If your dog loves to run, jump, and problem solve, agility may be your sport!
How Does the Sport Work?
Agility is a timed sport where a handler guides his or her dog through a series of obstacles. Dogs jump; weave; run through tunnels; and run over contact obstacles like an A-frame, dog-walk, and see-saw. Dogs are trained using verbal commands and body language; no leashes are used on course.
All breeds and mixed breeds are welcome in agility! A dog’s jump height is based on their shoulder height when standing. Jump heights range from 4-inches to 24-inches, so agility is friendly to tiny dogs, giant dogs, and everything in between. There is also an option for dogs to jump one jump height lower than their measured height; this can be a great option for dogs as they age or for dogs who have a hard time with their measured jump height. Dogs may start competing in AKC Agility once they are 15 months old.
Getting Started with Agility
The best foundation for agility is a recall and training your dog to focus amidst distractions. Agility trials have a lot of barking dogs, cheering spectators, and even loudspeakers at some events. If you have some basic DIY skills, you can even build some jumps and weave poles and practice in your backyard. Puppies should not jump full height or do full scale obstacles until their growth plates have closed, but there are many foundation exercises that they can do to start preparing for an agility career.
Training for Agility
Agility is trained using positive reinforcement. Agility is a fun game that dogs enjoy playing; no harsh training methods are needed. There are lots of classes and lessons, in person and online, available to learn agility! With some basic equipment, there is a lot of training you can do at home.
On an agility course at a competition the standard obstacles include three contact obstacles; dog-walk, A-Frame, and teeter totter. These obstacles are named because they have a differently colored contact zone at the end of the equipment. A safety rule requires that the dog touch that contact zone while exiting that piece of equipment. The table is a piece of equipment where the dog must wait for a count of 5-seconds before continuing course. There are various types of jumps, some include a spread in addition to height, and others are just a spread or just height. The tire is also considered a jump. Tunnels come in varying lengths and are great fun for most dogs. Lastly, weave poles are often considered the most challenging obstacle in agility. Sets of six or 12 are seen on AKC agility courses.
Agility competitions are called trials. At AKC Agility trials there are several different classes available to enter; Standard, Jumpers with Weaves, Time2Beat, and FAST (Fifteen And Send Time). Standard agility classes include all equipment and a numbered course; various types of jumps, tunnels, weave poles, table, and contact obstacles. Jumpers with Weaves classes only include jumps, tunnels, and weave poles on a numbered course. Time2Beat classes use jumps, tunnels, weave poles, and certain contact obstacles on a numbered course. The goal in Time2Beat is to run the course as fast as possible, thus becoming the dog and handler team with the “time to beat.” In a FAST class the handler designs their own course with different obstacles worth a certain point value. There is also a distance challenge, the “send,” which is worth a certain number of points. The dog and handler team that collects the most points, wins!
Agility trial classes are broken down by skill level. There are four levels in AKC Agility: novice, open, excellent, and masters. Dogs move up through skill levels by earning a certain number of qualifying scores in each class.
Titles and Recognition
As dogs advance through the various levels of AKC Agility, they earn titles for each level they complete and in each class they complete. For example, when your dog earns three qualifying scores in the Open level Jumpers with Weaves, your dog earns the ‘OAJ’ title and can move up to the next level in the Jumpers with Weaves class.
The Master Agility Champion, or MACH, title is awarded to dogs who earn 20 double Q’s and 750 speed points. A Q is a qualifying score; a double Q is a qualifying score in both the Standard class and the Jumpers with Weaves class on the same day. A speed point is earned for every full second under standard course time (SCT) that a dog runs a course. For example, if the SCT is 75 seconds, and your dog completes the course in 55 seconds, your dog will earn 20 speed points for that run.
Pet Insurance for the Competitor
Did you know, pet insurance is a great tool to help keep your dog feeling his best during training and competition! Pet insurance provides reimbursement for eligible veterinary care for wellness and preventative treatments, accidents and illnesses, and much more!
Learn more about agility and how your dog can get started here.
Breanne Long is a dog trainer and a member of the AKC GoodDog! Helpline team. The Helpline provides seven-day-a-week training and behavioral advice to its clients. Professional dog trainers man the line. The service is good for the life of your dog, and there is no limit to calls or questions. For more information: https://www.akc.org/products-services/akc-gooddog-helpline/