Episode 22: All About Dog Agility with Special Guest Julia Luxemburger

Corey McCusker  00:03
Hello dog lovers and welcome to Muttz with Mannerz™ Canine Academy Podcast, where we’ll share dog training tips and educational information to help you raise your pup, young or old, so they can be a loving part of your family and your community for life. I’m your host, Corey McCusker, Canine Coach. And today I’m very excited to have with me, Julia Luxemburger, dog trainer and agility competitor. Let me tell you a bit about our guest today, Julia Luxemburger. Julia is the head trainer at Uxbridge Canine Academy. For as long as Julia can remember, she had a passion for animals. She spent most of her life training animals in one way or another. During her childhood, she was involved in the equine industry – training, riding, and working with horses. This broadened her knowledge of behavior and body language as a means of communication, not only with horses, but with all animals, eventually leading her to a career in dog training. She furthered her education in university, obtaining a Bachelor of Science in Zoology. Julia travelled lots in order to work with a variety of animals. She built her knowledge not only in behavior, but in communication with animals and people too. Following University she became an ESL teacher to learn the tools used to educate people. After having a good basis in teaching, she continued her education and became a certified dog trainer through Animal Behavior College. She founded Uxbridge Canine Academy in 2020, which was formerly the D-Lux Canine Training Academy, which was originally founded in 2017. And she’s been teaching her clients how to build a lasting bond with their canine companions ever since. Julie is a member of several associations including the Canadian Association of Professional Dog Trainers, Agility Association of Canada, UK Agility International, and Canadian Association of Rally Obedience. Julia competes regularly in Rally Obedience and Agility with her Border Collie, Aspen. Julia was the 2019 and 2021 West Regional Champions in the 24 division and placed 9th at the National Championships in 2019. She was also an alternative for the Canadian National Agility team in 2022. Julie is currently working towards becoming an Agility Association of Canada Judge and has taken on the role of Regional Director for Ontario West through the Agility Association of Canada. Welcome, Julia.

Julia Luxemburger  02:44
Good morning, and thanks for having me, Corey. It’s great to be here. 

Corey McCusker  02:47
Great to have you. And how I actually met Julia was, I have my wonderful dog Skye, which many of you have heard about on my other podcasts. And Skye is very active, very smart, and very agile. And I wanted to dabble in competition with her. So I had started taking some agility classes and then I really wanted to get serious. And I was told to go to Julia if I was going to be serious. And that’s how I ended up there. We’re going to be talking about agility, and what I want to actually do is just talk about what is it, and how did it become a sport? Because some of you listening, you might not even know what agility is. And once we tell you, you may be very interested in it. So when and where did dog agility begin? The sport of dog agility as we know it today, is one of the largest canine activities in the world. But it wasn’t always the case. What we now recognize as agility was in the beginning, a form of entertainment. And it began at the world famous Crufts Dog Show. In 1978. The Crufts agility demonstration was held in February, and in the main ring, and what it was really doing was it was scheduled to entertain the crowd in between the completion of obedience championships, and the start of group judging on the conformation shows, the show dogs. And the demonstration consisted of two teams of four dogs, and the owners came out and they were dressed in these team tracksuits. And then the event was created for fun. And it was really to test the dog’s ability on how it can maneuver through several obstacles, and it was timed, so it was against the clock. The obstacles included jumps, tunnels, dog walks, a pause table, where they had to pause for five seconds, and the judge was timing it. And there was also poles involved that they had to weave through at a certain speed. So the reaction from the crowd was just – they just loved it. They thought it was so exciting, and that is how agility was born. So Julia, I want you to share your experience, and we heard about your journey, how you worked with horses, and then got really into learning about, you know, not only communication and behavior, but also the whole canine world. And obviously, the agility world really has captured your passion, or is your passion. So can you just share with us your experience and journey with agility and how you got started?

Julia Luxemburger  05:28
Absolutely. I decided to become a dog trainer because I love animals so much. And for that, well, I needed a dog. So I already knew how to teach obedience, but I wanted to work around other dogs and work through distractions. So I actually became a student through Good as Gold Canine School in Mount Albert, not too far away from where I live. And once I was through my obedience training, then I kind of shifted to agility. Being a long-time equestrian show jumper, I instantly became hooked in the sport of agility, because it’s basically the same kind of thing, except instead of being on a horse, you’re running beside a dog, doing the same kind of things, jumping over things. Of course, in the horse world, we don’t go through tunnels or over A-Frames. but within a year of doing obedience and doing agility I started competing in the Rally obedience and the agility world. After getting some foundation in the agility world, I’m constantly continuing my education and doing lots and lots and lots of research. I finally started to have the confidence enough to be able to teach agility. It became evident that I had a pretty good knack for not only teaching the sport but also seeing where improvements could be made through the dogs, through the handlers as well. And basically been teaching almost exclusively agility ever since.

Corey McCusker  06:44
So yeah, and that’s where I’m taking your classes. And I can see that you definitely have the knowledge about the technique, about the body, and everything else. And you know, with myself at Muttz with Mannerz™, we have the fun with agility. And how I actually became interested in it, I had a Maltese. And my Maltese, Fred, was wonderful. He was so obedient. And I want it to kind of just see, okay, what’s this agility all about? So we took an introduction course. Fred was good. He liked it. But Fred also liked being a demo in the class whenever I was teaching. So Fred didn’t really like being a student. And he would just have fun. He kind of, he was always a jokester, but he’d be like in the middle of the tunnel, and then he’d just sit and say, I’m not coming out. So I’m like, okay, you know what? Fred’s not going to be my agility dog. So I ended up looking online and watching and seeing what dogs were great. And I noticed that the poodles were doing very well. So I was working at a vet clinic at that time. And I kind of thought, Okay, I’m going to start looking for a poodle. And I always rescue, so I’m always looking for, you know, dogs that need homes. And I went to work one day, and they said, the vet was kind of saying, Oh, I don’t know what to do, this poodle just got dropped off, and the owners can’t take care of it, and they want us to euthanize it. And I’m not going to do that, because it’s a perfectly healthy dog. And I said, What did you say, that we have a poodle here today that needs a home? And so I ended up going and seeing Cleo in a little cage that she was at, and she gave me a kiss on my face. And I said, you’re coming home with me and she became my agility dog. Now we only did you know, fun. We never did any competition. But she was just awesome – and with our Fun with Agility classes, she was always our demo. And it just, I really enjoyed it. I didn’t have the time then to do any competition. But yeah, it was great. So, I talked about Fred there and then I talked about how great Cleo was. So can you touch on, can any dog, any age, become an agility dog?

Julia Luxemburger  08:50
Absolutely. Over the years, I’ve worked with a whole variety of dogs from Shih Tzus to Commodores. Of course, some dogs are better fitted to running agility, a better body physique for running that. However, there’s so many benefits to running agility regardless of the breed of your dog, the age of your dog. A big part of it is continued obedience – working on stays, working on recalls, understanding body language so you can communicate with your dog better, building confidence and life skills, getting them physical, and especially mental exercise. And of course, the most important part is being able to have fun with your dog. Foundations in agility – they can start very, very early at almost any age, however, doing full contact equipment, jumping, regular jump heights, they don’t begin until well after a year of age, just to make sure everything is safe for the dog. When it comes to the age of the dog or the age of the people, actually, some dogs just can’t continue in competition. They’ve gotten too old, they’ve gotten too stiff. So a new sport of agility has actually come forth to Canada. It’s called Hoopers, and this is especially good for older dogs and older handlers. It’s nice straight lines. There’s no contact equipment. Tunnels are short. There’s no actual jumps the dogs go over. It’s more of a distance thing. But it’s really, really fun way to be able to continue that bond, regardless of the handlers age or the dog’s age.

Corey McCusker  10:12
Yeah, I’ve just heard about the Hoopers. It was suggested to me, but I’m not ready to say I’m old yet. And I know Skye’s not old yet. So that’s where I’m just going to keep going. And that’s where you say about fun. I know too when, especially I can even relate to myself is, I want to do everything perfect. I mean, I’m a trainer. So I want to do it all right. And you always remind me when I’m getting frustrated with Skye, because most of the time I’m the one making the errors, not my dog, because of the body language and various things. So it’s really about making sure that you’re having fun. That you take a break if you’re getting too frustrated, or whatever. But no, it’s so great. 

Julia Luxemburger  10:51

Corey McCusker  10:52
And I can just, I know my dog just loves it. She just, it’s she’s all in. So, I’m just so happy that I’m doing that with her. And it really does build our bond. You mentioned about the benefits, there’s so many. Can you just touch on, we talked about building the bond, what are some of the other benefits? 

Julia Luxemburger  11:10
Absolutely. So one of the main ones I actually find and a lot of reasons why people come to me to work through agility is actually the physical and especially the mental exercises that the dogs get. So although we’re only doing maybe a few obstacles at a time, we really work our bodies, and especially our mental faculties in order to be able to present the obstacles properly to the dog. And then on top of that, the dogs get a lot of mental exercise as well, where most of the time after they’re done class, they are exhausted. The continuation of obedience, recall, especially is important. Having your dog being able to listen to your body language, listen to your voice. A lot of dogs come to me with lack of confidence, and agility also really, really builds up confidence, and life skills as well. There’s a whole lot of life skills that we don’t even consider with being able to get on something, get off something safely as well. The continued bond, of course, that we’ve just talked about many times between the dog and the handler. If your dog’s not listening to, you come to agility, and after a few months, your dog starts paying a lot more attention to you than they used to. As we also talked about a lot of foundation skills – our stays, our recalls, our focus forward, turning, shifting our weight, and that’s all done through our body language as well. 

Corey McCusker  12:26
Yeah. It’s fascinating when you say, the mental side of it, not only is Skye exhausted when we’re done, I’m exhausted, because there’s so many things that you do have to think about. But it’s just, it’s just such a great sport. And it really does have so many benefits. You know, I’m starting out this journey to the competition world with Skye. And I know I’ve listened to you in our classes, and we’ve talked about various things with the agility. And I just know the commitment regarding the time and dedication is so important to excel and to reach your goal. And so for owners thinking of starting agility, or even competing, what should they know? Or what should they be considering or thinking about?

Julia Luxemburger  13:09
Well, it usually takes at least a year of basic agility training before you are a dog are ready to even think about competing. As we have said before, a lot of agility foundations can be taught at a young age. So going home and being able to focus on some of this stuff without needing any equipment, and that’s some of the stuff that I send my students home with for homework where you don’t need to go out and you don’t need to buy agility equipment. You just need a few household objects at home that you can work around, being able to teach your dog paying attention to your body language. Of course, it’s a little bit easier if either the handler or the dog has some background experience in agility. That being said, as we’ve talked about, before any dog, any person can do this. It just takes time.

Corey McCusker  13:55
Now would you say it’s wise for a dog to do obedience training even before they do the agility? Because that’s what we kind of suggest. 

Julia Luxemburger  14:05
Most definitely. I actually start with an assessment before I take on any agility students to see where they are at when it comes to just basic obedience, having an understanding of canine communication as well. So obedience is definitely a big, big, big part of it. Just having those few basic obedience skills like your recall, like a sit stay, all of that stuff is pretty important.

Corey McCusker  14:28
Yeah, it’s so true. And with us too, we also you know, some people will get excited if we bring out the jumps and we bring out you know, the A-Frames which is where they go up and down and they want their dogs to do it. Let’s just go right to like a 12 high, I mean, that’s a certain height. And I’m like, you know, let’s start them off easy. Let’s just make sure . . .  And I think maybe that’s something, you know, we talked about – any age any dog, but is there a conditioning piece that you have to kind of think about when you’re doing these sports?

Julia Luxemburger  15:03
It’s a good idea. Certainly, just like with any sport, any athlete, there should be consistent conditioning. Warm ups and cooldowns are also really, really important as well. But that being said, I have a lot of students, a lot of people that I’ve known in the past who just kind of do it for fun. And you know, they don’t really pay attention to the conditioning, pay attention to the warmups, cooldowns. It’s all for fun, you’re just running in circles, sending your dog over some equipment. It’s not the end of the world if they don’t have a conditioning, or warm up cooldown routine, as long as it is safe. That’s the most important thing as well.

Corey McCusker  15:35
And I think I’m going to have you back for another podcast because I would love to dive into more of it that warm up and the conditioning of the dogs, because I know there’s lots that we can do, but we’ll save that for another time. 

Julia Luxemburger  15:44
For sure. 

Corey McCusker  15:45
So any of you listening, if you want it to get started, what I’d suggest is do a fun class like we have at Muttz with Mannerz™, we’ve got our, Fun with Agility. I also think if you are wanting if you get into it, loving it and you want to find a trainer that can definitely help you go to that competition level or even get more involved in the agility, is I would definitely say go to a training facility like Julia has or if you’re even in the Uxbridge area, go to Julie because she’s got a great facility. And she’s a great teacher. I am definitely going to say that because she’s been teaching me and I’m a teacher of dogs too. So I love that I’m learning more. So Julia, is there any final things that we should be touching on in regards to the agility that we might not have mentioned? 

Julia Luxemburger  16:31
Keep in mind your goals, the age of the dog, and the handler, of course, is also important. I have a few young students who are actually, they’re called Junior Handlers, who are getting ready to compete as well. So again, that can be any age for the most part. Ultimately, it’s always about having fun with your dog, regardless of whether you want to compete or not. It’s a fun way of continuing your bond, of course, getting your physical, mental exercise, communicating with your dog, which you know, they don’t speak English, they speak association. So if we can find a way to communicate easily and readily with our dog, it’ll just make both your and their lives so much easier. Remember, if you’re interested in agility or not, training your dog is a lifetime commitment and it does not stop at just six months old. So keep up with that training, regardless of what kind of training you’re doing. Just keep at it.

Corey McCusker  17:20
Yeah, that’s so true. I really reinforce it. And I think too, the more that you can do with your dog, that bond, it just helps them plus the physical and the mental side, you know, that’s where they really need it. So with agility, would you say there’s any risk?

Julia Luxemburger  17:37
Yes, most definitely avoiding them too young  – especially when it comes to doing certain obstacles. Jumping too high when you’re too young. It’s also important, like we talked about to develop some kind of conditioning routine, not that you have to, but it’s a good mindset to get into. Just like with us, as human athletes, we need to stretch our muscles, we need to have some kind of routine, whether it’s a warm up/cooldown, we never want to force our dogs. We’re trying to build competence rather than take that competence away. This also goes for human handlers too. We want to be able to warm ourselves up, make sure that we don’t stretch any muscles, pull any muscles. And sometimes it can be an emotional roller coaster, especially if you’re working towards competition. Ring stress is a big thing. So making sure that you can keep your emotions in check so your dog doesn’t shut down as well. And it takes away all that fun if you neither one of you are having fun. 

Corey McCusker  18:30
Yeah, so true. And I know that the dogs pick up on all of our energy, so getting that in check is definitely important. Well, thank you so much for sharing the knowledge and spending the time with me today, Julia. And thanks to all of those listening. And if you are interested in agility, definitely explore what options are available in your community. If you would like more information about Julia and the Uxbridge Canine Academy, please visit her website, www.uxbridge, u-x-b-r-i-d-g-e, canineacademy.com And we’ll also make sure it’s provided in our show notes. We’ll also provide you with the link to the video of the first agility competition. And I just want to say thank you to everyone that was joining us today. Thanks, Julia, for spending the time with us today and I look forward to my future classes and competitions with you.

Julia Luxemburger  19:30
I look forward to that as well, Corey. 

Corey McCusker  19:32
All right, great. If you are interested in more about Muttz with Mannerz™, please visit our website, www.muttzwithmannerz.com. If you are interested in hearing about a topic on our podcast, please email us at, info@muttzwithmannerz.com. Thanks everyone for listening, and have a great day.

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