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01 Basics of Agility


This article is from the Dogs Agility FAQ, by J L Gauntt with numerous contributions by others.

01 Basics of Agility

Dog agility is a sport in which a handler is given a set amount of
time in which to direct a dog off-leash through an obstacle course.
Originally loosely modeled on equestrian stadium jumpers competitions,
the sport has evolved its own additional obstacles, scoring systems
and performance ideals. Agility made its debut as an entertainment for
spectators at the Crufts Dog Show in 1979; it has since become the
most rapidly growing dog sport in England, Western Europe and North
America. Spectators continue today to get caught up watching the dog
and handler's enthusiasm in their athletic race against the clock.

In the United States, there are several national organizations for
agility which sanction tests or trials held by local dog training
clubs. Trials which are based on the original international rules and
specifications call for the highest level of agility from the dogs
both in terms of speed and the physical ability to perform the
obstacles. There are also domestic varieties of the sport that call
for less actual agility (by using lower jump heights and smaller
obstacles) from the dog and focus more on the handling aspects of the

There are several obstacles common to all the different organizations:
Dog Walk

Pipe Tunnel
Collapsed Tunnel
Pause Table

Weave Poles
Tire or Hoop Jump
Various Types of Jumps

The obstacles used in agility have been designed with both safety and
spectator appeal in mind. All jumps have easily displaceable bars so
that the dog should not experience injury should he misjudge and take
down a jump bar. All obstacles that the dog must physically scale have
'contact' zones painted on the equipment; the contact zones enforce
safe training techniques since handlers know that dogs will be faulted
unless one or more feet are in the contact zones when
ascending/descending these contact obstacles. All contact equipment
surfaces are roughened for good traction in both dry and wet weather.

In competition, the obstacles are arranged in various course
configurations, always unique from trial to trial, that offer levels
of challenges appropriate to the class and experience level of the
dogs competing. The handler must direct their dog around the course in
the sequence that has been predetermined by the judge. At the entry
levels of competitions, courses contain few complications and are more
of a test to prove the dog can competently perform the equipment
within a reasonable amount of time. As the dog and handler earn their
way into successively higher levels, the courses increase in
complexity and begin to require split second timing and coordination
between the handler and dog in order to accomplish the course within
the 'Standard Course Time' (SCT) established by the judge.

The rules are fairly simple; handlers may give an unlimited number of
commands or signals to their dogs, but may not touch either the
equipment or the dog. Dogs are 'faulted' for actions such as taking
down a jump bar, failing to put one or more feet in the safety or
contact zone when ascending/descending contact equipment, taking
obstacles out of sequence, and running past or stopping before the
next obstacle to be performed. Time penalties are additionally
assessed against dogs that exceed the SCT.

Dogs compete only against dogs of similar height at the withers within
a fixed number of jump height divisions. The number of height
divisions and the ranges of dog heights assigned to a height division
(and therefore the difficulty factor) differ considerably from
organization to organization. Regardless of the organization, the dog
with the lowest number of faults and the fastest time wins the class
or height division.

The largest national organizations are as follows:

United States Dog Agility Association (USDAA)
P.O. Box 850955, Richardson, TX 75085-0995

American Kennel Club (AKC)
5580 Centerview Dr., Suite 200, Raleigh, NC 27606-3390

United Kennel Club (UKC)
100 East Kilgore Rd, Kalamazoo, MI 49001-5598

North American Dog Agility Council, Inc. (NADAC)
HCR 2, Box 277, St. Maries, ID 83861

Agility Association of Canada (AAC)
638 Wonderland Road South, London, ONT N6K 1L8


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