For today’s post, I thought I would try and answer a few quick questions that people might have about agility.
What is agility?
Agility is a sport involving a dog and his handler. The handler directs the dog to perform obstacles in a sequence as laid out by a judge. The obstacles must be performed correctly and in the set order in order to receive a qualifying score. Here is an example of a Novice agility course:
Number 1, for example, is a jump. 2 is a tunnel, 3 is a ‘broad jump’ – planks of wood that make for a long jump that the dog must jump over, not on, 7 is a chute tunnel – a normal tunnel entrance with a material chute they must push through in order to exit the tunnel and 10 is a tyre jump. In this course, handlers must guide their dog from jump #1 to jump #15 in order without touching their dog. In order to qualify (gain a pass in order to move to the next class/level) dogs must finish faster than a time specified by the judge (eg. this course may have had a ‘set course time’ of 45 seconds), most not knock down any bars, must do the tunnels from the correct entry, and so on. If a dog makes a fault, they either earn fault points and are unable to qualify (but can still complete their run and possibly win a ribbon), or they earn a disqualification (but can still finish their run but cannot win any ribbons). You want your dog to get through “clear”, and with the fastest time, so your job as a handler is to make sure you’re telling and showing the dog where to go to make its path efficient and fast. I’m sure if you’ve come to this blog that you’ve seen videos or people running agility but if not, jump on YouTube and type in “Silvia Trkman” or “Justine Davenport” or “Lisa Frick”.
Sounds great! How to I find a club or classes?
Well, in Victoria at present, this is a little tricky. Over on the Eastern side of the city, the agility-specific clubs are closed to new members. The writer of this blog has been waiting 2 years to get into one or the other of the clubs. There are a few clubs in other parts of the city, and probably your best bet is to have a look at this site which is an absolutely fantastic resource with the rules, trials you can enter (once your dog is trained, of course), a list of clubs, and plenty of other information. There are also a couple of people running their own classes – Mountain Agility Dogs being one of them. Some obedience clubs in Victoria require your dog to be at a certain level of obedience before being able to start agility, so you may not find this suits you. If you’re here visiting from Interstate you can probably type in “agility trials (state)” and find a site similar to the one I referenced above to help find clubs in your area.
I have a young puppy, when can I start agility?
There is a LOT of debate over this one and I don’t necessarily think anybody knows for sure, however everyone is pretty convinced that their view is the correct one! Personally, I think you can start training puppies from the day you bring them home. Does this mean jumping them? No. It means doing tricks with them to teach them how to learn and how to use their bodies. It means doing tricks that later, begin to look a lot like agility… I start jumping my puppies at 6-8 months on a very low height. I don’t do hundreds of reps, and I don’t train every day. I think that using a bar helps teach them to respect the bar and to start thinking about the process of jumping. I keep my dogs fit and lean, and I work on their core, legs and back muscles through tricks and stability exercises. I think it could be worse for a dog if they are left to do nothing until they’re a year old and then suddenly forced to jump their full height. Interestingly, a lot of European trainers would be jumping their dogs on full height by 18 months (as we do here), keeping in mind that their heights are much higher than in Australia. A dog Lumen or Loki’s size would be jumping 650mm in Europe, where they only jump 500mm here, so I would assume those dogs would be working through our heights quicker than our dogs do. There is plenty you can do with a puppy that will get him ready for agility. The more socialization you do with strange surfaces, being on, in or going through something, the better equipped he’ll be when faced with his first chute tunnel.
Are there different types of agility?
In Australia there are currently 3 ‘brands’ of agility: ANKC (Australian National Kennel Council) – is the main and most popular form. It consists of Jumping (jumps and tunnels) and Agility (jumps and tunnels, plus weave poles and contact obstacles) and the levels go from Novice, to Excellent, to Masters, and also includes ‘Open’, which is open to any competitor from any level and includes a distance challenge. There are also games which are offered less often, and these are Snooker, Gamblers and Strategic Pairs.
You can also find clubs which train and hold trials in NADAC. I’m not familiar with this form, however I understand they have some different kinds of competitions, for example ‘Tunnelers’ with just tunnels, and hoopers – where jumps are substituted by hoops.
There is also ADAA – Agility Dog Association of Australia – which currently only runs in NSW and QLD. I think it may be similar to ANKC but since we don’t have it in Victoria I haven’t really looked into the differences or learnt about it.
That’s enough questions for now. When I have some more, I’ll post part 2.