Newest Review: ... 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 ho... more
Run, Jump, Weave!
Dog Agility Sport
Member Name: FourPaws
Dog Agility Sport
Advantages: Everything- see review
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!
Summary: A great sport for you and your dog- give it a try