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I started doing agility with my dogs when I was around 10 years old, and then the club I belonged to stopped running. I recently got in contact with a local agility club and asked about joining. I have now been a member since the New Year and I absolutely love it.
What is Dog Agility?
Agility is basically an obstacle course for dogs. The dog is required to complete a trail of various types of equipment including jumps, tunnels and tyres. The idea is that the course is completed with the shortest time and with the least number of faults.
I am required to pay a £7 annual membership fee and then a further £4 for each agility session. The one downside to this is that I am a shift worker which means I am unable to attend every week but I still have to pay, even when I can't make the class.
What Breeds Suit Agility?
Any breed of dog is able to do agility. The only real set back is that your dog has to be at least 18months old before they can start agility. This is to ensure that their bones and muscles have developed properly. At my agility group, we have a whole array of dogs that attend including (lots!) of Border Collies, a Gordon Setter, Poodles and even a Chihuahua.
Rules Of Agility
In an actual competition, the idea is that the dogs completes the course totally off the lead and without any encouragement from the owner via treats or touch. You should be able to give your dog various commands which will tell them which piece of equipment to 'do' next. Having said this, the above rules only apply in competitions. My dogs are currently learning agility and these rules do not apply in the sessions that I attend.
As I mentioned earlier, the agility course is to be completed with the shortest time and with the least number of faults. For each fault that is noticed, time will be added onto your final time so obviously the idea is to complete the course without any faults at all. There are various faults that you will come across in agility; these include:
Knocking poles off. If your dog knocks a pole off any of the jumps, this will count as a fault.
Missing a contact point. On various pieces of equipment such as the A frame, see saw and dog walk, there are contact point and the beginning and end of each piece of equipment and your dog is required to touch these points. If they fail to do this, it will count as a fault.
There is a piece of equipment called a weave (more about this later) and you can receive points for doing this incorrectly. For example, if your dog misses a weave pole or doesn't enter at the correct pole, then this will be counted as a fault.
If your dog misses a piece of equipment totally and just goes to the next piece of equipment, then this is also counted as a fault.
Finally if your dog doesn't want to 'do' a piece of equipment, or even if they hesitate while approaching, this will be counted as a fault.
The Agility Course
The actual course set up will be different for every club and most competitions but you will normally find the same pieces of equipment. These are:
This piece of equipment is pretty self explanatory. It consists of 2 sides and a pole going across the middle. At the club I attend, the jumps have three different height settings which can then be adjusted depending on the size and ability of each dog. The dog is to jump the pole without touching it or knocking it off.
Again, pretty self explanatory. There are two types of tunnels. The first one is plastic and flexible and is either laid out straight or curved. The second one has a solid entrance to the tunnel but the rest of the tunnel is laid out flat on the floor and is made from fabric. With this version, your dog is required to run through the tunnel and it opens up as they run. With the first version, they are simply required to run through it.
This piece of equipment basically has two sides which meet together in the middle to create an 'A' shape. The dog is required to run up one side and back down the other, touching the contact points on both sides.
This is basically a tyre which is suspended in the air by a metal frame. Again, this piece of equipment has various height settings depending on the height and ability of the dog. Your dog is required to jump straight through the middle of the tyre.
This is just the same as your average see-saw. Your dog is required to run up one side, pause in the middle to wait for the see-saw to go down and then run down the remainder of the see-saw. Your dog is also required to touch the contact points at the beginning and end of the see-saw.
The dog walk consists of a ramp at either end which are connected by a straight centre piece. The centre piece is roughly 4 ft from the floor. Your dog is required to run up one ramp, along the centre piece and back down the ramp at the other side. Your dog is also required to touch the contact points and either end.
The weave consists of around 8 - 10 poles which are placed at about 12 inches apart. The idea is that the dog weaves in and out of each pole until they reach the end. In my experience, this is one of the hardest pieces of equipment to train your dog to do but it's stunning to watch a dog do this properly.
This is a table which is about 12 inches high. The dog is required to jump on the table and either 'sit' or down' for between 5 - 10 seconds.
I would highly recommend agility to anyone who owns a dog. It is a fantastic way of bonding with your dog, helps in training them and also knackers them out (which is extremely useful when you have two hyper Border Collies). Not only will your dog benefit from learning something new such as all the commands for the various pieces of equipment, but you will meet like minded people that also attend agility and have lots of fun too.
~~*~~*~~ When Pigs Fly... ~~*~~*~~
Ah, the excitement of it all: the flying drool, the inelegant falling from a high rise plank, the roar of the crowd when finally a piece is correctly executed - Pig (small brained chocolate lab) loves agility and so do I.
It all began when some evil lady made a passing comment on Pig's weight - she is in no way a slight little monkey, it's true she is quite large, but in all honesty its cos she's big boned. No, really. She has a very deep chest and fairly stumpy legs so she looks like a fatty but on close examination she does have a waist and her ribs can be felt through her lovely thick coat. Unfortunately, the woman's comment planted a little seed of doubt in my tiny mind, and I embarked on getting the pigster fitter, if not thinner. Pig now has a busier schedule than most children - she has hydrotherapy Tuesday and Friday (luckily it's discounted as it's at the kennels I work at), obedience training on a Monday, and now she has fabulous agility on Wednesday and Sunday. I'm more knackered than she is but at least we're both trying.
~*~ What is this agility malarkey then? ~*~
For those of you who live under a mossy stone in the back of someone else's garden, agility is essentially a timed obstacle course for dogs whereby 'faults' are incurred when the dog makes a mistake (I'll go through these later) or if they make a chronic booboo, they get eliminated. Though pig has not entered into any competitions yet (and probably never will because we're both fairly crap) the club we go to teaches us how to avoid getting faults and the emphasis is on a 'clear run' and not particularly speed - it's the faults that cost a dog first place.
Any dog can compete in agility - it's not merely for collies (ABC agility = Anything But Collies) - Pig is unique in our club as it mostly collies but there's also a beagle (Pig's best friend who leads her astray and distracts her from her work), a Belgian Shepherd (likes to bite Pig's bum but then again she does have a lot of pork fat on her rump), a Patterdale and a Mini Schnauzer (both of which are very fast but easily distracted by the rabbit poo on the field). It's by no means just for the up market pedigrees of this world - any dog can join in providing its fit and loves to play. The requirements at our club are that the dog must also be fairly friendly with others (as the work is, in the majority, off lead), good at recalling, and over 18 months (before that age the little pup's bones and muscles are not fully developed and injury could occur). For competition purposes, there are 3 size categories - small, medium and large (Pig is in large though it's based on height) and the equipment varies slightly to accommodate their littler or larger legs.
Whilst the Pig is performing, I'm not allowed to come in contact with her - she must master the obstacle by obeying my commands only - which is why we'll never be in competitions.
~*~ Equipment ~*~
Each piece of equipment has its own little rules, some of which Pig has mastered, others still leave her dumbfounded.
~~ Jumps/hurdles ~~
Surprisingly, Pig (with her little stumps) is quite good at this. Actually, the premise is not that hard - she only has to jump over them the correct way round and not knock the pole off or she'll incur a fault. These can get more complicated as a dog may have to go around the back of the hurdle to then jump over it but during the early stages we've just concentrated on clearing it.
~~ Long Jump ~~
Pretty much what it sounds like - the dog must clear the jump which varies in length according to the size. The dog may touch it but mustn't knock the pieces over as they'll be faulted. Pig's quite good though many dogs run round it - well why bother exerting so much effort?
~~ Tunnel ~~
Pig's pretty fearless so the tunnel proved no obstacle though some dogs are a little wary. There's also a sack tunnel whereby the entrance is the same but they have to push through the collapsible material to get out the other side. If pig refused to go in she would be faulted, bless her.
~~ A-Frame ~~
This piece of equipment is triangular and pretty steep (you wouldn't get me up it in a hurry) and although the mighty Pig was fine at first, her clumsy ass fell off it one day and she's never really been that confident since (she fell right from the top and landed flat on her back - Labradors are in no way like cats which is a shame as she left a hefty dent in the ground). The A-frame has contact points on either side at the bottom which the dog must make 'contact' with, if not she is faulted, again.
~~ Dog Walk ~~
This is essentially a high-wire tightrope act for pigs. She must walk up the plank, along another plank and then down a plank, at the end she must make contact or she'll incur yet another fault.
~~ See-Saw ~~
This is a pretty hard piece to master - the Pigster must tip it with her weight and she must touch the contact part at the end of the see-saw - you'd think it would be easy but as soon as it moves, Pig decides to jump off, every bloody time, the muppet. The smaller dogs have to travel further towards the end to make it tip cos of their weight but Piggle only has to put one hoof on it and it moves. It also makes a loud bang as it hits the ground which spooks a lot of doggies but only serves to wind the Pig up.
~~ Tyre/Hoop ~~
The tyre is merely a round jump that varies in height the same as the hurdles. Pig is rubbish at this and just runs straight past every single time for which she is faulted, again. Should she run past and go onto another obstacle she will be eliminated for being an eager beaver.
~~ Weave ~~
The most difficult piece to master, ever. It looks very impressive when the dog can do it but apparently it takes an average of 6 months which is why we've purchased our own set for practice. Pig must enter the weave with it on her left, she must 'weave' in and out of the line of poles and must not leave until the last pole otherwise she'll incur a fault, again.
~~ Table top ~~
This tends to feature less and less in competitions so our club doesn't bother with it anymore, but basically it's like a table on which the dog must go down until you release it.
~*~ Number of gravy bones needed to play ~*~
Not many in the grand scheme of things: At our club its £50 for 8 beginners lessons, once you've graduated from that class, it's only £3 a session. I think it's a real bargain as we've had loads of fun, at only £6.25 a go it's a lot cheaper than a hydro session and only a quid more than her obedience time. Buying equipment can be kept to a minimum though I've invested in some jumps, a weave set and a tunnel for practising in the park but that's cos I've given up smoking and every day I go without means Pigmeister gets a fiver! I wear my hiking boots but when it gets slippy I'll either dig out my footie boots or invest in some proper agility shoes that have spiky bits on the side to prevent you slipping over - there's a lot of sudden stops and changing direction involved. These shoes, however, will involve another 9 days without fags so she'll have to wait.
~*~ On your marks, get set, go... ~*~
To find your local flying extravaganza, start on the internet - it's always the best way to begin - and go to agilitynet.com which handily tells you the clubs in your county - it's not brilliant as counties can be pretty large so check where they train before you sign up. Alternatively, ask random people (who have dogs) whilst on your walkies: they may know of someone in the vicinity - dog walkers are usually friendly people, unless your dirty stinking labrador is winding up their beautifully groomed white poodle. Some agility clubs are linked to boarding kennels or breeders so you could always ring your local one of these and quiz them - there's no harm in asking. There is a massive waiting list for our club but to be fair, once you're on it, you've only got to wait about 3 months so it's not all doom and gloom.
Agility is challenging not only because Pig is large, clumsy and incredibly stupid but also because I am too. The leader at our club demonstrated what the owners were supposed to do using the piglet and she performed perfectly - I took over, fell over a jump and the pig was completely lost so it turns out that I'm to blame for her failures. It's all good though because I like learning new things. Now that Pig's experienced the basics of the different equipment, it's up to me to guide her to the right piece which involves my body language, early commands and reading the piggles naughtiness before she performs her naughtiness (usually this involves her legging it to the nearest other dog for a quick botty sniff or stealing of their treats). I find it very rewarding - more than obedience (cos that's a bit slow and dull) - it's fast and furious and when she gets it right everybody's dead chuffed - last week we performed our first mini-course and the pig did it all (though I ended up hurdling a jump myself as I got lost in the maze of obstacles (but I'm pretty sure we weren't penalised for it)) without any faults - hurrah!! I know Pig enjoys herself because when we get there she drags me all the way down to the field and seems really attentive which is a sure sign she's not bored. I was using the treat method but we've progressed to a tennis ball - whenever she completes a course or difficult piece, she gets to run after a ball - hopefully the weight will soon drop off the little fatty's bum bum and if I'm lucky, a bit may fall off mine. I can highly recommend trying agility providing you've got a dog because you'll look a right numpty without one.
Caroline & Doughnut March 09.
Both wishing they were fitter.
Review will appear elsewhere, probably.
Having just read the other wonderful review for dog agility I was not going to bother with mine as I am fairly new to it and don't know half as much as the other reviewer - but I decided I want to give my view on this fun recent find of mine!
Well it was earlier this year when we went to a Young Kennel Club event and they had on training sessions in handling, obedience and agility. I told the 9 year old not to worry and just try her best as Daisy (the dog) would probably not do anything for her. Well after saying this to the trainer and the other parents around I really did end up looking like a fool and one without any confidence in either of the two taking part in agility!
The training lasted around 2 hours and over the weekend she had 4 sessions with Daisy the last one only lasting a short time as it was so hot the dog wasn't able to do much. Within that time both dog and child fell in love with dog agility and upon our return I was hounded to find an agility class/group they could join.
The reason I did not think the dog would be able to do agility was mainly her size - she is a Bichon Frise so a small dog that looks fairly dainty, well that and she can be quite lazy! So I would encourage people with small dogs to give it a try too!
I managed to find a beginners course which lasted 6 weeks and in that time Daisy learned to do jumps, tunnels, A-frame, something similar to an A frame but with a long walk in the middle, see saw, long jump, weaves and a hoop jump. She did most on the lead as when I am there she gets distracted and wants to run back to me!
Unfortunately we cant join that club as they meet on a week night from 8-10pm which is past the now 10 year olds bed time. I have since been on the lookout for a club to join and have only just found one which only usually accept over 12's but will let them join because they went round the course really well.
For people not wanting to join a club or just want to have some fun at home Pets At Home now sell really cheap and decent quality agility equipment - I bought a jump (hurdle) and a hoop jump both at £9.99 each, they also had weaves and large tunnels at that price. I may go back and get the weaves but I have recycled an old toddlers tunnel that they have being using for a few months.
For us dog agility is just a way to have fun and for the child and dog to bond - they have a great interest in dogs and animals in general and I think learning to work with a dog from such a young age can only help if they want to do something with animals when older.
What is Dog Agility?*
Agility is the canine version of an obstacle course, where the dog must run and complete a series of jumps and other obstacles in the minimal amount of time with the least number of faults, which I will explain more later.
The layout of agility courses will vary depending on the club you attend, but typically the obstacles you will find are:
- Hurdles: Generally quite a simple piece of equipment, with two sides and a pole going across the middle which can be adjusted depending on the size and skill of the dog. The dog will be required to jump straight over the hurdle, without touching it or knocking off the pole. There is normally around 5 hurdles in an agility course, either all the same height or different.
- Dog Walk: Ramps at either end connecting to a centre plank which will be raised about 4ft off the ground, the dog is required to run up one ramp, along the centre plank and back down the ramp at the other side.
- A-Frame: Two ramps which join at the top between 5 and 6ft off the ground, creating an 'A' shape. The dog is required to run up one side, and back down the other.
- Tunnel: A plastic flexible tunnel much like a childs play tunnel, the dog has to simply run through the tunnel which will either be laid out straight or be curved.
- Collapsed Tunnel: A plastic opening joined onto a fabric tunnel, the dog must enter via the plastic opening and push his way through the fabric tunnel. In most agility courses there will be only one tunnel- either the one I talked about above or the collapsed tunnel, but sometimes there will be both.
- Hoop Jump: A plastic hoop suspended in a metal frame which can be adjusted according to the dogs height and skill, the dog is required to simply jump straight through the middle of the hoop.
- Long Jump: A set of slightly raised small hurdles set at around 1ft from each other. Depending on the size of the dog there will be between 3 and 7 small hurdles, 3 small hurdles make a 3ft long jump, 4 make a 4ft long jump ect. The dog will be required to jump the distance, without a paw touching one of the small hurdles. Bensons longest jump so far was just over 6ft.
- Weave Poles: The dog in the picture can be seen doing the weave poles, which are a set of normally 8 or 10 poles placed 50cm from each other. This is quite a tricky obstacle as the dog must be trained to enter the weave with the first pole to his left and not to miss out any poles.
- Scramble: A fairly uncommon obstacle which is normally used in police dog training has made its way into some agility courses. A 6ft high fence that the dog must scale, by jumping up, putting its paws on the top and pulling itself over the top and jumping down the other side. Only large dogs such as German Shepherds and Rottweilers can complete this obstacle, and dogs must fit and in good health. Benson, my Bernese Mountain Dog recently made me very proud by completing this obstacle on his first try!
- Pause Table: A small table, normally 50cm high (depends on the height of the dog), that the dog must jump on to and stay in the sit or lie down position for a time between 5 and 10 seconds.
- See Saw: Excatly like a childs see saw, the dog runs up one side, waits in the middle for the other side to go down, and then runs down that. A see saws balance has to be so precise that even the smallest dogs of dogs doing the agility can make the other side go down.
*Rules & 'Faults'*
In proper competitions, the dog must run the entire course off lead and the owner cannot use treats to encourage the dog, they must not touch the dog or the obstacles at any time.
Any faults will result in time being added onto the final time the dog takes to complete the course, as agility competitions are all marked on time, a time fault can loose the competition for the dog. If the dog completes the course with no faults, it is known as a 'clear run'.
You will get time faults for:
- Missed contact. On obstacles such as the A-frame, dog walk and see saw there are 'contact points' which are areas painted a different colour from the rest of the piece of equipment, the dog must place at least one paw in the contact point before jumping down from the obstacle, failure to do so will be 'missed contact'.
- Knocking off poles on hurdles.
- Refusal or hesititation. If the dog refuses to do an obstacle or hesitates greatly, they will be given a time fault.
- Run out. Where the dog runs completely pass the obstacle and onto the next one.
- Weave faults, as I mentioned earlier, the weave poles are a difficult piece of equipment to master. If the dog does not enter the weave with the first pole to his left, misses a pole or stops in the middle of the weave, time faults will be given.
Rules are only strict in competitions, if just doing agility at a club for fun with your dog, there is unlikely to be such strict rules.
*What dogs can do agility?*
Some people seem to think that is only Border Collies that do agility, but in fact any dog from a tiny Chihuahua to a massive Great Dane can do it! Dogs must be at least 18mths old before they start agility though as before then, their muscles and bones are not properly developed and damage can be caused.
*Why start agility?*
Agility is fantastic exercise for dogs and it wears them out both physically and mentally, resulting in a much calmer, happier and healthy dog. It also helps deepen the bond between you and your dog. I started agility 6 months ago with Benson my 2 year old Bernese Mountain Dog as he loved jumping fences and stiles, charging up steep hills ect whilst out on walks and I thought agility would also be a good way to burn off some of his excess energy.
*Where can I do agility with my dog?*
Ask people you meet on dog walks or check in the local phone book and you will more than likely find a club near you which will probably meet weekly and just cost a couple of pounds to go to. Keep in mind that some agility groups have banned the use of retractable leads in their classes due to all the problems they can cause, so best to take your dog along on a regular lead (although your dog won't be on a lead actually doing the course, he will need to be on one whilst other dogs are doing it).
Benson & I attend a group of just 5 dogs and owners, we all knew one another through dog walking and have arranged with our local agility club to use their equipment after hours with our group of 5 dogs, so us owners (which I have became very good friends with and often go out for days together without our dogs) can all have a natter whilst teaching the dogs agility, we meet for an hour, three times a week. My other dog Ruby comes too but she is quite old now and she doesn't do the agility, just lays down watching the others!
Benson only started 6 months ago but it seems to have came naturally to him and he absolutely excels at it, I don't wish to enter competitions with him but he is fully able to and would have a chance of being quite successful in a club, however agility is just a hobby and not something I would like to do at a competitive level.
*What do I need to start agility?*
Well obviously you'll need a dog, and the dog must have a high level of recall as agility is done off lead (often outside) and your dog must be sociable as there is likely to be other dogs present. Before starting agility, I took Benson for a check-up at vets to make sure he was in good health to do it, this isn't essential but a good idea all the same. Also your dog must been resonably well behaved at home too, as agility encourages a dog to jump (and if doing the scramble obstacle, you will be teaching your dog to scale a 6ft fence), so you have be to sure your dog won't start attempting to jump over the fences in your garden. Lastly, your dog has to enjoy doing physical activites, agility is pointless if your dog doesn't enjoy running around and being active.
*Pro's & Con's*
+ Fantastic exercise for your dog
+ Deepens the bond you and your dog already have, as it requires your dog to be totally focused on you
+ Great place for you to make new friends with the other owners
+ Its great fun for your dog (and you!)
+ Mentally exercises your dog, as well as physically
+ All dogs can take part
Whatever breed of dog you have.. give it a go!