Dog agility is a hobby or sport which is becoming increasingly popular with dog owners today. As well as helping to keep both you and your dog fit and test and improve your skills, dog agility is great fun and a very social pastime for both you and your pet.At the top end of the spectrum, national competitions and high profile agility classes at Crufts receive a lot of attention from both dog lovers and the media, but agility really is for everyone, and you don't have to be super fit at the start or have a lean, mean jumping machine of a dog in order to get involved.Sounds like dog agility may be for you? Then read on!
Competitive dog agility involves the handler or owner running their dog off the lead through a timed obstacle course which is judged for both accuracy and speed. The dogs take direction from their handler, and part of the rules dictate that once the course has begun and timing has started, the handler may not touch either any of the obstacles or their dog.The handler uses hand and arm movements, vocal cues and body language to guide the dog through the course, and so agility helps to form an incredibly strong bond between the dog and the handler, with a high level of obedience, coordination and training eventually achieved in the dog.While the difficulty of any course and its layout varies greatly at different levels of the sport, the intention of course building is that it must be sufficiently complex that the dog would not be able to simply start with the first obstacle and then run the remainder of the course themselves in a linear fashion, without the direction of their handler.
A variety of different obstacles and jumps are used within agility courses, each having their own unique challenges and features. As well as small jumps or hurdles much like those used in equestrian show jumping but on a smaller scale, most courses will include various different types of obstructions and equipment for the dog to navigate over and around.Some of the most commonly used obstacles in agility as well as jumps, are the 'A' frame, where the dog must run up one side of a triangular shaped walkway and down the other- while making contact at the mounting and dismounting 'contact zones' which is painted in a contrasting colour. Jumping onto or off the 'A' frame without touching the contact zones is considered a fault, and marked accordingly.The 'dog walk' obstacle is similar to the 'A' frame, but rather than constituting a pointed triangle, involves a sloping walkway meeting a higher flat platform along which the dog must run, with contact points at the start and finish as with the 'A' frame.A seesaw or a teeter totter involves the dog stepping onto a pivoting plank, walking or running the length of it (which causes the plank to tip) and dismounting from the end of it, again touching the contact points in order to be valid.Weaving poles require the dog to wind in and out of a set of flexible vertical poles while timed, without missing out any of the sections or exiting before the end.Tunnels of various types including both straight and winding tunnels and 'collapsed' tunnels which are made of fabric which the dog must push through without seeing their path ahead are also popular agility obstacles.
Dog agility really is for everyone, and the dog agility championship competition at Crufts always sees a variety of entries from dog both large and small, with pedigree and Heinz 57 dogs equally represented. Dogs that love to play and jump, have bundles of energy and intelligence and are good at problem solving and obeying their handler come in all shapes and sizes, and there really is no particular type of dog that is automatically good or bad at the sport. Dog agility competitions are usually arranged into classes dependent on the size of the dog, and so everything from Jack Russells to large breeds are equally welcome to compete.
If you think your dog might enjoy agility and you're keen to give it a go, start with some of the local groups and clubs that are active in most areas of the UK. Buying or making your own agility equipment can be both costly and time consuming, so for the novice dog and handler, arranging to go along for a 'have a go' session at a local club or group is the best way to begin.You'll be able to talk to experienced handlers and owners, agility experts and other dog owners who enjoy agility for a range of reasons, from simply having fun and staying fit to keen competitors and professionals in the field. Good training and responsiveness in your dog are two of the main components in successful dog agility, and so your dog will need to be well trained and receptive to learning new skills to take to agility easily. While it can of course be easier to start your dog at agility while they are still young, there's little truth in the saying that "you can't teach an old dog new tricks" and plenty of fit, older dogs take to agility like a duck to water in later life. If your adult dog enjoys running, jumping and playing as part of their everyday walks, then agility may be a natural progression for them and have a beneficial effect on both the dog and yourself.
Once you have mastered the basics and are able to command your dog in how to successfully negotiate the obstacles, ignore the crowd and follow your commands, competition at various levels is open to dogs and their handler's right across the UK. Whether you simply want to achieve a higher level of training and deeper bond with your dog by testing your skills, or if you have really got the agility bug and are keen to prove yourself against competitors in the field, dog agility competitions are both highly watchable and great fun to compete in. Check out some of these links for agility clubs and events around the UK to find out more.