Dog Agility Explained

Dog agility is a fun way to develop a bond with your dog while getting him sufficient exercise and training. Even if your goal isn't to compete, agility classes are popping up all over the country, allowing training options for dogs and owners that are bored by regular obedience.

Dog Agility Competition Options

Dog agility consists of an obstacle course with various obstacles for your dog to jump over, climb over or climb through. In each competition, the judge places the obstacles in a certain order, requiring the handler to direct her dog through the obstacles in the correct order.

Dogs are broken into categories based on their size. Each dog is competing against one another's time. The dog with the best time wins.

Though AKC competitions allow only purebred dogs, many organizations, such as UKC, USDAA and NADAC allow mixed breeds to compete as well. Because the competitions are based on speed and focus, however, working dogs such as terriers, Australian shepherds and shelties often excel moreso than other breeds.

Obstacles in an Agility Course

The obstacles are broken into four categories: contact obstacles, jumps, tunnels and miscellaneous.

Contact obstacles consist of the dog walk, teeter totter and A-frame, all obstacles that your dog must climb and walk across. They are called contact obstacles because on the entry and exit of each, there is a section painted a different color where your dog must touch as he starts and finishes the obstacle. If he does not, a penalty is assessed.

There are many more jump obstacles. Some of them are rare and may never be seen until competition while some are so basic they can be purchase online for practice. Classes usually offer the basics: bar jump, panel jump, tire jump and broad jump. You may also see the double or triple bar jump, the window jump, the platform jump, wing jump or bench fence hurdle.

Tunnels are simply broken down into two types: the open tunnel and the collapsible tunnel. As the name implies, the open tunnel is sturdy while the collapsible tunnel has an opening with cloth draped around it, lifting only as your dog runs through.

Additional obstacles include the pause table, where your dog must jump on maintain a short stay, and the weave poles, which are basically poles stuck in the ground several inches apart that your dog must weave through, not skipping any pole.

Appropriate Health for Agility

To compete in agility, your dog must be in proper health. This type of exercise is very taxing on your dog's body. It's not for dogs that are obese or suffer from any type of physical injury or joint problem. If your dog can't tolerate heat or exercise, you may want to build up to agility competition or check with your veterinarian before beginning.

It's a good idea to introduce obstacles to young puppies if you would like to compete seriously, but don't start running courses with your dog until he has finished growing. Starting your dog too young can cause joint and development problems, especially in large breed dogs. Instead, allow your dog to walk through tunnels and slowly over scary obstacles like the teeter totter when he is a puppy and allow climbing obstacles after he is a year or older.