Run, Jump, and Climb: An Introduction to Dog Agility

Dog agility is one of the most popular canine sports. Here, dog owners can learn about this sport, along with how to prepare for introductory competitions.

May 31, 2024By Amanda Henry
introduction to dog agility

Even if you don't know much about dog sports, you've probably heard of dog agility before. And agility is popular and well-known for good reason. This intense, fast-paced sport is fun to compete in and very exciting to watch.

What Is Dog Agility?

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Agility is a dog sport consisting of obstacles you must direct your dog through, competing for accuracy and speed. Three main agility obstacles (known as the contact obstacles) include the A-frame, the dog walk, and the teeter, each of which the dog must climb over. Agility courses also have a variety of different jumps, as well as tunnels and weave poles. Although these are the most common obstacles, each competition differs.

Each organization has its own set of rules on the courses and levels offered, and different obstacles get used depending on the course type and competition level. While most venues will offer a standard course with all the traditional obstacles, some variations include courses with just tunnels, courses without contact obstacles, or courses without jumps.

What Dog Breeds Participate in Agility Trials?

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You can train any dog to navigate a simple agility course. Yet, when it comes to competing, some dogs have faster run times than others. For instance, Border Collies (one of the most intelligent dog breeds) were bred to herd livestock. They’re naturally able to navigate uneven terrain and hyperfocus. This makes them among the top contenders in the world of breed-specific sports. Other dogs known to excel in agility courses include:

You may have noticed that many of the dogs listed are medium or large-size breeds. Yet, here’s a surprising contender in the world of agility: the Papillion. Alert, friendly, and happy, these pint-sized pups eagerly weave between poles, jump over obstacles, and race through tunnels.

Is Agility the Right Sport for Your Dog?

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If you want to work with your dog to develop teamwork, better communication, and an unshakable bond, then agility might be right for you. Agility would also be a good activity if you're looking for a fun way to tire out your dog, especially if you have a high-energy pup––like an Australian Cattle Dog.

But even though agility can be a lot of fun, it can also be quite time-consuming. Especially if you want to be competitive, be preprepared to put in at least a couple of hours of training per week. However, it can be less of a time commitment if you just want to have fun with your dog without worrying about being super competitive.

Regardless of the amount of time you want to invest, one of the main drawbacks of agility is that it is difficult to start at home. But if you're willing to look for a club or a trainer with a facility, plenty are available.

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Before starting agility, you should also consider your dog's characteristics. Agility might not be the best choice if your dog does not enjoy running around or taking direction. Your dog's breed is also something to consider, as some breeds do better than others in this sport. However, agility is open to any breed or mixed breed, giving any dog the potential to have fun. That being said, agility is a high-impact sport, so it is unsuitable for dogs with injuries or young dogs who are still growing. Senior dogs might also struggle with this sport, although some venues offer a veteran’s class with reduced jump heights.

How to Get Started in Agility

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The easiest way to get started in agility is to join a club or find a trainer offering agility classes. Because the sport is so popular, both options are widely available. Before looking for a club or trainer, consider deciding which organization you will compete with. Some of the most popular venues include the American Kennel Club (AKC), the United Kennel Club (UKC), and the North American Dog Agility Council (NADAC), although there are several others. You can easily find classes and clubs through their websites.

Some organizations differ in terms of obstacles used and the types of courses offered, so you’ll want to choose a trainer that specializes in the kind of agility that you want to compete in. However, there are more similarities than differences between all the agility venues, so they all can be good options.

Agility Training Can Start at Home

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Although it’s difficult to start training for agility at home, there are a couple of fundamentals that can help with future training endeavors. First, you will want your dog to have solid engagement and a good recall. Generally speaking, dogs will have better engagement if you do more things with them, so you should play with and train your dog daily to strengthen your bond.

Second, throughout each phase of agility training, you should use positive reinforcement to “bring out the best” in your dog. This involves pairing a favorable behavior with a high value treat or praise. For instance, whenever your dog navigates a tunnel or even partially weaves between poles, give them a turkey slice and pets.

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Because agility is quite physically demanding, you should ensure that your dog is in good shape before training for this sport. Having excess weight could damage your dog's joints when they participate in high-impact activities, so your dog must be healthy and active before introducing them to any of the obstacles. Luckily, ensuring your dog remains at a healthy weight is easy. If you have questions about altering their diet or offering supplements, talk to your vet first.

Other Sporting Events for Dogs

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There’s a sport for every dog, whether you have a high-energy Labrador Retriever or a stocky French Bulldog. Aside from agility, other competitions include:

  • Dock diving, where a dog jumps off a dock and the distance is measured
  • Obedience trials, where dogs must obey commands without hesitation
  • Fast Coursing Ability Test (CAT), a timed 100-yard dash

There’s also rally. Here, a dog and handler walk through a course. Then, at various phases, the handler gives the dog a command. It’s more than a dog responding to commands, however; the ideal rally pair will work together in harmony to complete the course.

Amanda Henry
By Amanda Henry

Amanda is an animal lover with over 10 years of experience in dog training and animal care. She has two dogs, an Australian cattle dog named Murphy and a Labrador retriever named Zappa. In her free time, she enjoys hiking, and riding horses.