For you, agility tests your ability to memorize the obstacle course and guide your dog over the correct sequence all the while being timed. You only have a certain amount of time, typically 30-60 seconds, to complete the course. More importantly, it tests your training and bonding skills that you have with your dog.
For your dog, agility offers an energy outlet and a fun experience with you. It helps build their confidence and keeps them in shape. Many dogs love playing agility, but most hold a deeper love of just running and playing with you while out there. I use the word playing because agility is just a big game for your dog, they don’t know that the clock is ticking and they don’t care if they win a ribbon, they simply want to be doing something that’s fun and makes you happy.
Do you need a certain breed of dog?
No! Agility is for all breeds of dogs, even mixed breeds. There are some breeds that seem to have a natural flair for it, like Border Collies, Australian Shepherds, Shetland Sheep Dogs, Papillons, and others, but there are no restrictions as to breed or size. Some breeds, like Mastiffs, St. Bernard’s or Great Danes, may not be suited for agility because they’re not as fast and athletically built as other breeds, but some still manage to get out there and have fun! I currently have a Coonhound that I’m training to do agility which is very a uncommon breed for agility due to their independent nature and urge to follow their nose, but we’re making it work and if nothing else people sure get a good laugh out of her antics and loud baying barks while we’re running a course.
How to get started.
It’s recommended that your dog be at least 1 year old before they start doing agility. This is so they won’t hurt their growing body. As your dog reaches their full grown height then you can slowly build up to a jump height they’re comfortable with. You can do a variety of focus training and general training while you wait for your puppy to grow up. A good recall is priceless in agility. You can teach your dog to go around an object, like a tree in your yard or a garbage can in the house, as this helps your dog to learn to work away from you and to come back to you. There also is “baby dog” equipment that you can work puppies on to help them get a head start in agility, like wobble boards, FitPAWS, tunnels, etc.
Logo going through the Puppy Agility Tunnel.
While you can learn agility on your own, I highly recommend finding a dog training club that offers classes in agility. For one, agility equipment is very expensive. A training club should already have all of the equipment needed to train your dog on, so this saves you hundreds of dollars in the beginning as you test the waters to see if agility is for you and your dog. Two, training clubs should have good instructors, and good instruction makes for better, happier training. I wouldn’t trade the world for the agility instructors I’ve had, they truly want to see you and your dog succeed and help you whenever possible. Knowing zero about agility when I started their expertise and guidance was priceless, and still is because you never quit learning! And three, when you take a class there are other dogs and people around, so your dog learns how to work with the distractions of other dogs and people, a very important part of agility as if you enter competitions your dog may be competing with hundreds of other dogs and people around.
Don’t expect to just hop right to doing obstacles, many trainers like your dog to take a foundation skills class. It’s well worth it and like my instructor told me, “If you want to be successful, the foundation has to be developed. Just like you can’t build a house right on the ground without any sort of foundation, you cannot be good at agility without the proper foundation.”
Once you take an agility class and figure out if it’s for you, then you’ll want a yard full of your own equipment and a simple google search of DIY agility equipment will turn up many plans for building your own stuff if you’re on a budget, or there are companies that sell competition grade equipment.
Coonhound Shaina, 20″ Agility Jump. Picture by Pat Ray
There’s a variety of agility equipment such as –
Jumps – The most common, these come in single pole, double, triple, and flat panels.
Weaves – Vary from 6 to 12 poles depending on the skill level of your dog. They must weave in/out of them all.
Tunnels – Every dogs favorite thing! Tunnels have a vacuum sucking power and most dogs get sucked into them even when they’re not part of the sequence. Just kidding, the tunnels have no sucking power, but they are a lot of fun to run through and many dogs can’t resist them.
Tire Jump – A big circle, that resembles a tire, that your dog must jump through.
Broad Jump – Flat, slightly elevated boards that are laid on the ground and the dog must jump and clear them all. Number of boards in this jump vary upon the size of your dog.
The following are Contact Obstacles, meaning your dog must touch the yellow parts of each with at least one paw in order for the obstacle to be considered safely taken. This rule was put into place so dogs were not being injured while jumping from an obstacle per-maturely, if this happens you’ll be disqualified. Many agility competitors teach their dog to do a two on, two off on the contacts, meaning the dog races over the obstacle and then comes to a stop at the end with their two back feet in the yellow and their two front feet on the ground in front of them.
Aframe – The 5 foot tall obstacle that goes up on an angle and comes down on an angle. Each end is marked with yellow and your dog must
Shaina practicing her Two Paw Contact
go over one side and then come down the other and at least one foot must touch the yellow before they jump off.
Teeter – Up one side and down with a BANG on the opposite. Like the Aframe, the teeter is marked with yellow on the ends that your dogs feet must touch.
Dog Walk – The dog walks up the ramp and across the flat top and down the other side. The dog walk is very narrow and combined with it’s off the ground height, it’s yet another safety concern so again, the dog must touch the yellow at the end.
Table – Once on the table, your dog must remain with all four feet on it for 5 full seconds.
Once you master all of the obstacles and start putting them into sequences I urge you to attend a competition in your area, and if possible, volunteer to help. You can learn so much from watching trials, from how the other dogs and handlers work, to how things run.
As you and your dog progress through agility, you’ll learn moves like front crosses, rear crosses, blind crosses, and a variety of other agility terms. As you practice, your dog learns to read your body language and they use that to help them quickly put together where you want them to go.
I love the fast pace energy of agility and I especially love seeing how my dogs light up when I grab my agility bag. They’re eager to play this sport and that makes me happy.