AGILITY: AN EX­CIT­ING DOG SPORT

Observer on Saturday - - Analysis & Opinion -

og agility is a timed ob­sta­cle course through which each dog races un­der the guid­ance of a han­dler. The sport is grow­ing in pop­u­lar­ity be­cause it’s great fun for han­dlers and dogs and has many ben­e­fits. Dog and han­dler get out­door ex­er­cise to­gether; it en­cour­ages pos­i­tive train­ing tech­niques and per­haps most im­por­tant, agility train­ing in­creases self-con­fi­dence and is use­ful as a ther­a­peu­tic tool for in­se­cure or fear­ful dogs.

DAgility equip­ment

The ob­sta­cle course con­sists of a stan­dard set of equip­ment, which varies in com­plex­ity and or­der. Equip­ment in­cludes two tun­nels, a see­saw, weave poles, a va­ri­ety of jumps, a pause ta­ble, and sev­eral “con­tact ob­sta­cles.” In com­pe­ti­tion, dogs and their han­dlers ne­go­ti­ate through a se­ries of ob­sta­cles; the win­ner is the dog that com­pletes this ob­sta­cle course fastest, with the fewest er­rors.

Where dogs are re­quired to place at least one foot on the ob­sta­cle, the con­tact zone is painted yel­low and is well-bal­anced for the dogs’ safety as they run on or off. All con­tact sur­faces are de­signed to pro­vide good trac­tion in all kinds of weather. Bars are eas­ily dis­placed in case the dog mis­judges while leap­ing over the ob­sta­cle.

Con­tact ob­sta­cles in­clude:

A-Frame: dogs must run up one side and down the other.

Dog Walk:dogs must as­cend, walk along a nar­row plat­form and de­scend at the other end.

See-Saw: dogs must bal­ance as they cross from one end to the other of a con­trap­tion that looks like a chil­dren’s see­saw.

Two hor­i­zon­tal tun­nels: dogs must run through an en­closed, nar­row space.

Jumps: th­ese in­clude bar-type ob­sta­cles and a tire jump.

Weave poles: th­ese are a se­ries of poles set into the ground. The dog must en­ter to the right of the first pole and zigzag through them with­out miss­ing any poles.

Pause ta­ble or box: here the dog must jump up, lie down and stay for five sec­onds un­til the han­dler gives a ver­bal com­mand to con­tinue his run.

Com­pe­ti­tions

The or­der and ar­range­ment of ob­sta­cles varies with each com­pe­ti­tion. The judge es­tab­lishes a “Stan­dard Course Time” (SCT) for each com­pe­ti­tion, within which the course must be com­pleted. Dogs are en­tered onto cour­ses which are ap­pro­pri­ate to their size and ex­pe­ri­ence level. Penal­ties are scored if a dog knocks down a bar over a jump, misses the painted con­tact zones while jump­ing on or off equip­ment or skips or breaks the se­quence of ob­sta­cles. A dog will also be pe­nal­ized for ex­ceed­ing the course time.

Han­dlers are al­lowed to is­sue an un­lim­ited num­ber of ver­bal or body sig­nals to their dogs, but are not al­lowed to touch ei­ther dogs or equip­ment.

Which dogs can com­pete?

Be­cause equip­ment is ad­justed to vary­ing heights, dogs of all sizes can com­pete, but there’s some com­pet­i­tive dis­ad­van­tage for the slower gi­ant breeds and for breeds such as dachshunds. How­ever, dogs of all sizes and shapes can have lots of fun in the process.

Com­pe­ti­tion is lim­ited to adult dogs but pup­pies should start train­ing at an early age. Puppy cour­ses are de­signed with safety in mind, with low jumps and con­tact ob­sta­cles. Com­plex tasks such as weav­ing - and higher jumps should be de­layed un­til your puppy is older.

Be­fore be­gin­ning agility train­ing, dogs need to have learned the sit, down, stay and come com­mands. A high level of leash con­trol is nec­es­sary for agility.

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