Dog agility is an exhilarating dog sport where each participating dog must complete an obstacle course of tunnels, tires, weave poles, seesaws and jumps as quickly and accurately as possible off leash.
You must direct your dog through the obstacles in the correct sequence without touching your dog or the obstacles and without the use of treats. Your dog must rely entirely on your verbal cues and body language for guidance.
Dog agility is exciting for participants and spectators alike. It is obvious that the dogs relish the sport. They can pounce through the weave poles faster than you’d believe possible, and it’s heartening to see the close bond between dog and handler when the course is complete.
Benefits of Dog Agility
- Dog agility is incredible exercise for both you and your dog.
- It also requires strong communication skills, which forges a deep relationship between you.
- All breeds and sizes can participate in dog agility, including mixed breeds. But some breeds are naturally more suited to agility than others.
Is Dog Agility Right for You and Your Dog?
Agility requires a sharp mind, an eagerness to please, and a lot of energy. If your dog loves to run and learn, she will likely thrive on agility. A few breeds you will constantly see winning agility competitions are working dogs such as the Border Collie, Jack Russell, Australian Shepherd, Shetland Sheepdogs, Australian Kelpie and German Shepherd but also some unexpected breeds such as the Standard poodle, Papillon, Pembroke Welsh corgi and the Rat terrier.
Dachshunds will have trouble clearing the jumps and this activity won’t do his back any good. Great Danes don’t have the high energy required to dash through the course. The brachycephalic (short-snouted) dog breeds such as the Bulldog might have trouble breathing. Read about the signs of heat stroke and how to keep your dog cool. Breathing troubles are also exaggerated if dogs become overweight.
As with dogs, not all humans are suitable for dog agility. Training will require your patience, perseverance, persistence and daily commitment. But you will soon find that the rewards are well worth it!
To be eligible for competitions your dog must be older than 15 months, be registered to compete, be spayed or neutered and be up-to-date with vaccinations.
Dog Agility Training
Before you start agility training, it is a good idea to teach your dog the basic commands first – sit, heel, down, stay. Once you have established these foundations, sign up with a dog agility class. You and your dog will be introduced to the various obstacle types and taught communication techniques so that you can guide your dog through the obstacle course. Be prepared to attend once a week for about an hour.
It is important to practice from home between classes for at least 15 - 20 minutes each day. You could improvise an obstacle course with objects from home. Some equipment, such as the tunnel, is collapsible and easy to store between practice sessions. Weave poles are also easy to store. If you opt for some DIY agility equipment rather than purchased equipment, be sure to build them according to the specifications in your country. For the USA this is the American Kennel Club regulations (in chapter 3) and for the European Union it is European regulations (in section C).
Take your time in the beginning to allow you and your dog to get accustomed to the sport. Incentives such as healthy treats can help in the beginning but are not permitted in competitions so they should eventually be replaced with voice and body commands.
Dog Agility Equipment
Building a dog agility obstacle course is a bit like building a playground for your dog. If you don’t have your own yard, you can set a course in a nearby park, dismantling it after each practice. Here are some common obstacles.
- Tunnel – A flexible tunnel about 2 ft (60 cm) wide and 10 – 20 feet (3 – 6 m) long through which the dog runs.
- A-Frame – two ramps that meet at a peak in the middle. The bottom part of the ramp is painted a bright color to mark the contact zone – where the dog must place at least one paw while ascending and descending.
- Dog Walk –three planks, one ascending, the center one flat, the last descending so that they form a sort of plateau. This has contact zones marked on the ascending and descending planks.
- Seesaw – A 10 to 12 foot (3 to 4 m) plank that pivots from a fulcrum (you know, a seesaw!) with brightly painted contacts zones at each end. The dog must run up the seesaw and as it tips, run down the other side.
- Jumps – broad jumps are wide planks the dog must jump across, tire jumps are hanging tires that the dog must jump through, panel are solid panels (like a wall) that a dog must jump, and hurdles are horizontal beams.
- Pause Table – an elevated platform onto which the dog must jump and pause for a designated period of time, normally 5 seconds.
- Weave Poles – a series of evenly spaced poles through which the dog weaves. The dog must always enter with the first pole to his left and not skip any. For many dogs, weave poles are the most difficult obstacles to master.
Dog Agility Competition
If your dog does well with agility, you could find yourself having so much fun that you want to take it to the next level and compete. Dogs are put into groups for competitions in order to give them a fair chance – the small dogs compete against other small dogs, experienced dogs compete against other experienced dogs, beginners against beginners and so on.
Agility Rules and Faults
Each organization has its own rules but some common rules and faults include:
- Missing the contact zone.
- Knocking a bar from a jump.
- Refusal to attempt an obstacle.
- Skipping weave poles or entering incorrectly.
- Off course – not taking the obstacles in their correct order.
- The handler touching a dog or obstacle.
History of Dog Agility
In the late 1970s the organizers of the Crufts dog show in the United Kingdom decided to liven things up a bit during the intermission between dog shows so that the audience was not staring at an empty oval. They had dogs run an obstacle course similar to the ones used in horse jumping. This intermission entertainment was such a hit that it became a competition in its own right.
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