History of Agility
It is believed that the friendship between a dog and a human is based on complete trust and mutual understanding. Ability to feel master’s thoughts and mood, dog’s willingness to carry out every command speaks of the complete harmony in their relationship. Agility is a great way to demonstrate and strengthen this friendship between man and his dog, as well as to keep the dog in great shape and channel its energy in the right direction.
Agility appeared in the 1970s in the UK. On the 10 of February 1977 at the Crufts Dog Show, organized by John Varley and Peter Meanwell, the first dog agility competition was shown. It is believed that the new sport was inspired by the equestrian competition, where Varley was a fan. The enthusiastic response of the audience gave a push for a repeat event a year later, and then agility gradually evolved into a full-fledged dog sport with its own rules and program, whose popularity has spread beyond the United Kingdom and around the world, not excluding the USA.
What is Agility?
Agility is a series of competitions which consist of speedy running through an obstacle course. Both the pet who does the exercise and the owner who gestures, speaks and guides their pup, take part in the competition, so it’s a team sport. The sport is based precisely on good human-pet bonding, with high-quality, in-depth training of the dog.
Best Dog Breeds for Agility
Agility is a very democratic sport, in which dogs of any breed and mixed-breed dogs can participate. It is not necessary to present any documents, confirming pedigree, to participate in competitions. The main requirement for the dog is the ability and willingness to carry out his pet parent’s orders. In addition, the dog should be light, agile and quick to successfully overcome obstacles. Young and mature dogs (with the exception of pregnant dogs) are allowed to compete, but Agility classes are recommended for dogs aged 1 year and up, since their backbones have already been formed and the risk of injury during the course of the exercise is greatly reduced.
While anyone can technically compete, not every dog is good in the sport. Agility is divided into the categories according to dogs’ height at withers. As a rule, there are 3 categories:
- S (Small) – for dogs whose height at withers is less than 14 inches (35 cm)
- M (Medium) – For dogs that are 14 inches (35 cm) inclusive, but less than 17 inches (43 cm)
- L (Large) – for dogs 17 inches (43 cm) and over
In each category, there are the best breeds for agility, featuring the most optimal set of qualities needed. The different categories are never mixed, neither in training nor in competition, as different heights of obstacles are set for them.
In S class Spitzes most often take part, in M – Sheltie, in L – Border Collie. The latter are considered to be the fastest, that’s why many breeders try to breed these dogs of smaller size to participate in S and M classes. The competitions themselves start with the S class firstly followed by the M and then the L, with the height of the obstacles increasing.
The competition course consists of a series of fences arranged in sequence. Rules may set different sizes, angles or other parameters for agility fences. At the same time, their general shape and operating principle remain the same. Depending on the nature of the interaction between the dog and the obstacle, the projectiles for agility are divided into the following varieties.
These agility obstacles involve areas of direct contact with the dog’s body:
- The slide is two panels connected at an angle, raised at the top 1.5-2 meters above the ground. The contact area of the obstacle is painted in yellow or red, and on its surface there are cross bars facilitating the movement of the dog. A handler usually uses the command “Slide!” or “Home!” for this obstacle to overcome.
- The swing is in the form of a board that rotates around the base as the dog moves from one end to the other. To allow the dog to climb the obstacle, the balance of the board shifts slightly toward one of the ends.
- Boom is a type of slide that has a horizontal board between sloped surfaces. It also has a yellow or red painted contact area and cross bars. At this obstacle, the handler gives his dog the command “Boom!”
- The tunnel is barrel-shaped, where a long fabric part is attached with an open end (soft tunnel), or a rigid tube of straight and twisted shape. In both cases, the commands “Down” is usually used.
To overcome these obstacles, the dog must perform a high jump or a long jump:
- The conventional barrier consists of two upright posts with an easily knocked down bar between them. The dog must jump over it on the command “Hop!”, “Bar”, “Jump!” or “Up”.
- The ring is a kind of barrier in the shape of a circle (tire, hoop) fixed in a frame on a support. A dog has to jump over it through the opening on the command “Circle!”
- The dog jumps over several parallel benches without touching any of them with neither body or legs. At this obstacle, the handler uses the commands “Hop!”, “Bar!”, “Jump” or “Up”.
- The twin barrier is also a variation of the regular barrier, but consists of two slats arranged in parallel. To jump, the dog is commanded to “Hop!”, “Bar!”, “Jump” or “Up”.
- The barrier fence is made as a solid wall, with an easily knocked down overlay on the top edge to prevent injury to the dog. The same commands as the other barriers – “Hop!”, “Bar!”, “Jump” or “Up” – are commonly used to overcome this fence.
This group includes sticks that the dog interacts with in various ways:
- Slalom is a row of 12 racks arranged in a single line, through which the dog must run in a “snake” way with a roundabout of each. For this task, the handler gives the dog the command “Hop”.
- The podium (square) is an elevated 2-75 cm square platform with a side of one meter in length, on which the dog must run and stop for a time set by the judge (in a sitting or lying position). The square has the same function as the podium, but it is made simply as a perimeter fenced area of the base.
To date, the FCI rules establish two official agility competition classes.
- Standard. This class is a classical agility sport which includes overcoming of all three types of obstacles. For beginners – 15 ones, while for the experienced competitors – up to 22.
- Jumping. A feature of this class of competition is the presence of only jumping obstacles and a starting platform. Depending on the specific competition, the agility course may also include tunnels and slalom. Due to the lack of contact obstacles which slow down the movement, dogs have the highest speed.
The competition may also include the following types of agility (yet not offially approved)
Jacker or jackpot. This competition is divided into two periods:
- in the introductory period, the dog overcomes obstacles at the handler’s discretion, earning points;
- in the final period, the dog must overcome, in a short time, a series of obstacles chosen by the judge in succession.
The difficulty is that in the second period the handler must not step over the line which is drawn at a distance of 3-6 m parallel to the obstacle course, thus he has to control the dog at a distance.
Snooker. Designed along the lines of a billiard game, this variation of agility involves overcoming numbered obstacles – three red ones to jump over with the number 1, and six other types numbered 2 through 7. The competition is divided into 2 stages:
- in the introductory phase, the dog passes the first one of the red numbered 1 hurdles and one of the additional ones numbered 6-7, then this is repeated with the remaining two main hurdles;
- in the final stage, the dog must pass in succession the fences numbered 2 to 7 to score additional points.
Relay. In this competition, 2-3 teams of handlers with dogs pass the obstacle course (each a different section) in succession on the agility floor, passing the baton to each other.
Ahead of the competition, the handler may familiarize himself with the course without the dog in order to memorize the sequence of fences and develop an optimal trajectory. The judge will have a preliminary discussion with the contestants reminding them of the rules of agility and informing them of the control and maximum time. The dog should be untied from the leash and collar beforehand for safety reasons.
The handler may only start the agility race after being commanded to do so by the judge. The dog should only be controlled by voice, eyes and gestures and no one is allowed to touch the dog. There should be no objects in the hands of the owner of the animal.
The aim of agility is not only the speed, but also the correctness of the dog’s passing. Accordingly, penalties are assessed for the dog and handler errors:
- exceeding the control time – 1 point per second;
- passing the start or finish line – 5 points;
- touching the dog or obstacle by the handler – 5 points;
- hitting an obstacle – 5 points;
- the dog refuses to overcome the obstacle or fails to pass it correctly (for example, running over the long jump tackle) – 5 points, the handler can return and overcome the obstacle correctly;
- absence of contact with the dog on entering and exiting the obstacle – 5 points.
The judge also has the right to remove the dog and handler from the track for the following reasons:
- disrespectful treatment of the judge;
- harsh treatment of the dog;
- disregarding the sequence of obstacles or skipping them;
- 3 times the dog refuses to pass the obstacle;
- exceeds the maximum time;
- presence of any object in the handler’s hand;
- disobedience of the dog to the handler (ranging from disobedience to direct aggression);
- self-involuntary termination by the handler and some other reasons.
How to Start Agility Training
Before you can teach your dog agility, you need to teach him the basics of obedience, which means the skills to perform basic commands – “Sit!”, “Down!”, “Stand!”, etc. This will allow you to get to know your dog better and learn to understand his voice commands and gestures. At that point, we can move on to agility training.
Training can take place either at home with tools you buy or make at home, or at dog training schools. The second option is preferable, because your dog gets used to obeying commands, not only in quiet situations but also in the presence of other dogs and people. In addition you have unique opportunity to communicate with like-minded people and adopt their experience. As a rule, amateur classes last for 1-2 times a week and last for 3 or more hours. Price for agility in Moscow in most cases does not exceed 500 rubles for one lesson.
Sessions need to be structured so that they are interesting to your dog. Remember that agility training is not a chore for your dog, but a way for him to have fun, a way to release all his overflowing energy. Keep things varied and make sure there are plenty of breaks in between, as this will keep your dog from getting bored with the exercise and prevent it from becoming boring. Also, try not to annoy your dog and under no circumstances hit him for doing the apparatus wrong. Instead, actively praise and encourage correct behavior and simply ignore anything that goes wrong. This ensures your dog will develop a positive attitude towards training and look forward to it.
Agility Competition Video