Dog agility is a sport for dogs. It is an obstacle course race where the dog is judged on the speed and accuracy that they accomplish the race with. During the race, the dog owner or handler directs the dog using verbal and hand commands, they are not allowed to touch the dog nor offer food rewards. The sport of dog agility was first seen in the 1970s at the Crufts Dog show in the United Kingdom. To help entertain spectators during intermission dogs ran a course similar to that used for horse jumping competitions; the event was so popular that it quickly spread worldwide and evolved into the dog sport we know today.
Each agility course is slightly different, but all are complicated enough that a dog could not complete them correctly without human guidance. Most agility courses cover a 100 x 100 foot area and usually include various types of jumps, an A-frame, see-saw, collapsed tunnel, pause table, dog walk, and possibly weave poles or a tire or hoop jump. The course can be set up with u-turns, may use the same obstacle twice, have obstacles extremely close together or spread far apart; it is always set up in a way that challenges both dog and handler. During an agility competition, the handler runs along beside the dog giving him verbal commands and hand signals to guide him quickly through the course. Judges judge the dogs on their speed and accuracy and points are removed from their final score if the dogs misses an obstacle or knocks over a jump bar etc. The dog in each group with the best score wins.
Each organization has different rules, but all separate dogs into competing groups that matches their size and experience level. Obstacles are adjusted to match the groupâ€™s size, so dogs that measure 12-16 inches at their withers have jumps that are 16 inches high, while dogs that measure that are 17-20 inches tall have jumps that are 20 inches high. This helps to keep the event even and fair. Dogs are also separated in to novice and experienced groups, and in some cases are also divided by age; senior dogs are given lower hurdles to ensure they do not hurt themselves. Dogs are never separated by breed and in most cases both purebred and mixed breed dogs can compete.
Depending on the organization, dogs must be at least 6-12 months old to participate competitively in agility. This is done to ensure that young dogs do not damage growing bones and joints with all the jumping and intense training. Most dogs are able to participate in the sport until they are 8-10 years old as long as they are in good health. Agility courses for senior dogs are usually scaled back to make it easier on the dog. All dogs participating in agility should be veterinarian checked and should be in excellent health. Good vision is particularly important for agility dogs and dogs with hair that falls over their eyes should have it trimmed or tied up for competitions.
Training a dog for agility takes a fair amount of work and dedication. Before even starting agility training, dogs will need some basic obedience training; they will need to know how to sit, lie down, stay and come when called. They should also be comfortable around strangers and behave properly around other dogs. It is also recommended that dogs be taught to heel off lead. When starting agility training the obstacles are kept very easy and the dog is physically helped through the obstacles in addition to food rewards and toys being used. As training progresses, the difficulty of the obstacles is slowly increased and the treats and toys are slowly phased out, and the owner establishes command words and hand signals to guide the dog through the obstacles. Owners can train their dog to do agility on their own in their backyard, but most people find it far easier to go to a dog obedience center that offers agility training.
Like any of the organized dog sports, agility is an excellent way to get a dog exercise, training and socialization. It is also a great way for owners to establish themselves as pack leaders and to strengthen the bond between themselves and their dog. Most of all, agility is a lot of fun for both the owner and the dog and is a great activity to do together.