Dog agility is a fun and exciting sport in which handlers direct their dogs through a complex course of challenging obstacles. The early versions of dog agility, which were loosely based on equestrian jumping events, first appeard at the 1978 Crufts Dog Show in England. Since then, agility has become the fasting growing dog sport, with competition events held each weekend around the world. Agility is enjoyed by people and dogs of all ages. Most organizations hosting competitions allow for any dogs to compete so long as participating dogs are fit and healthy to meet the athletic challenges of agility. There are also junior handler programs for young enthusiasts, as well as programs for veteran dogs and senior handlers.
Why do agility?
Agility is fun and strengthens the bond between handlers and their dogs! Agility creates an opportunity to get out and have a good time with your canine companion and meet great people. Dogs, especially high energy dogs who “need a job” love the interaction, mental challenge, and physical activity provided by the sport. While extremely physical in competition, the building blocks of agility is more of a mental sport for dogs and requires focus and concentration. Dogs must be non-aggressive and have a good and positive relationship with their handler.
The beauty of agility is that teams (dog and handler) set their own goals and work towards them at their own pace. Agility participants can earn awards at sanctioned competitions, or train just for the joy of playing with their dogs without ever competing. Measure success against your own training goals, your level of enjoyment, and by the growth of your relationship with your dog.
Whatever the goal; safety, good sportsmanship and gentle and positive handling of the dogs are the priority.
Agility training is a continuous process. For a member-compiled list of local agility trainers, please see our Local Trainers page. Introductory training focuses on safe and correct obstacle performance (including the common obstacles such as the jump, tunnel, weave poles, dogwalk, a-frame, and see-saw). Begining dogs and handlers also work to build a foundation of trust, motivation, and teamwork. Agility skills are developed incrementally to ensure success at each step and to maintain motivation. Experienced teams dog and handler teams continue working to refine their skills even as they progress through the highest levels of competition. Nearly all agility training uses positive reinforcement methods. Many trainers have adopted clicker training techniques and avoid demotivating their dogs with harsh and coercive methods.
Note: Unsupervised agility training can be dangerous for your dog, especially for puppies (under 1 year). If you are interested in starting agility with your dog, please contact an experienced agility instructor for guidance!
At the community level, agility is run by non-profit clubs and by private agility instructors. The competitions (trials) are typically sanctioned events hosted by these local clubs. The primary sanctioning organizations are listed below. RAT currently hosts a total of nine sanctioned events each year for USDAA(2), ASCA(2), CPE(2), and NADAC(3).
- American Kennel Club (AKC)
- Australian Shepherd Club of America (ASCA)
- Canine Performance Events (CPE)
- North American Dog Agility Council (NADAC)
- Teacup Dogs Agility Association (TDAA)
- United Kennel Club (UKC)
- UK Agility International (UKI)
- United States Dog Agility Association (USDAA)
Teams can compete for titles, awards, and placement ribbons. Teams may compete in local, regional, and national level competitions held by various sanctioning organizations. Placements are determined by how fast and how clean the teams run. Competition classes are divided into three levels: Novice, Advanced/Open, and Masters/Elite, and dogs are separated into categories based on their height. Adding to the challenge, every agility course in competition is different. The courses are designed by the judge and are not shown to competitors until the day of the event. Handlers are given a brief “walk-through” period to memorize the course and plan their strategy. Then, the handlers return with their dogs for their individual runs. Teams may incur faults during their run for incorrect obstacle performance or by taking obstacles out of order. Time faults may also be incurred if the team takes longer than the standard course time to complete their run. Courses typically include 15-25 obstacles, with allowed times of 30 – 60 seconds.