Agility is one of the fastest-growing dog sports. It’s lots of fun for both the handler and the dog! Most agility competitions are open to all dogs, mixed breed or pure breed, as long as they are physically capable of doing the obstacles. In agility, the dog and handler must complete a course of various obstacles in a certain amount of time. Faults are given for any errors made on the course, such as a missed contact or knocked down jump. Agility tests speed and skill; dogs that are both fast and accurate usually win. There are several organizations that run agility, and the rules and types of courses and obstacles vary in each one.
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Agility at Home
Ever wanted to try basic agility at home, but didn’t know where to start? Read this page and you’ll soon be ready to have some fun – agility style – with your dog!
To start training for agility, your dog must know and consistently respond to come, sit, down, and stay/wait. Your dog should also be able to stay in the area around you and respond to you while you walk, jog, and run. When you and your dog have mastered these commands, you’re ready to advance!
Start getting your dog used to walking and jogging on ordinary surfaces such as grass, carpet, rugs, and cement. Then try things such as a tarp lying on the ground. Walking and jogging on/over these surfaces can increase a dog’s confidence, especially in the case of nervous dogs.
There are several options when it comes to teaching your dog where to put its feet:
- All you need for the first exercise is a ladder. Simply lie a ladder flat on the ground and teach your dog to walk through it.
- Another idea involves pop cans. Collect a lot of pop cans and dent them in the middle. You will need two pop cans for each “cavaletti“. Lie a bar or stick across the two pop cans and you have a slightly raised bar to teach your dog to trot over. Five to twelve of these in a row can really help your dog learn to place its feet properly.
When it comes to actual jumps, there are several things you can do:
- Go to a park or forest, and encourage your dog to jump over fallen logs and sticks. This will teach your dog to jump over natural looking obstacles.
- Make your own bar jumps at home. To do this you just need some bars (4′ long dowels with a 1/2″ to 1″ diameter work well. You can get these at a hardware store such as Home Depot) and bricks or flowerpots. Stand some bricks up (the ones with holes work the best) and lie the bars on top. With flowerpots, it’s the same thing. You can make your jumps more interesting by adding a plank or windowbox style planter underneath the jump.
One of the types of equipment you will find on the agility course is contacts. This group includes the A-Frame, the crossover, the dog walk, the see-saw (teeter-totter), sway bridge, and swing plank. When performing the pieces of equipment in this category, the dogs usually have to touch contact zones. Contact zones are areas on the piece of equipment that the dog has to touch with its paws before ascending and descending. These areas are painted different colors than the main area of the equipment. If a dog doesn’t touch the contact zone, it gets penalty points. Each piece of equipment is explained in more detail below.
The A-Frame is shaped like a capital A. It has sturdy planks on both sides and chains or wooden braces are used to keep it stable. There are contact zones on the lower few feet of both sides of the A-Frame. The A-Frame is performed correctly if the dog runs up one side and down the other without missing the contact zones. Commands you can use to direct your dog to the A-Frame are “go frame”, “scramble”, or “climb it”.
The crossover is four inclined planks that meet at an elevated platform in the middle. It looks like an X with a square in the middle when you look at it from the top. The dog goes up the plank assigned by the judge and then down the middle, left, or right plank, whichever one is assigned by the judge. Penalties are given if the dog misses any of the contact zones that are on all the planks or if the dog takes the wrong plank. Several words you can use to direct your dog to the crossover are “walk” or “plank”.
The dog walk is made of three planks. One ascends, the next is straight, and the third is descending. There are contact zones of the lower few feet of the ascending and descending planks. The dog goes up the first plank, along the long straight one, and down the third plank. Penalties are given if the dog misses either of the contact zones. A command you could use for this piece of equipment is “walk it”.
The see-saw is a plank that pivots when your dog gets to the middle. There are contact zones on the lower few feet on both sides of the plank. To do it correctly, the dog must walk up, stop in the middle, wait for the plank to pivot and the end to touch the ground, and then walk down the other side. Penalties are given if the dog misses the contacts, or if the dog “flies off” the see-saw and hits the ground before the see-saw does! A good word to use for the see-saw is “teeter” and use “tip” when your dog is in the middle.
The sway bridge is like the dog walk, only the middle plank sways as your dog crosses it. It has contact zones on the lower few feet of the ascending and descending planks, and penalties are given if the dog misses the contacts, or jumps over the sway part of the bridge. A good word to use is “bridge”.
The swing plank is one plank that is low enough off the ground that it doesn’t need ramps for ascending and descending and doesn’t have contact zones. The plank can swing in all directions. The dog performs correctly when it mounts the plank, walks along it, and steps off the other side. Penalties are given if the dog jumps over the whole plank (I’ve seen dogs doing that before!) or makes the plank swing backward while the dog is still on it. A command you could use is “plank”.
Jumps often make up a lot of the obstacles on the agility course. They are one of the least complicated pieces of equipment, and it is relatively easier to teach your dog to go over a jump than to use a piece of contact equipment properly. The height of the jumps is decided according to the size of the dog. Jumps are fun and can be taken without slowing down a lot, so they add excitement to the agility course. The following are some of the many types of jumps you will find on the agility course.
Bar jumps are not wide, they are vertical jumps. Penalties are given for knocked down bars. Commands you could use for jumping are “over”, “hup”, “jump”, or “fly”.
Double Bar Jump
Double bar jumps have two bars at the top and are wide jumps. The width of the jump is usually half of the jump’s height. Penalties are given for knocked down bars. Commands you could use for jumping are “over”, “hup”, “jump”, or “fly”. It is sometimes a good idea to use a different command for double bar jumps than you use for single bar jumps so the dog knows the jump is wide.
Spread jumps are made up of several bars that increase in height. They are quite difficult to jump as the dog has to jump high and wide. Penalties are given for knocked down bars. Commands you could use for jumping are “over”, “hup”, “jump”, or “fly”.
As you can guess from the name, plank jumps are just ordinary jumps that use planks instead of bars. Planks can be in any shape, they can be ordinary rectangular planks or have interesting shapes such as bones. Penalties are given if the dog knocks the plank down. Commands you could use for jumping are “over”, “hup”, “jump”, or “fly”.
Wide (Broad) Jump
Wide jumps are just that, wide. They are usually quite low. The boards get gradually higher, and then gradually lower again. Penalties are given if the dog doesn’t clear the width and knocks down or steps on any of the boards. Commands you could use for jumping are “over”, “hup”, “jump”, or “fly”. You may want to use a different command than your usual jump command for this type of jump.
Tire jumps are simply tires held up by frames. The dog has to jump through the tire. Penalties are given if the dog jumps between the tire frame and the tire, or just runs underneath the tire. Some commands you could use for this type of jump are “through” or “tire”.
Tunnels are a lot of fun once your dog is used to going through them. They add excitement and speed to the agility course since your dog doesn’t have to slow down to go through most of them. Below are more details on the different types of tunnels.
Open tunnels are probably the most popular type of tunnel. They are flexible and can be straight or bent. They are not at all complicated, the dog just goes in one end and comes out the other! The only way of getting penalties for this is if the dog runs around the tunnel or runs half way through, turns around, and then comes out the end it went in. Good commands to use for this are “go tunnel” or “go through”.
Closed Tunnel (a.k.a. Chute)
Closed tunnels have two pieces, the barrel section at the beginning and the fabric section. As your dog runs through, the fabric is pushed up around it and then collapses again once your dog is out. This can be hard for dogs that don’t like going through dark things. Some commands you can use are “go through” or “chute”.
The hoop tunnel is made of 8 hoops set in a frame at a 60-degree angle to each other. The hoops can be no more than 1 inch off the ground. Penalties are given if the dog enters or exits between the hoops instead of going through the entrance and exit. Some commands you could use are “hoop” or “through”.
The crawl tunnel is low and straight. The dogs have to crouch down in order to crawl underneath the tunnel. Some commands for this tunnel could be “through” or “crawl”.
Other Agility Equipment
The pause table is quite simple. The dog has to jump on the table and then either sit or lie down for the amount of time specified by the judge, usually 5 seconds. Penalties are given if the dog gets up during the count (depending on the level, the dog may or may not be faulted for this), or if the dog jumps on and then off the table before settling into a down (bouncing). A good command for this is “table” and then “sit” or down” and “wait” or “stay”.
A pause box is sometimes used instead of a pause table. It is basically the same thing, but the dog has to enter in a certain side of the box (which is on the ground) and leave on a certain side. The dog has to sit or down for a specified amount of time. Penalties are given if the dog enters or leaves on the wrong side, or if it gets up during the countdown. A good command is “box” and then “sit” or “down” followed by “wait” or “stay”.
Weave poles are quite hard to teach dogs, so most people use training wires or channels when teaching it to their dogs. The dog has to enter on the right side of the poles, so the first pole is on the dogs left, the second on its right, etc. The dog has to continue weaving through the poles. In competition, weave poles are usually set 20 to 24 inches apart are in sets of 6, 10, or 12 poles. Penalties are given if the dog enters on the wrong side or misses a pole. A good command to use is “weave”.