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Agility

Agility Training
Dog agility is a sport in which a dog moves through an obstacle course with the guidance of his or her handler. Dogs run off lead, so the handler's only controls are voice and body language, requiring exceptional high standards of obedience.

In competition agility, both accuracy and speed are important. Dog agility is a fairly new sport, created as merely a demonstration in the 1978 Crufts Dog Show in the United Kindom . It has since spread rapidly around the world, with major competitions held worldwide.

What is an Agility Course?

In its simplest form, an agility course consists of a set of standard obstacles, laid out by an agility judge in a design of his own choosing, with numbers indicating the order in which the dog must complete the obstacles. Although different organisations specify somewhat different rules for the construction of obstacles, the basic form of the obstacles is the same wherever they are used. Obstacles include the following:

Contact Obstacles

A-Frame Two platforms, usually about 3 feet (1 m) wide by 8 to 9 feet (3 m) long, hinged together and raised so that the hinged connection is between five and six-and-a-half feet above the ground, forming roughly an A shape. The bottom 36 to 42 inches (1 m) of both sides of the A-frame are painted a light color, usually yellow, forming the contact zone, into which the dog must place at least one paw while ascending or descending. Most sanctioning organisations require that A-frames have low, narrow horizontal slats all along their length to assist the dog's grip going up and down.

Dog Walk Three 8 to 12 ft (3 to 4 m) planks, 9 to 12 inches (25 to 30 cm) wide, connected at the ends. The center plank is raised to about 4 feet (1.2 m) above the ground, so that the two end planks form ramps leading up to and down from the center plank. This obstacle also has contact zones. Most sanctioning organisations also require slats on the dogwalk ramps; a slatless dogwalk looks almost the same as a teeter-totter to a dog approaching it head-on.

Seesaw/Teeter-totter is a 10 to 12 foot (3 to 4 m) plank supported just off-center about 2 feet (60 cm) above the ground so that the same end always returns to the ground. This also has contact zones. The balance point and the weight of the plank must be such that even a tiny dog, can cause the high end of the teeter-totter to descend to the ground within a reasonable amount of time, specified by the sanctioning organisation's rules (usually about 2 seconds). Smaller dogs get more time to run a course, and this is one reason why it can take them longer than it takes larger dogs.

Crossover Picture a 4 foot (1.2 m) high table (see "Miscellaneous") obstacle with dogwalk ramps descending from the center of all four sides. The dog must ascend the correct ramp and then possibly change direction at the top to descend the ramp indicated by the handler. This has not been a commonly used obstacle and not all organisations have allowed it.

Tunnels

Tunnel / Chute A solid tube, 10 to 20 feet (3 to 6 m) long and about 2 feet (60 cm) in diameter, through which the dog runs. The tunnel is constructed of flexible vinyl and wire so that it can be configured in a straight line or curved.

Collapsed tunnel /Chute A barrel-like cylinder with a tube of fabric attached around one end. The fabric extends about 8 to 12 feet (3 to 4 m) and lies closed until the dog runs into the open end of the chute and pushes his way out through the fabric tube.

Tunnel Maze A new obstacle (as of 2004) consisting of several interconnected tunnels through which the handler must guide the dog by voice commands.

Jumps

Jump / HurdleTwo upright bars supporting a horizontal bar over which the dog jumps. The height is adjusted for dogs of different heights. The uprights can be simple bars or can have wings of various shapes, sizes, and colors.

Double and triple jumps Two or three sets of uprights, each with horizontal poles. The Double can have parallel or ascending horizontal bars; the triple always has ascending bars. The spread between the horizontal bars is sometimes adjusted for the height of the dog.

Panel jump Instead of horizontal bars, the jump is a solid panel from the ground up to the jump height. This is usually constructed of several short panels that can be removed to adjust the height for different dog heights.

Broad jump A set of four or five slightly raised platforms that form a broad area over which the dog must jump without setting feet on any of the platforms. Length is adjusted for dog's height.

Tire jump This is just what it sounds like: A tire shape suspended in a frame. The dog must jump through the opening of the tire, which varies between about 18 and 24 inches (450 to 600 mm). The tire must be wrapped with tape so that there are no openings or uneven places in which the dog could catch. The height is adjusted for dogs of different heights.

Other Obstacles

Table (or pause table) An elevated square platform about 3 feet (1 m) across onto which the dog must jump and pause, either sitting or in a down position, for a certain period counted out by the judge, usually about 5 seconds. The height ranges from about 8 to 30 inches (20 to 75 cm) depending on the dog's height.

Weave poles Similar to a slalom, this is a series of upright poles, each about 3 feet (1 m) tall and spaced about 20 inches (50 cm) apart, through which the dog weaves. Varies from 5 to 12 poles at one time. The dog must always enter with the first pole to his left and must not skip poles.

Teaching Dog Agility

Teaching a dog the basic execution of most obstacles takes only a small amount of time and simple training techniques; most dogs can be readily convinced to run through a short, straight tunnel to chase a toy or to go to their owner, for example. However, to compete in agility trials and to develop speed and accuracy, both dog and handler must learn a wide range of techniques for doing the equipment, performing sequences of obstacles, and communicating on course while running full out.

The teeter-totter and the weave poles are probably the most challenging obstacles to teach, the first because many dogs are wary of the board's movement, and the second because it is not a behaviour that they would do naturally over a series of 12 poles. However, it can also be challenging to train the dog to perform its contact obstacles in a manner that ensures that they get paws into the contact zone without sacrificing speed.

Training techniques vary greatly. For example, techniques for training the weave poles include using offset poles that gradually move more in line with each other; using poles that tilt outward from the base and gradually become upright; using wires or gates around the poles forcing the dog into the desired path; putting a hand in the dog's collar and guiding the dog through while leading with a toy or treat; teaching the dog to run full speed between 2 poles and gradually increasing the angle of approach and number of poles; and many other techniques.

 


 
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