Dog agility is a sport that attracts people of all ages because it is a sport that is fun to participate in and to watch. It is designed to show a dog’s readiness and eagerness to work with its handler in a variety of situations. Agility is an event that requires a dog to have athletic conditioning, great concentration, a high level of training and teamwork between dog and handler. Dogs and handlers have to negotiate an obstacle course where they race against the clock.
It consists of a course of obstacles that the handler and dog must run through, generally off leash and without the aid of lures, such as treats or toys. A judge predetermines the direction of the course that the handler and dog must complete. The course is timed and the dog/handler team is “judged” based upon the number of faults, or mistakes, made on the course. The team with the fastest time and fewest faults wins. The specific rules and guidelines vary depending on the sanctioning organization of the trial.
The agility course consists of various jumps, tunnels, climbing/contact obstacles, weave poles and a pause table.
There are several types of jumps found on an agility course. Jumps can be winged or wingless, hurdle, wall or panel jumps. Spread jumps include the double and triple-bar and the broad jump. The suspended tire is also a jump. There can be other specialized jumps, depending on the event you are attending, such as the water jump or the brush jump. The shoulder height of the dog determines its jump height, and depending upon which organization is sanctioning the event this can vary.
Common commands for the jumps are:
- JUMP: Jump, Over, Hup, Up, Get Up
- BROAD JUMP/SPREAD JUMP: Broad Jump, Big Jump, Big Over, Big Hup
- TIRE JUMP: Tire, Hoop, Through, Hup, Circle, Middle, Ring
There are three main contact obstacles:
- Dog Walk
- See Saw or Teeter
Generally these obstacles are made of wood or aluminum and are two different colors to differentiate the contact or safety zones. The contact zone is usually yellow and is there for the dog’s safety and for point scoring.
The dog is required to touch his or her paws on the contact zones to ensure that they do not jump off the obstacle too early and get hurt. The obstacles can be very tall – the A-frame can be over six feet tall at the apex and the dog walk can be over four feet tall on the straight away. The see saw, or teeter, is a moveable object that could easily injure a dog if they jumped off before it hit the ground.
All of the agility organizations have a specific number of paws that must touch the obstacle’s contact zone. The number of the dog’s paws that must touch the contact zone can differ depending upon the sanctioning organization of the event. If the dog does not touch the obstacle with the specified number of paws, points are deducted from the score or disqualification may result.
Common commands for the contact obstacles are:
- A-FRAME: A-frame, Over, Climb, Mountain, Up, Up & Over, Ramp, Scramble, Charge, Wall, Pounce
- DOG WALK: Dog walk, Ramp, Board, Bridge, Walk, Cross, Across, Boardwalk, Plank, Cat walk, Walk It, Walk On, Climb
- SEE SAW: See Saw, Teeter, Teeter-totter, Bang, Tilt, Tip It
It is a good idea to have commands for the Contact Zones. Some common commands are: Touch, Spot, Wait, Easy, Stop, Slow, Get it, Bottom. It is generally easy to teach your dog to slow down at the contact zones. You can do this many ways, some of which are:
- Placing a treat in the contact zone so the dog has to slow down to get it.
- Placing whipped cream in the contact zone.
- Placing a yogurt cap with something special (something that is a “treat” for your dog) in the contact zone.
- Holding a treat in front of your dog in the contact zone so that your dog slows or comes to a stop in the contact zone.
- Holding out your hand over the contact zone to stop your dog from going further.
The weave poles are a set of upright poles that the dog must maneuver, or weave, between them. It is the doggie slalom, if you would. The dogs must enter with the first pole to the left of them (at their left shoulder) and weave in and out of the poles until they have completed the whole line. The specific number of poles can vary, usually from five to twelve, and they are usually approximately 18 inches apart. If the dog misses a pole it must correct the error to have the object count in the course.
Common commands for the weave poles are:
- WEAVE, Poles, Wiggle, Snake, Zig-zag, In-out, Do-da, Boogie
There are two types of tunnels found on the agility course – the pipe tunnel and the chute. The pipe is usually rigid and can be made into different shapes for the dog to run through. These tunnels may also run under other obstacles such as the A-Frame or Dog Walk. Both ends are open on the pipe tunnels and the tunnels are anywhere from ten to twenty feet in length. The Chute, or Push Tunnel, is a collapsed tunnel that is made up of two parts, the entry portion and the exit portion. The entry is usually a rigid barrel or box and the collapsed part is usually made of nylon material. The tunnels are usually twelve to fifteen feet in length. The dogs must “push” or “barrel” their way through the tunnel to get to the other end. The tunnels are usually a favorite both with the spectators and the dogs!
Common commands for the tunnels are:
- PIPE TUNNEL: Tunnel, Through, Zoom, Go go go
- PUSH TUNNEL: Push, Chute, Zoom, Go go go
The pause table is an obstacle on which the dog must “pause” and take a 5 second break during the course. It is usually a 3ft x 3ft table top that can be anywhere from one to 3 feet off the ground, depending upon the sanctioning organization. The judge determines if the dog will sit or down during its time on the table and also keeps time, telling the dog/handler team when they can move on to the next obstacle.
Common commands for the pause table are:
- Table, Pause, Up, Place, Rest, Load-up, Bang, Box, Get On
There are several organizations that sanction agility events. Below is a list of names of some of these organizations.
- AKC, The American Kennel Club
- UKC, The United Kennel Club
- ASCA, The Australian Shepherd Club of America
- NADAC, The North American Dog Agility Council
- USDAA, The United States Dog Agility Association
There are more organizations, but I will limit the list to the most common and frequently attended.
There are many resources for further study and training in agility. Websites are usually the easiest, but if you prefer books, some good titles are:
Enjoying Dog Agility: From Backyard to Competition, Julie Daniels
Agility Training: The Fun Sport for All Dogs, Jane Simmons-Moake
All About Agility, Jacqueline O’Neil
Introduction to Dog Agility, Margaret Bonham
Having Fun With Agility, Margaret Bonham
Excelling At Dog Agility, Book 1: Obstacle Training, Jane Simmons-Moake
There are many good websites to check out (don’t forget about the sanctioning organization websites!) that deal with agility rules, regulations, equipment to purchase, and how to make equipment.
Be creative and have fun with agility!
You can purchase equipment or simple starter kits (like the one below) from many places, some of which were previously listed.
You can make quick and fun agility equipment out of everyday items. Use a cardboard box open on both ends for a tunnel. You can use a sheet for your dog to burrow under like a push tunnel, or put a sheet on one end of an open cardboard box to make a more-realistic push tunnel. A board on the ground or a board on a couple of cinder blocks makes a good dog walk. PVC piping, sticks, or broom handles make great jumps. You can take sticks or PVC pipes and stick them in the ground to make weave poles.
Remember to always have fun, both you and your dog!