Agility and Your Dog

Have you seen dogs going through what look like obstacle courses on television?  The dogs and their handlers run through the course, trying to get the fastest time with the fewest errors.  That is called agility and it is a lot of fun for both the dog and the handler.

Agility was created in the late 1970s as something new for handlers to do with their dogs.  Dogs and handlers compete over a timed obstacle course.  A dog must do the obstacles in the order they are laid out and within the time set for the course.  The handler tells the dog where to go next on the course, and the dog’s job is to complete each of the obstacles as fast as he can go.

There are several agility groups with slightly different guidelines, such as the American Kennel Club and the United States Dog Agility Association (USDAA) but he rules are close enough that similar training methods work for each organization.

Agility teams advance from novice courses to advanced, with each level having more obstacles and a more complicated course.  At the novice level, courses include thirteen to fifteen obstacles and are generally pretty straight forward to navigate.  At the intermediate and advanced levels, courses average eighteen to twenty obstacles and can be very difficult to navigate successfully.

Each class of dogs is organized by height as determined by the size of the dog at the withers.  A small dog may jump only eight inches for the course, but a large dog may jump as many as twenty inches during each course.

The variety of obstacles on the courses is amazing.  Dogs may run up an A frame, through tunnels, over jumps, through weave poles, over a dog walk and across a teeter-totter.  The handler may not touch a dog during a run, but may use verbal commands, pointing, and body language to give the dogs orders on which obstacle to attack next and to encourage the dog to go as fast as possible through the course.

Dogs are scored on each run.  Knocking bars off of jumps, running through or over the wrong obstacle, or failing to perform an obstacle safely results in penalties.  Too many penalties and the dog is disqualified for that run.  Dogs that qualify on a run earn legs towards their titles.

Any healthy dog can play agility.  Some organizations, such as the American Kennel Club, allow only purebreds to run for titles, while other organizations, such as the North American Dog Agility Council (NADAC) allow any dog to compete and win.  Handlers either have to be healthy enough to run beside their dogs on the course or train their dogs to work farther away from them.  On any course you will see fast handlers, slow handlers, and disabled handlers.  You will see fast dogs and slow dogs.

Agility is an interesting sport that develops a tight bond between a dog and an owner.  For more information on agility and a copy of the rules for the sport, contact the American Kennel Club, the United States Dog Agility Association, or the North American Dog Agility Council.