Dog Training – What's Agility?

Dog Training – What’s Agility?

By C. Rogers Upson

Based on Grand Prix-style horse jumping events, Dog Agility has come a long way since its inception more than twenty years ago. Dog lovers all over the world have taken to this event in droves.

There are two types of classes of Agility: Standard and Jumpers with Weaves. In Standard Agility, there are between 13 and 20 obstacles that include the Dog Walk, the A-Frame, the Pause Table and tunnels. Jumpers with Weaves doesn’t include the contact obstacles such as the A-Frame, but does have the tunnel, chute and the tire jump.

The contact obstacles in Standard Agility have clearly marked “contact” points on either end of the obstacle that _must_ be touched, or points are taken off. Points are also lost for taking an obstacle out of sequence (off course), not pausing long enough on the pause table, refusing any obstacle, or taking too long to complete the course. Three refusals/misses on any obstacle are grounds for dismissal from the class.

In Jumpers with Weaves, the contact obstacles are removed and more jumps added to the course. The weave poles are a fascinating aspect of the courses. There may be six to twelve poles for the dog to weave through and to see a skilled dog do them is an amazing sight. Some of the dogs literally jump from side to side as they move through the poles.

On the day of the trial, the judge sets up the course with a view to variety in the obstacles and timing. Jump heights are dependent upon the size of the dog(s) to be run, so they may be set for one size dog and all those entries run before the jump heights are changed.

Titles in either event are Novice (NA or NAJ), Open (OA or OAJ), Excellent (AX or AXJ), Excellent B (MX or MXJ), and Master Agility Champion (MACH).

Obstacles like the A-Frame (which is set to 6 feet high), the Dog Walk (two ramps attached to a cross-walk approximately 5 feet high), and the Teeter-totter challenge the dog in balance and fortitude. The Pause Table is a challenge in control. The dog is asked to stop on a table-like obstacle and either sit or down (at the judge’s discretion) for a specific period of time and then continue on the course.

Training for Agility should begin with the “height” obstacles lowered to safe levels, even to the point of laying flat on the ground. The goal is to teach the dog confidence and safety in taking the obstacle. As the obstacles are slowly raised, the dog is taught to navigate them more rapidly, but still with an eye to safety. Eventually, they are raised to their proper height and the dog learns to negotiate them at speed.

The tunnels are large “tubes” of material that can be set in any configuration from straight to a U shape. There is also a “chute” which is like a tunnel, but one end is open and the other is unsupported so it lies on the ground. In the chute, the dog must push her way through the material at speed. This can be a difficult obstacle to teach the dog, as it appears to her that it’s a dead-end.

Learning to manuver over the teeter-totter, or seesaw, is another tricky skill for the dog. He must go up one side, pause at the apex and cause the board to seesaw down in the other direction, then continue the course.

With patience and practice, your dog could become an Agility “nut” and cover the course with a bark of excitement every step. Better eat your Wheaties, because this is not a sedentary sport to be involved in.

C. Rogers Upson has been training dogs and studying them for nearly 40 years. Her website is Dog Potentials and she has two dog-related stores at Keeping to the Borders and Dog Potentials-The Store.

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