Dog Care 101 Tip #180 – Dog Sports: Agility

Does your dog like to romp and play? Is your dog a bundle of raw energy? Do you like spending time with your dog and teaching him new tricks? Does your dog love training? If you answered Yes to all of those questions, then you and your dog have met the requirements for Dog Sports! If you aren’t familiar with Dog Sports, Best Bully Sticks would love to educate you on the fun world of “professional” play! Today Best Bully Sticks is talking about Dog Agility!

What is Agility?
A doggy obstacle course! Agility exercises and trials consist of a series of impediments a dog must navigate around, through, or over. Dogs are judged for both time and accuracy throughout the entire course.  A dog’s owner or handler helps a dog navigate though the course by a series of verbal commands and hand or arm cues. The success of a dog’s run through the course depends on the communication skills between dog and handler as well as training before hand.

Sport Training
Training for this sport usually begins for dogs between the ages of 1 to 2. Basic puppy training is the obvious place to start. Building confidence with positive reinforcement will start your dog off in the right direction for mastering more complicated commands.

Training your dog for the particular obstacles in agility trials can be taken up by you or by a professional trainer. Classes with a trainer allow your dog access to the trial obstacles without you having to buy or build them yourself.

There are 3 basic types of obstacles—jumps, tunnels and contact—and a few individual obstacles such as weave poles and pause boxes.

Hopefully, this one is pretty self-explanatory, however jumps range in complexity. Here are a few of the basic jumps.

Jump: Two vertical posts holding up a single horizontal bar, which can be adjusted for the height of the dog. Single jumps can have wings or be various shapes, sizes and colors.

Double, Triple or Spread: This jump is made up of two vertical posts supporting two or three horizontal bars spread a part from each other. The bars are parallel when double and ascending when triple.

Panel Jump: This is simply a solid panel starting at the ground and to adjusted to jump height for the size of the dog.

Broad Jump: A set of four or five raised platforms make up this jump and forms a “broad” area that the dog must clear. Length is adjusted for a dog’s size.

Tire Jump: A “tire” suspended in a stationary frame. A dog has to jump through the opening, which is taped both for visibility and to create a “catch-free” surface. Most tire jumps have a breakaway capability.

This is usually one of the easiest obstacles to train your dog through. Dogs simply have to complete the length of the tunnel as quickly as possible.

Simple Tunnel: A 10 to 20 foot vinyl tunnel which can be positioned in a straight line or curved.

Collapsed Tunnel: This is an open tube at one end with a 8 to 12 foot fabric tail on the other end. Dog enter the tube on the open end and must push through the fabric until they exit on the other side.

Other: The crawl tunnel and the hoop tunnel are two types only used by the United Kennel Club (UKC).

Contact Obstacles
These obstacles are dubbed “contact” obstacles because there are specific spots on each that a dog must touch with at least one paw. At times, training your dog on these obstacles takes a little creativity.

A-Frame: This is a teepee shaped construction of broad boards that are hinged together at the top. The contact zone on this exercise are on both boards and are painted a different color at the bottom 36 to 42 inches. To assist a dog on this obstacle, horizontal slats are built in to the boards so a dog has a grip going up and down.

Dogwalk: This obstacle is a basically an A-Frame with a flat top. Made up of three boards, the Dogwalk rises about 4 feet off the ground to the center plank. The contact zones on a Dogwalk are much like those on an A-fram obstacles and gripping slats are also present.

Teeter-Totter: Yes, it’s a seesaw for dogs. On the teeter-totter a plank is placed on a fulcrum making a dog use his weight to run up one side and push down the other. This obstacle has contact zones, but no slats for grip. However, some agility organizations do allow or require the board to be rubberized.

A few other single obstacles can be used in Agility.

Weave Poles: This obstacle is a series of poles arranged in a single line that a dog must navigate through alternating left/right to the side of poles. A dog has to enter with the first pole to the left and not skip poles. This can be the hardest obstacle to learn. 

Pause Table/Box: This obstacle asks a dog to remain still after being in motion. A dog must jump on top of the Pause Table, or enter the Pause Box and sit or lay for usually around 5 seconds.

Sport Basics
Each dog/handler team is allowed a short walk through before the trial begins. Here they can review strategy and find the most accurate path for the timed run. Planning is key so the dog and handler can keep channels of communication clear during the trial.

When competition begins, each dog and handler have one opportunity to run the course successfully. The dog begins and ends behind a designated line and when the handler signals, the dog will begin the course. The handler runs the course near the dog, signaling with verbal, hand and arm gestures. Accuracy is very important, but so is speed. At the highest levels of Agility Trials, dogs complete the course in a full run.

Scoring is tallied based on how many faults the dog had on the course. Faults usually include things like knocking a jump bar down or skipping an obstacle. Time faults are also counted against a dog if the time taken to complete the course is over the standard course time.

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