All About Agility

Last week we gave you some suggestions to help your dog further his intellectual pursuits. But like many people, some dogs are scholars AND athletes. If this sounds like your pup, we’ve got just the thing for you. It’s called Agility, and it’s sweeping the nation. In fact, you may have even seen some agility trials on TV! Combining solid training, discipline, and athleticism, agility training helps a dog develop and maintain his fitness, versatility, and attention and obedience to his owner/handler. It also provides him with an outlet for his extra energy, and is a great way to strengthen the bond between you and your dog.

So what precisely is agility? In its simplest form, agility is guiding a dog through an obstacle course. The owner (whom we’ll refer to as “handler” from here on out) provides the dog with signals to let him know what he needs to do and in which order. It requires a strong working relationship between handler and dog, and a dog to be able to quickly interpret and respond to the signals given by its handler.

Pomeranian taking agility jumpThe American Kennel Club® recognizes three main agility classes: Standard, Jumpers with Weaves, and Fifteen And Send Time (FAST). Each of these classes is offered at several levels, based on the dog’s experience. Within each class and level, there are also height divisions that enable dogs to compete against other dogs of their size and ability, so agility truly is a sport than can be enjoyed by dogs of all shapes and sizes! In addition, the AKC recently added a “Preferred” option for classes, where the course requirements and jump heights are modified slightly and allowed times are usually extended.

Here’s the breakdown of the main agility classes:

Standard Class

The Standard class is made up of a variety of obstacles, both contact and non-contact. Contact obstacles have yellow “contact zones” at each end, in which the dog must place a least one paw. This contributes to the safety of the dog in training and in running the course. The contact obstacles include the A-frame, dog walk and seesaw. The non-contact obstacles include jumps, weave poles, a pause table, tunnels, and a closed tunnel.

Shepherd tackles weaves in agility courseJumpers With Weaves

This class comprises various jumps, weave poles, and tunnels. There are no contact obstacles to slow the dog’s momentum, making it a very fast course requiring the handler to make instant decisions and the dog to pay exceptionally close attention.

FAST (Fifteen And Send Time)

According to the AKC®, the FAST class tests “strategy, skill, accuracy, speed, timing and distance handling.” The course contains fifteen obstacles and/or obstacle combinations in addition to a “Send Bonus” for the successful completion of an additional two to three pre-designated obstacles (depending on the class level).

Once a dog has grasped the basics of agility, many owners choose to enter their dogs in agility competitions: timed agility trials where the winning dog is the one who completes the most obstacles successfully with the fewest deductions and penalties in the shortest amount of time. Deductions can be taken for clipping a rail when jumping, pausing too long at the top of the pause table, or hesitating when approaching a tunnel.

Lab on A-FrameWant to get your dog involved? Agility clubs and competitions exist at both the local and national level, and training facilities are emerging across the country. For the more intrepid handler, or one whose dog requires additional practice, it is also possible to build your own agility course at home. If you’re seriously invested in the sport, this is a great way to provide your dog an extra competitive edge!

To help you get started, here are some great resources on Agility:

The American Kenel Club Agility Event Site

The AKC Regulations for Agility Trials Manual

The AKC’s Beginner’s Guide to Companion Events

Agility Ability

Is your dog involved in Agility? If so, we’d love to hear about your experiences and any advice you have for those who want to get involved. Comment here, or email heidi.fence@dogwatch.com.

Photo credits:

Top photo by Daisyree Bakker via Flickr – image is cropped

All other photos by Jorge Arcas via Flickr

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