This fast-paced sport is fun for dogs, dog owners and audience.
Agility combines attributes from obstacle courses, sprints and grand prix jumping. Dogs dash through tunnels, leap hurdles, walk carefully across elevated balance beams and climb tall A-frames. The various obstacles require body awareness, balance, coordination, agility and athleticism. The dog owner must be calm, cool and able to think quickly and sprint as fast as his or her dog works. This fast-paced sport has increased steadily in popularity through the years, primarily because it’s fun for the dogs, dog owners and audience.
In fact, American Kennel Club figures attest to the increasing popularity of agility trials. From January through June of 1997, 179 agility trials were held all over the country, with more than 26,000 entries in that period. In 1996, there were 28,000 entries for the entire year!
Agility training is open to dogs of any size, shape, breed or mixture of breeds. Many dog training clubs maintain agility courses, and members can take agility classes. Many dog trainers incorporate agility as part of their training classes because it’s a wonderful tool for dogs and owners. When dog owners learn how to teach their dogs to jump through tire jumps, they are also learning how to teach their dogs. The dogs learn how to learn while also learning body awareness, where their feet are positioned and how to balance themselves. The dogs and owners also build trust and confidence in themselves and in each other. Agility training also makes obedience training fun; although learning is going on, it’s much more like play for both the dog and the owner.
Competition is open to all dogs, depending on the sponsoring organization. The United States Dog Agility Association encourages dogs of all breeds or mixtures of breeds to participate in its program. The American Kennel Club, however, allows only purebred dogs registered with the AKC to compete. Both organizations offer titles that the dogs can earn through competition. Through the AKC’s program, dogs can earn the following titles: Novice Agility (NA), Open Agility (OA), Agility Excellent (AX) and Master Agility Excellent (MX).
Not all dogs are created equal in agility competition. Obviously the more athletic dogs will have an advantage jumping and the dogs that can sprint will be faster on the course. Border Collies, for example, will have a distinct advantage over Basset Hounds! Competing well, however, involves more than the ability to jump or run fast. The dogs must have a good background in obedience training, because they compete off-leash, often in front of a crowd of clapping people and barking dogs. The owner will also give directions about which route to take and which obstacle to do next; the dog must listen to those commands. Many athletic dogs have lost in competition to less athletic dogs that are just a little more focused and slightly better trained.