reactivity in the world, not good with strangers, not good with other dogs, inability to settle, anxiety. I don't mean to sound so pessimistic about it, and it doesn't mean it's not worth it to look for those dogs. I am absolutely pro-shelter and adoption. But it makes sense on a logical level... If a dog was that brilliant and capable and didn't have a quality that made it hard to succeed as someone's pet, it wouldn't be in a shelter to begin with.

If you were just looking for an agility dog to title on a hobby level, the pool widens significantly.
 

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It will be hard to find that kind of dog in a shelter or rescue.
It's not easy choosing a dog for that level of competition from purebred litters either from what I've seen. Not only breeders, but a lot of others, figure the wild and crazy puppy is the best working candidate. He has the energy level, right?

But that's not all there is to it. Lots of energy, yes, but the dog has to be willing to channel that to work with a person and be directed. He has to have the confidence to work in loud and busy venues, yet that confidence shouldn't overflow into independence. And he has to be tough-minded enough to persist through the frustration that comes when trying to learn things or working in less than ideal conditions.

One of the advantages to a puppy is you can choose carefully to start with, nurture their strengths and work to bolster weak areas. If you decide to really consider that BC mix litter, look into puppy aptitude tests like Volhard. Don't some organizations choose dogs to train for hearing assistance and things like drug detection from shelters?

And Kensi, don't let anything any of us say discourage you. Like everything else, people who persist at something they want succeed pretty often. Best of all, with dogs some of the small triumphs along the way stay in your mind bright and shining.
 

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@Lillith, thanks for the tips re: the senior. I will look into the preferred agility, as well as considering Rally/scentwork. And thanks for the warning on rescue herding breeds. I do plan on fostering before adopting, and the rescue near me is pretty good at telling you about potential temperament issues. Would you also be concerned about puppies? There's a BC mom there with some mixed pups currently that will be adoptable soon.
Yes, I would worry about puppies, too. The anxiety and fear issues with many herders are genetic and can't be completely snuffed with nurture alone. Their "sociability" with strangers or anxiety issues might not present in puppies. My own was a happy, love everybody puppy at 5 months (although always has been reactive), but at one year that changed into a dog with stranger danger even though he certainly did not lack for experiencing the occasional guest at our house and having neutral/good experiences with strangers, both inside and outside our home.

If you know who the parents of rescue puppies are and are able to meet them and both are quite friendly, that might change things, but because of my personal experience and the experience of others I know who have adopted rescue herders as puppies, I don't thing I'll ever do it again.
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
Thank you all for your advice! It's been very helpful, and I will definitely be cautious and remember what you've all said when choosing my dog/puppy.
 

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I am a rescue dog person. I will probably always be a rescue dog person. (I have no interest in conformation showing, and most sports/competitions have mixed-breed divisions. I love the idea of giving a dog a second chance, and I love helping them work through their "issues". I see no evidence that a purebred is any better than a mutt in trainability, loyalty, affection, energy, or any other trait. And for a hundred more reasons, I just love rescue dogs.)

How can I best go about choosing a dog for an agility partner? Is there some kind of "test" I can apply to tell if the dog will have the right amount of drive, trainability, and, of course, energy? With a mix, I certainly can't rely too much on it's apparent breed mix to determine this. (Of course, if I get a dog and it turns out that it doesn't like agility, I'll love it all the same, but I'd really love to be able to do agility with a new dog.)

As a second question, I am also hoping to, at a later time, adopt a senior dog from a rescue. What are some things I could do to have fun with a senior dog/keep him happy while my other dog is doing agility?
To be honest, I have no experience with agility dogs. I do, however , have lots of experience with senior dogs. I swear, they know when they have been rescued . From my experience , they love puzzle toys, sun puddles, and,depending on the breed or mix, they love scent games. Oh, and of course a comfortable couch .
 

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I compete in agility with Canine Partners. My first was a Pit Bull type dog. (she's almost 12 now) She LOVED agility, was super fast, but not good at tight turns. Being that she was pretty stocky (68lbs), I jumped her preferred.
My 2nd agility dog was abandoned at 6 weeks, we adopted her at 11 weeks. She was supposedly a Pit/Shepherd mix, but when she grew up, we saw more Golden/Boxer/Lab. She earned her MACH (Master Agility Champion) and was 39 points away from her MACH2 when I lost her to cancer last year. She also competed in rally earning her RAE title.
My current competition dog is a 6 year old mix, we're calling a Staffy/Rat. She's petite and FAST in class, but is scared of people so trials really bother her.
I've got 2 up and coming dogs, and when they start competition, she'll retire.
One is a Cattle Dog/Pit/Chihuahua and is almost 11 months, the other is an Aussie/Pit/Catahoula mix and will be 2 this month (just got her in November)
Size doesn't matter if you're wanting to go to Nationals, as dogs compete in their own height class.
I'd go for a leaner type dog with decent conformation.

As for senior dogs, rally, barn hunt, nose work, etc. in NADAC agility, they can jump 8" lower than their 'normal' height. So a dog that would normally jump 20" can jump 12".
 
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