Agility: Training, Course & Tips to Get Started

Agility is a modern dog sport in which dogs and humans act as a team. Dog and handler complete an obstacle course together in a specific order. Here you can find out exactly how agility dog sport works and which dogs are particularly suitable for it.

What is Agility?

Agility is a relatively young dog sport. In 1978 in Birmingham, England, at the Crufts Dog Show, Peter Meanwell was asked to organize a break program with dogs. Inspired by equestrian sports, he set up a jumping course for dogs. The focus was on the dogs’ speed and agility. The audience was immediately enthusiastic about the show and thus a new dog sport was born. Just two years later, in 1980, agility was officially recognized as a dog sport by the English Kennel Club. The triumphal procession around the world began and as early as 1988 there was the first European Championship.

But agility is more than just a dog sport. It promotes fun and joy in teamwork between dogs and humans. The natural movement of the dog is running, jumping, and balancing. All this is accessed and promoted in an agility course. The dog handler must also have a healthy level of fitness, good coordination, and quick reactions. So you can successfully complete the course together as a dog-human team.

How Exactly Does Agility Work?

The free-running dog is steered by humans over obstacles through an equipment course using only hand signals, body language, and voice commands. Aids such as treats or toys are only allowed in training, but not in tournaments. As if on an invisible thread, a man leads the dog over hurdles, through tunnels and tires. Continue over a seesaw, wall, A-wall, long jump, and catwalk.

A special challenge is a slalom, in which the dog has to run around 12 slalom poles. See-saw, A-wall, and bridge have so-called contact zones at the beginning and end, which the dog must touch with its paws. A course consists of 21 obstacles that the dog must pass through in a predetermined order without making any mistakes.

How Do You Train Agility?

Best with professionals in a dog sports club or dog school.

What Effect Does Agility Have on a Dog-human Team?

Particularly intelligent dogs appreciate the combination of movement and tasks to be solved. The physical exertion strengthens the self-confidence of the dog and promotes its balance in everyday life. The dog handler learns that the goals can only be achieved together with positive motivation, fun, trust, and without pressure. At the same time, humans become natural pack leaders for dogs that they can trust.

Which Dogs are Good for Agility?

In principle, almost all breeds and mixed breeds are suitable for agility. It makes little sense to introduce very large dogs, such as Deerhounds, to this sport. Also very heavy dogs, such as mastiffs, or small dogs with long backs such as basset hounds. The basic requirements are that the dog enjoys moving, is obedient, is physically healthy, and can breathe freely.

Which Dogs are Good for Agility?

Except for very large, heavy, and long-backed dogs, any healthy dog ​​is suitable for this sport.

When Can You Start Agility?

Agility means mobility and this can already be built up in puppyhood, age-appropriate. For this reason, responsible breeders have a ball pool, a small puppy bridge, or a puppy see-saw in the garden. Playing with the siblings teaches courage, dexterity, and coordination. However, jumps and anything else that could deform and stress the still soft bones and joints should be avoided.

For this very reason, reputable dog schools and clubs only offer agility courses for dogs from the first year of life. A dog may only enter tournament events at the age of 18 months at the earliest. There is therefore enough time for the dog’s bones, joints, muscles, and ligaments to develop healthily. Because only a healthy dog can have fun and be successful in agility.

What Do the Size Classes in Agility Mean?

The classification of the dog in the size class depends on its height at the withers. There are currently three size classes to start with.

  • Small – up to 35 cm at the withers
  • Medium – 35 to 43 cm at the withers
  • Large – from 43 cm at the withers

Depending on which size class the dog is measured in, some obstacles differ in height and width. These include the height of the hurdles, the length of the long jump, and the height of the hoop. Tunnel, see-saw, A-wall, and bridge remain the same for all size classes.

When Can You Start Agility?

When the dog’s bones, joints, ligaments, and tendons are fully grown.

The Process of an Agility Tournament

In advance, you register yourself and your dog for an agility tournament via an online platform. On the day of the tournament, you hand in the dog’s performance card at the registration office, and show your vaccination card and your club’s membership card. You will then receive a starting number.

Before the start, there is a course inspection. You can see how the 21 obstacles are set and in which order they have to be completed. You have 5 to 7 minutes to do this. A different course is set up for each performance class, as the level of difficulty increases from A0 to A3.

Humans and dogs are in the marked start area and wait until the start guide lets the team onto the course. On the leash, lead the dog to the first obstacle, which is always a hurdle, and unleashes it there. You can only start after the judge’s signal. The course must be mastered as error-free as possible in a short time by the dog-human team. Points are deducted if the dog does not touch the contact zones, for example. The team is disqualified if, for example, the human does not follow the order of the obstacles or the dog refuses an obstacle.

In Which Performance Classes Do Tournaments Start?

In Europe, there are four performance classes: A0, A1, A2, and A3. Occasionally, a senior class for dogs over the age of six is ​​also offered. Each dog starts in the performance class A0 and works its way up to the next higher class through tournament success. The course requirements for the dog-human team increase from class to class.

When Can You Participate in Tournaments?

In order to be able to take part in agility tournaments, you have to be a member of a dog sports club that belongs to the VDH. The dog must be at least 18 months old.

Further requirements are:

  • The dog must be chipped.
  • The dog needs a performance card.
  • The dog handler must have passed the certificate of competence and the dog must have passed the companion dog test.
  • The dog must be vaccinated against at least distemper, parvovirus, hepatitis, and rabies.
  • The dog must be insured.

Of course, the dog must not be sick, injured, or pregnant.

Agility: The Impact on Dog Health

Agility is a high-performance sport for dogs that pushes them to their limits, both mentally and physically. The stress on the ankle joints in particular is enormous. Permanent overloading of the joints can also lead to osteoarthritis in older dogs. Dogs are toe-walkers and when he jumps, he puts his entire forehand down, which is quite an overextension.

Therefore, before training, the dog must be warmed up with running and stretching exercises. In cold weather during the breaks, it is advisable to keep the muscles warm with a dog coat. After each training session, you should take a close look at the dog to see if its paws and joints are in order.

A dog can only work and perform without pain if its joints, bones, muscles, and ligaments are healthy. The physical overload of the dog must be avoided at all costs. A regular check-up during animal physiotherapy is very important in this sport. It must also be ensured that the dog is not mentally overwhelmed. Short training units of 5 minutes are more effective than training for 30 minutes.

Is Agility Healthy for Dogs?

For a healthy dog, agility practiced correctly is not dangerous to health.

The First Steps in Agility: Dog School, Club, or at Home?

Agility is fun for most dogs and humans. In order to get your dog a healthy introduction to the sport, you should have agility taught by a professional. The be-all and end-all are that the dog gets to know the equipment in a safe and dog-friendly manner in order to later be able to master it perfectly. As a dog handler, you have many options for guiding techniques so that you can successfully run a course as a dog-human team.

If you are interested in agility, you should first do a few trial lessons in a dog sports club or a dog school. Agility is now so popular that many dog ​​schools have included this sport in their course programs. These are mostly fun agility courses that are not so much about precession and performance. In a dog school, the focus is more on meaningful occupation with your pet. In the dog sports club, the focus is on tournament-compliant and effective agility training right from the start.

If you are trained and instructed in a club or dog school, there is nothing wrong with creating an additional course in the garden at home. You can buy safe devices for this in pet shops if you don’t want to buy professional devices right away.

In the interest of the dog and its health, you should not just start training on your own without professional guidance. The risk that the dog could injure itself or harm others is too high. The risk of injury is also great if you do handicrafts and screws yourself instead of using suitable equipment or even using pieces of furniture.

Conclusion: Is My Dog Suitable for Agility?

Actually, we should put our conclusion under the warning: ATTENTION DANGER OF ADDICTION!

Because agility makes dogs and humans addicted if you have caught fire for it. No other dog sport allows the bond between dog and human to become as close as agility. The connection and the flow you are drawn into when you enter the course together are unique. The moment when you look into each other’s eyes at the start and know that you’re about to start is magical.

As a human, you know that if something goes wrong, then the fault lies with you. The dog does what you signal, indicate, and call out to him. In a thousandth of a second, you have to know what you want to show the dog. Where you want to send him, what he should do in order to reach the finish line with as few mistakes as possible. The moment of happiness to have completed a course without making any mistakes is indescribable.

Mary Allen

Written by Mary Allen

Hello, I'm Mary! I've cared for many pet species including dogs, cats, guinea pigs, fish, and bearded dragons. I also have ten pets of my own currently. I've written many topics in this space including how-tos, informational articles, care guides, breed guides, and more.

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