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Agility Training


Competition basics

Because each course is different, handlers are allowed a short walk-through before the competition starts. During this time, all handlers competing in a particular class can walk or run around the course without their dogs, determining how they can best position themselves and guide their dogs to get the most accurate and rapid path around the numbered obstacles. The handler tends to run a path much different from the dog's path, so the handler can sometimes spend quite a bit of time planning for what is usually a quick run.

The walk-through is critical for success because the course's path takes various turns, even U-turns or 270° turns, can cross back on itself, can use the same obstacle more than once, can have two obstacles so close to each other that the dog and handler must be able to clearly discriminate which to take, and can be arranged so that the handler must work with obstacles between himself and the dog, called layering, or at a great distance from the dog.

Course map showing the layout of the course in the preceding photos. Maps like this are commonly used by handlers to help design their strategies. This is a fairly simple[citation needed], flowing course, probably used for novice dogs.


Printed maps of the agility course, called course maps, are often made available to the handlers before they run, to help the handlers plan their course strategy. The course map contains icons indicating the position and orientation of all the obstacles, and numbers indicating the order in which the obstacles are to be taken. Course maps were originally drawn by hand, but nowadays almost all course maps are created using a program called Clean Run Course Designer.

Each dog and handler team gets one opportunity together to attempt to complete the course successfully. The dog begins behind a starting line and, when instructed by his handler, proceeds around the course. The handler typically runs near the dog, directing the dog with spoken commands and with body language (the position of arms, shoulders, and feet).


Because speed counts as much as accuracy, especially at higher levels of competition, this all takes place at a full-out run on the dog's part and, in places, on the handler's part as well.

Scoring of runs is based on how many faults are incurred. Penalties can include not only course faults, such as knocking down a bar in a jump, but also time faults, which are the number of seconds over the calculated standard course time (SCT), which in turn is determined based on the competition level, the complexity of the course, and other factors.


Agility obstacles

The regulations of different organizations specify somewhat different rules and dimensions for the construction of obstacles. However, the basic form of most obstacles is the same wherever they are used. Obstacles include the following:

Contact obstacles
A Hungarian Vizsla negotiating an A-frame.

    Two broad ramps, usually about 3 feet (0.91 m) wide by 8 to 9 feet (2.7 m) long, hinged together and raised so that the hinged connection is between five and six-and-a-quarter feet above the ground (depending on the organization), roughly forming an A shape. The bottom 36 to 42 inches (0.91 to 1.1 m) of both sides of the A-frame are painted a bright color, usually yellow, forming the contact zone, onto which the dog must place at least one paw while ascending and descending. Most sanctioning organizations require that A-frames have low profile, narrow, horizontal slats all along their length to assist the dog's grip going up and down. Some organizations allow the top of the A-frame to be narrower than the bottom.
A smooth-coated merle Border Collie on a dogwalk

    Three 8 to 12 ft (2.4 to 3.7 m) planks, 9 to 12 inches (23 to 30 cm) wide, connected at the ends. The centre 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 organizations also require slats on the dogwalk ramps.
Dogs, such as this Welsh Corgi, must be in control as the teeter-totter hits the ground.

Teeter-totter (or seesaw)
    A 10-to-12-foot (3.0 to 3.7 m) plank pivoting on a support, much like a child's seesaw. It is constructed slightly off-balance so that the same end always returns to the ground. This is done either by placing the support slightly off-center or else weighting one end of the board. This obstacle also has contact zones. However, unlike the other contact obstacles, the teeter-totter does not have slats. The balance point and the weight of the plank must be such that even a tiny dog, such as a Chihuahua, can cause the high end of the teeter-totter to descend to the ground within a reasonable amount of time, specified by the sanctioning organization'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.

    A 4-foot (1.22 m) high, 3-by-3-foot (0.91 m × 0.91 m) square platform, with ramps similar to those found on a dogwalk descending from the center of three or four of its sides. The dog must ascend the correct ramp and then descend the ramp indicated by the handler, possibly changing direction to do so. This has not been a commonly used obstacle, mainly because of its size. No major agility organization in the United States currently allows the use of a crossover, The Kennel Club discontinued the use of this obstacle in January 2009, but other organizations might still allow it in competitions.

This Boxer demonstrates how most dogs run full speed through a tunnel, using the back of a curved tunnel rather than trying to remain vertical.

Tunnel (or chute or rigid tunnel)
    A vinyl tube, 10 to 20 feet (3.0 to 6.1 m) long and about 2 feet (61 cm) in diameter, through which the dog runs. The tunnel is constructed of flexible vinyl and wire, such that it can be configured in a straight line, or in a variety of curves.
A German Shepherd Dog exiting a collapsed tunnel

Collapsed tunnel (or chute or cloth tunnel)
    A barrel-like cylinder with a tube of fabric attached around one end. The fabric extends about 8 to 12 feet (2.4 to 3.7 m) and lies closed until the dog runs into the open end of the chute and pushes his way out through the fabric tube.

Other tunnels
    UKC agility allows two additional tunnel types, the crawl tunnel and the hoop tunnel, that are not found in other agility organizations. CPE allowed an interconnected set of tunnels called a tunnel maze from 2004 though 2006, but discontinued the tunnel maze as of the 2007 rulebook.[1]

This winged single jump is adjusted in height so that small dogs such as Pembroke Welsh Corgis may compete against similar-sized dogs.

Jump (or hurdle)
    Two uprights supporting a horizontal bar over which the dog jumps. The height is adjusted for dogs of different heights. The uprights can be simple stanchions or can have wings of various shapes, sizes, and colors.
A Brittany jumping an ascending triple-bar spread jump

Double and triple jump (or spread jump)
    Two uprights supporting two or three horizontal bars spread forward or back from each other. The double can have parallel or ascending horizontal bars; the triple always has ascending bars. The spread between the horizontal bars is sometimes adjusted based on 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, constructed of several short panels that can be removed to adjust the height for different dog heights.
An Australian Shepherd jumping through a tire jump.

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

Tire jump
    A torus shape roughly the size of a tire, suspended in a frame. The dog must jump through the opening of the "tire"; like other jumps, the height is adjusted for dogs of different sizes. The tire is usually wrapped with tape both for visibility and to cover any openings or uneven places in which the dog could catch.

Other hurdles
    UKC agility allows a variety of hurdles not found in other agility organizations: bush hurdle, high hurdle, log hurdle, picket fence hurdle, rail fence hurdle, long hurdle, window hurdle, water hurdle.

A Border Collie demonstrates fast weave poles.

Table (or pause table)
    An elevated square platform about 3-foot-by-3-foot (1-meter-by-1-meter) square onto which the dog must jump and pause, either sitting or in a down position, for a designated period of time which is counted out by the judge, usually about 5 seconds. The height ranges from about 8 to 30 inches (20 to 76 cm) depending on the dog's height and sponsoring organization.
A Chinook on a pause table

Pause box
    A variation on the pause table. The pause box is a square marked off on the ground, usually with plastic pipe or construction tape, where the dog must perform the "pause" behavior (in either a sit or a down) just as he would on the elevated table.

Weave poles
    Similar to a slalom, this is a series of 5 to 12 upright poles, each about 3 feet (0.91 m) tall and spaced about 20 inches (51 cm) apart, through which the dog weaves. The dog must always enter with the first pole to his left, and must not skip poles. For many dogs, weave poles are one of the most difficult obstacles to master.

Other obstacles
    UKC agility allows the following obstacles not found in other agility organizations: swing plank, sway bridge, and platform jump.



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