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5 Things You Need to Know Before Trying Dog Agility!

Dog running through a tunnel.

What is Dog Agility? Dog agility is a competitive sport where you (the handler) direct your dog (the competitor) through an obstacle course. The goal for your dog is to get through the obstacles with speed and accuracy. Obstacles include tunnels, bar jumps and tire jumps, ramps, hoops, weave poles, seesaws, and pause tables.  The catch is that you can’t touch your dog or the obstacles. You have to rely on your voice, movements and signals to get your dog through the obstacle course.  And, you can’t give your dog treats or toys to motivate a certain action or speed.  This is a serious sport! Sound like something you and your pup may want to try? Read on!

Dog jumping over pole.

The American Kennel Club (“AKC”) estimates that there are over 1 million dogs that apply to enter the agility program each year.  Dog Agility is also becoming a very popular spectator sport, with big news outlets broadcasting the competitions.  To help you understand the popularity and establishment behind this sport, here a few details from the AKC:

How long has Dog Agility been around?

Since 1978

How many obstacles are there in a Dog Agility course?

14-20

How many titles are there in Dog Agility?

42 

How many Dog Agility events are there in North America each year?

Too many to count. You can do a search here

How many divisions are there in Dog Agility?

5 jump height categories 

 

To see a championship title holder in action, check out this video of 3 year old Gabby the Papillon, who won the 8 inch division in 2019.

 

These are the top 5 things you need to know before embarking on your Dog Agility adventure:

  1. Big, small, purebred and mixed breed dogs can compete in Dog Agility competitions.

As long as your dog is healthy, comfortable, and has the ability to do the tasks, they are a great candidate!  Breed and size don’t matter. Dogs are divided into groups by height at the withers. This is called their “jump height”. There are 5 classes of dogs – 4 inches, 8 inches, 12 inches, 16 inches and 20 inches.  Agility training has even helped anxious and poorly behaved dogs because they gain confidence and learn to work with rules. 

There is a lot of debate over whether certain breeds are better at agility than others.  There are great lists of the best breeds for agility like this one and this one.  Since there is a lot of hype over the agility abilities of Border Collies in particular, you might be interested in watching a champion Border Collie in action.  This video captures Verb the Border Collie’s championship run in 2019. He was in the 20 inch division and finished with an impressive speed of 32.05 seconds!


2. The American Kennel Club (“AKC”) has established certain requirements, in order for your dog to compete in agility.  Your dog must be:

Registration and listing are not nearly as daunting as they may sound.  For example, to enrol a mixed breed dog into the Canine Partners program, you just have to fill out this form here. The Canine Partner’s program is great because dogs that are not purebred can’t register with the AKC otherwise.  With this program, your pup gets to participate in AKC sports events like Agility, Rally and Obedience. Your pup will also get a free Vet appointment and optional pet insurance.

  1. You can teach your dog agility skills at home, using equipment you make or buy.
Dog learning to go through backyard weave poles

You can start out by creating easy obstacles for your dog to use indoors.  For example, you could create a tunnel (think pillow fort!) or teach them to jump over an object or through a hoop.  You could also make your own backyard course with things laying around the house, like old boards to make a ramp or a-frame. 

 

Dog jumping over a bar

You could prop a broom stick between 2 turned over buckets for your dog to jump over. The key is to keep the bar at shoulder height to your dog so they can jump over it.  Of course, there are plenty of agility equipment kits you can buy too like this one or this one 

 4. You can get started with dog agility by taking your dog to a class or hiring a private instructor.

Dog going over agility ramp

There are many online resources, including those found on the AKC website.  You can also ask around at Vet offices, groomers, dog parks, pet stores and facebook for recommendations for classes or trainers. You can go to an agility trial event to see the sport in person. You could volunteer at an agility event in your area.  Even if your dog never actually competes in a competition, doing agility in the backyard or at home will keep them happy, healthy and fit.

 5. Championship Agility Dogs are fast.

Border Collie doing agility course

In the latest 2021 championship competition, the fastest dog (Jive the Border Collie) clocked in at 36.71 seconds in the 12-inch division.  The winners of all divisions were:

  • 4-inch winner – Nitro the Papillon with a time of 42.64 seconds.
  • 8-inch winner – Dreamer the Shetland Sheepdog with a time of 39.98 seconds.
  • 12-inch winner – Jive the Border Collie at 36.71 seconds
  • 16-inch winner – Graphite the Border Collie at 37.53 seconds, and
  • 20-inch winner – Strider the Mixed Breed (a.k.a. “All American Dog”) at 43.08 seconds.
Dog jumping through agility ring

You can view the finals anytime on AKC.tv and they were aired on ESPN.  Regardless of whether you want to fully embrace dog agility classes and competitions or not, all dogs could benefit a lot from learning agility tricks and moves.  It will boost their confidence, given them something to do, allow them to spend quality time with you, and use up a lot of energy.  Just imagine the long naps they'll take after a good day of agility training!

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