Agility

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Agility has always been the basis of play and leisure pursuits, but it has grown as a sport in its own right over the past thirty years or so. Owners learn to train their dogs, while also strengthening the bond between them. Any dog can participate from a very early age and there are many different types of owner assistance allowed (dogs can learn to follow commands from a distance or the owner can follow the dog at very close quarters). Whatever the style chosen, the owner will have to learn to take up the right position to be able to clearly indicate to the dog where it needs to go next on the course. The dog participates without a lead or collar.

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Agility is a sport that was first demonstrated in Britain by John Varley in 1978 as a canine take on showjumping for horses. This new activity quickly became popular and soon spread across Europe, with recognition from 14 countries, and the United States. In the 1990s the sport went to Japan, South America and North Africa.

The FCI imposes a minimum age of 18 months on participants.

There are two types of FCI course:

* Standard courses containing all types of obstacle, including seesaw and dogwalk.

* Jumper courses, primarily comprising jumps, but also tunnels and weave poles.

There are four FCI categories, depending on the dog’s size:

* Category A: dogs up to 37 cm at the withers (clearance height 35 cm).

* Category B: dogs between 37 and 47 cm at the withers (clearance height 45 cm).

* Category C: dogs over 47 cm at the withers (clearance height 60 cm).

* Category D: Molosser and slow breeds (Leonberger, Great Dane, Rottweiler) (clearance height 45 cm).

Generally, all dogs are welcome to participate, although some competitions are only open to pedigrees. The course, which is between 100 and 200 metres long, is laid out in a closed arena comprising between fifteen and twenty obstacles, including at least seven jumps. The handler should not touch any obstacles, relying solely on voice and gestures to guide the dog through the course in the right order.

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There are three competition levels. A pedigree dog that completes a course without any faults on two occasions can move on to the next level. Three “excellent” scores at the highest level is rewarded with an agility certificate.

Faults are given to dogs which take obstacles in the wrong sequence (three faults result in disqualification), in the wrong direction (disqualification) or fail to clear or complete an obstacle. In the event of more than one clean run in a competition, the fastest dog wins. Agility is therefore above all a sport of skill.

Dogs need to undergo thorough training, but this must be based only on play and trust. This makes agility a very attractive sport because it gets not only the dog involved but its owner too, and often children. If the dog feels confident enough it may even be able to complete the course on its own, guided only by the voice of the owner standing in the middle of the course.

Agility is not only great fun to take part in, it is also very exciting to watch.

© Diffomédia/Royal Canin
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Dogs need to undergo thorough training, but this must be based only on play and trust.

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Agility obstacles

© Diffomédia/Royal Canin

• Tunnel: a rigid or collapsed tunnel of varying length the dog has to run through while the owner waits by the side.

• A-frame: two sloping ramps – the dog has to go up one side and come down the other without jumping.

• Walkway: planks placed several feet above the ground; the dog has to run across while the owner waits by the side.

• Weave poles: a series of equidistant upright poles the dog has to wind through on its own.

• Long jump: several planks of wood placed at regular intervals defining an overall distance, tailored to the participant; the dog is required to clear it in one jump.

• High jump: wall or bridge.

• Tyre: through which the dog has to jump.

• Seesaw: a plank which tips over when the dog passes the midpoint.

• Pause table: a table the dog has to jump on and pause for five seconds in its preferred position.

• Pause box: a square marked on the ground which the dog must enter and pause in as on the pause table.

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