Agility is a fast-paced, exciting dog sport with great spectator appeal. It is an excellent test of the partnership between the handler and the dog.
A judge designs a course with up to 20 obstacles. The obstacles are numbered and the handlers walk the course, to plan the best route. The obstacles can include hurdles, a tyre, long jump, weave poles that the dog has to slalom around, tunnels, and ramps (A-frame, dog walk and see-saw) that the dogs run over. The handler must direct the dog around the course, taking the obstacles in the correct order, without making contact with the dog. Like show jumping, faults are accrued for mistakes and the round is against the clock. The winner is the handler and dog with the least amount of faults in the quickest time.
The design of the course changes with every round. Jumping courses are similar to agility but do not contain the contact obstacles / ramps i.e. the A-frame, dog walk or see-saw. Many countries also include games classes such as Gamblers or Snooker to add more variety.
Under Irish Kennel Club rules, dogs are measured into one of three height categories: large, medium or small. The hurdles, long jump and tyre are adjusted for these three categories.
Beginner handlers and dogs start at grade 1. There are seven grades in total. Dogs competing at grade 7 are eligible to enter championship classes, to compete for a coveted green star. Championship classes consist of two qualifying rounds: one agility and one jumping round. The top dogs after these two rounds go through to the final, which is an agility round. If the winning round is clear, the handler and dog are awarded a green star. When a dog wins five green stars (under at least three different judges) it becomes an agility champion.
Dogs cannot compete under Irish Kennel Club rules until they are 18 months old. A well socialised dog, who is motivated by food and particularly toy rewards, is a good candidate for agility training. Some obedience skills, such as a recall and a wait are also useful. Most agility training can be taught on the ground. Training over jumps and contact obstacles can wait until a dog is older, and full height equipment should not be used until the dog’s growth plates have closed and the dog is physically mature.
There are a number of excellent training clubs around the country. It is important to train on competition standard agility equipment, which is fit for purpose. Most people start off wanting to do agility ‘just for fun’. Many of these people learn that training for competition is very rewarding and they begin to compete. For this reason it is recommended to find a trainer that has competed in agility and is actively involved in the sport so they can advise you on current training methods and trends. Any experienced agility trainer will focus on positive / motivational training methods because it is kinder to the dog and it gets better results.