Getting Started in Agility

If you are new to agility, it can seem daunting to get involved!  Here is a quick guide on the terms and obstacles in Agility.

Agility Terms

  1. Agility Trial: a competitive event where dogs and their handlers compete against each other to complete a series of obstacles in the shortest amount of time and with the fewest errors.
  2. Agility Class: a specific category of competition that has specific rules and types of obstacles included in the course. Each organization that hosts agility trials may offer different classes.  For more information on specific Classes, see the Agility Organization section.
  3. Q: You may often hear people talk about how they did (or did not) Q in a particular class or run. A ‘Q’ stands for a ‘Qualifying run’.  A qualifying run is a successful completion of a course that meets the requirements of a specific class and level of competition. In general, a qualifying run is a sign that the dog and handler have demonstrated a high level of skill, teamwork, and agility on the course.
  4. Fault: A mistake made during the course that results in penalty points.
  5. Standard Course time (SCT): The maximum amount of time allowed for the dog to complete the course.
  6. Course map: A diagram of the obstacle layout for the course.
  7. Handler: The person who guides the dog through the course.
  8. Start line: The designated starting point for the dog and handler.
  9. Finish line: The designated finishing point for the dog and handler.

Agility Obstacles

  1. Agility: A dog sport that involves completing an obstacle course in a set amount of time.
  2. Obstacle course: A series of obstacles arranged in a specific sequence that a dog must complete.
  3. Jump: An obstacle that the dog must clear. There are different types of jumps, including the hurdle jump, the panel jump, wall jump, long jump and the tire jump. Jump heights are based on the dog’s measured height at the withers.
  4. A-frame: An obstacle shaped like an A that the dog must climb up and down
  5. Dogwalk: An obstacle consisting of a narrow beam raised off the ground with two ramps that the dog must walk across.
  6. Teeter-totter (aka see saw): An obstacle that the dog must walk across that is balanced on a pivot point.
  7. Contact / Contact zones: An A-frame, Teeter, and Dogwalk are all considered Contact obstacles. The contact zone is the yellow painted section at the beginning and end.  The dog must touch each contact zone with at least one paw.
  8. Weave poles: A series of poles spaced at regular intervals that the dog must weave in and out of.
  9. Tunnel: An obstacle that the dog must run through.
  10. Table: 30” square raised platform that dog must jump on. Rules vary by organization.

What is an Agility Trial Like?

A dog agility trial is a competitive event in which dogs and their handlers compete against other teams to complete a series of obstacles in the shortest amount of time and with the fewest errors. Here’s a general overview of how a typical trial works:

  1. Check-in: Before the competition starts, handlers must check in with the event organizers. If it is your dog’s first trial, they will need to be measured in order to confirm the jump height (the taller the dog, the higher the jumps).
  2. Walk-through: After check-in and a group briefing, handlers are given course maps and time to walk the course without their dogs. They can plan their strategy and visualize how they will guide their dog through the course.
  3. Competition: The competition is divided into different classes and levels, depending on the organization hosting the trial. Each class has its own course, and dogs and handlers compete one at a time to complete the course as quickly and accurately as possible.
  4. Scoring: The scoring system varies depending on the organization, but typically involves a combination of points for successfully completing obstacles as the course rules dictate. There can be time penalties or fault penalties. Time penalties are added for taking too long to complete the course, while fault penalties are added for errors such as knocking down a bar or missing a contact zone.
  5. Awards: At the end of the competition, awards, usually ribbons, are given out based on the results of each class and level. Depending on the organization, awards may be given for the fastest time, the highest score, or other achievements.
  6. Cleanup: Handlers are responsible for cleaning up after their dogs and leaving the trial site clean and tidy.

It’s important to note that each organization may have its own specific rules and procedures for dog agility trials, so handlers should check the guidelines and regulations of the specific organization hosting the trial.

How do you know if you are ready to go to a trial?

Attending an agility trial can be a fun and exciting experience for both you and your dog, but it’s important to ensure that you and your dog are ready before you enter a competition. Here are some factors to consider to help you determine if you’re ready for an agility trial:

Jumping at Agility Trial
  1. Obedience: Your dog should have basic obedience skills and be able to respond to your commands reliably. This includes coming when called, sitting, and staying.
  2. Agility skills: Your dog should be able to complete all the obstacles in a given course such as jumps, tunnels, weaves, and contact obstacles such as the A-frame and dog It’s worth noting that some agility competitions offer courses with only jumps and tunnels, making them a great starting point for beginners.
  3. Focus and attention: Your dog should be able to focus on you and the task at hand, even in a distracting and unfamiliar environment.
  4. Fitness and health: Your dog should be in good physical condition and free from any injuries or health problems that could affect their ability to compete.
  5. Training and practice: You should have had sufficient training and practice with your dog to ensure that both of you are comfortable and confident with the skills required in a trial.
  6. Attitude and mindset: You and your dog should have a positive attitude and a willingness to learn and have fun.

If you’re unsure whether you and your dog are ready for a trial, consider attending a few practice runs or mock competitions first to get a feel for what it’s like. You can also consult with your trainer or other experienced handlers to get feedback and advice on your readiness. Remember, competing in agility is meant to be fun and rewarding, so it’s important to ensure that you and your dog are ready and able to enjoy the experience.