AGILITY: AN EXCITING DOG SPORT
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.
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.
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.