About Agility

     Agility is a relatively new dog sport that began in 1978 as a Crufts demonstration. It is an off-leash dog sport that has a handler run his/her over a series of obstacles. The main objective is to clear the obstacles in a timely manner. There are no food or toy rewards are used in competitions. Courses are of varying length and depend on which class a dog is entered in (novice, open, excellent, etc.)  The best time with no faults will win.  There are jumps, contact obstacles, tunnels, and a few miscellaneous obstacles.

This is a standard jump. There are little notches that allow you to select the jump height. Small dogs generally jump smaller heights than larger dogs. A jump height card is issued to anyone who wishes to compete in AKC affiliated Agility competitions. More information on jump heights for dogs and jump cards can be found here. Pepper is practicing jumping 20" at this moment. We practice on our homemade jumps.

 The tire jump is a 24" ring suspended at a specific jump height. The tire can be placed at different jump heights for different dogs just as the standard jump can be moved. Dogs will have a jump height for this obstacle as stated by their jump height card. Pepper and I just recently acquired our "tire" jump. Ours is really just a hoola hoop and PVC scratched together to make an almost valid tire jump. The tire jump I have right now is also homemade. Why buy a tire jump when you can make one, eh?

Contact Obstacles
The a-frame has a dog walk or run up one 9' side and down the other, while hitting the downward contact zone. This is not only for the judge but also the safety of the dog. Sometimes, dogs will get over excited and leap off the a-frame before they have touched a paw into the contact zone. This is a deduction of 5 points generally. Sometimes a tunnel is placed underneath the a-frame to conserve space and make the course a little bit more interesting for the dogs.

The dog walk is another contact obstacle. The dog has to hit the contact zones on the way up and on the way down. Dogs can lose 5 points by missing either of the contact zones. Each leg of the dog walk is 12' long. This is the longest obstacle in the entire course at 36' long! It is only 1' wide and quite high off the ground so dogs must slow down generally to keep their balance on the long middle section. Training for the dog walk generally begins by having it only 2' off the ground. This allows the dogs to get accustomed to a high, unstable surface.

The teeter is the last and sometimes most dreaded contact obstacle. Dogs have a hard time with the teeter hitting the ground on the way down. Its scary! Dogs must hit both of the contact zones and the teeter must hit the ground for it to be a clean run. The teeter is 1' wide by 12' long. It is another narrow obstacle that dogs tend to jump off of at the end. That leaves them 5 points short of a perfect run.

The open tunnel is a dog's favorite! Dogs love running through the tunnel and jetting out the other side. Because it is a favorite, it is often positioned with a curve or underneath an a-frame or dog-walk to make it a little more difficult. The curve does not let the dog see the outlet until he/she is almost at the end.

The closed tunnel or chute is sometimes intimidating for dogs. The closed end allows no light in and the fabric must drape over the dogs back whilst he runs. The combination sometimes makes it difficult to train the closed tunnel. A partner to hold the tunnel slightly open while the dog learns is quite useful.

Miscellaneous Obstacles
Weaves poles are consistently the hardest obstacle to train a dog on. Practice with these should start early (before 1 years old is ideal, as long as your vet gives the ok on the joint issue). A dog must always enter the weave poles from his/her left shoulder. In other words, he/she must start on the right side of the poles and then begin to weave.

The pause table is kind of like a contact obstacle in the sense that a dog needs to actually get on the table. The dog must sit or lay on the table for 5 seconds, until the judges give the handler the release signal. The pause at the table stops the dog's momentum, gives the handler 5 seconds to set up, and then its off to the races again!

Note: Dogs can start agility training at a very early age. Training for contact obstacles like the dog-walk, a-frame, and teeter can be done at a low height before a pup is a year old. Puppies can also learn tunnel and jump "skills". Dogs generally start training jumps after they have physically matured to deter joint injuries. Be sure to look into Agility Foundation Classes if you want to start your puppy. Pup should also know some basic obedience so that is something to get into too!

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