Dog agility is an internationally practiced dog sport, with many different sanctioning organizations worldwide. Details on obstacles, classes, and rules vary based on organization. The following is a general guide. Please contact me if you see a mistake, or would like to add something!
What is Agility?
Agility is a sport in which a handler directs a dog through a course of obstacles. During competitions, handlers must do so without touching the dog or obstacles, and must compete without a collar, leash, food, toys, or other training aids. Handlers instruct their dogs verbally and with gestures. At an agility show, the courses change for every competition class and within that competition class, by skill level. At a show handlers are allowed to look at course maps, and before each event are (without their dogs) allowed a short period of time to walk the course so that they may plan their line of motion. Dogs compete in agility by height group and by skill level. At a competition, each handler/dog team are allowed one shot at each run. There is a start line, and a finish line. Scoring is determined by accuracy, speed, and by lack of faults for the class. The judge makes the courses for the show, and stands in the ring with the competitors while judging.
Agility is a competitive sport, but it is also practiced by many people just for fun. Going regularly to agility classes can be a highly rewarding experience for both dog and handler. Agility strengthens every aspect of training and of the bond between handler and dog, and therefore, is not just valuable as a competitive sport.
- Q, Q’ing, Qualifying: A qualifying score means the participants have flawlessly completed the course. A qualifying score means a score that counts towards a future title. In dog agility, personal achievement is very important — not just group placement (1st, 2nd, 3rd etc).
- Handler: The human part of a agility team
- Run, runs, running: A “run” refers to the act of a team doing an agility course. An agility team a team can “run the course,” an agility team “runs the course,” or is “running the course,” and additionally, an agility team can have a “good” run!
- Clean Run: A run that is done flawlessly with no faults. A perfect agility run! Also the name of the top dog agility magazine.
- Contact: The bottom areas of a A-frame, teeter, or dogwalk. This area is painted a bright color (usually yellow) to indicate the exact zone in which a dog must touch at least one paw to in order to successfully complete the obstacle.
- Fun Match: A simulation agility trial, for the purpose of fun, practice, getting a dog used to the competition environment, and for varying levels of training.
- Trial: An agility competition that is sanctioned by an official agility organization. Qualifying runs at trials count towards titles.
- Title: As dogs progress in skill level, they can be awarded with special titles based on the numbers of “Qs” they have in various classes. Traditionally titles have abbreviated names, which are added to the dog’s official name.
- Obstacle Discrimination: When the dog is taught to tell the difference between obstacles, so that when directed from a distance, they know which one the handler is indicating.
- Crosses (Rear cross, front cross, blind cross, etc): Handlers must use many strategies to direct their dogs from obstacle to obstacle. Often it is in the handler’s best interest to switch the direction of which they are leading their dog (so that the dog is following their lead via their left hand, for example). This is one of the most critical skills a handler must learn and and use. What sort of cross to apply depends entirely on what works best for the handler and the dog.
- Zoomies: (Video example here). When a dog breaks free from all structure, and tears frantically around the ring, totally out of the handler’s control. Most of the time zoomies are wild and happy — eliciting laughs or mild annoyance from onlookers. Other times, certain dogs break out into zoomies because they are frustrated or stressed out. Either way, whether we like it or not, zoomies are always going to be a big part of agility.
- A-Frame: Two broad ramps that are hinged together to create a tall (5-6.25 foot) up and down ramp. Dogs must touch at least one paw on the contact zone when ascending and descending the A-Frame.
- Dogwalk: A narrow ramp made from three planks, which is raised around 4 feet off of the ground. Dogs must touch at least one paw on the contact zone when ascending and descending the Dogwalk.
- Teeter, Teeter-Totter, Seesaw: A 10-12 foot plant that pivots on a fulcrum, and is constructed slightly off-balance so that the same end always returns to the ground. Dogs must touch at least one paw on the contact zone when ascending the teeter. Different organizations have different rules reguarding the descent of the teeter, but all require that the dog at the minimum cause the teeter to drop before proceeding.
- Crossover: A set of 4 ramps, centering into one square platform, which is usually around 4 feet off of the ground. The dog must ascend the ramp indicated by the handler, and descend the next ramp indicated by the handler. Dogs must touch at least one paw on the contact zone when ascending and descending the Crossover.
- Open Tunnel: An open vinyl tube, which can be arranged to be straight or curved, stabilized by wire boning, which dogs must run through.
- Chute, Closed Tunnel, Cloth Tunnel: As of late 2016, the chute has been removed from most associations due to safety concerns.
- Jump: Two upright supports holding a bar that the dog must jump. Bar height is adjusted depending on height of the dog, and usually, there is a secondary bar below. If the dog bumps the bar off of the jump, it is a fault or a non-completion of the jump.
- Double or Triple Jump, Spread Jump: Two upright structures supporting several (usually 3) ascending horizontal bars which the dog must jump and clear. Spread width is often adjusted based on height of dog.
- Panel Jump: Several panels stacked to form a solid jump which the dog must clear.
- Broad Jump, Long Jump: 4-5 raised platforms forming a jump that requires the dog to jump further to reach the other side.
- Tire Jump: An elevated foam or ribbed plastic tube shaped in a circle that dogs must jump through, which is suspended from a frame. The height of the tire is adjusted based on the height of the dog. Most tires are designed to break apart at the bottom if the dog doesn’t jump high enough.
- Table, Pause Table: A 3 foot by 3 foot elevated square platform on which the dog must hop on and either sit or down (depending on the organization’s rules) for a solid 5 seconds before continuing the course. Height of the table is adjusted based on height of the dog.
- Pause Box: A marked (lined by tape or piping) area of ground that the dog must jump into and either sit or down (depending on the organization’s rules) for a solid 5 seconds before continuing the course.
- Weave Poles (sets of 6-12): A series of upright poles that the dog must navigate through. Distance between the poles depends on the agility organization. Regardless of the direction of the approach, the dog must always enter the first pole from their left, and continue to weave through the poles without missing any.
- NADAC also has a “hoop” obstacle, and the UKC has additional obstacles in every category: contact obstacles, jumps, and other equipment
- Standard: A numbered course of around 15-22 obstacles. Includes at least one contact obstacle, jumps, tunnels, weave poles, and often the pause table. Each level has a set time limit in which the dog and handler must complete the course.
- Jumpers: A numbered course with various types of jumps, and depending on the agility organization, either weaves, or tunnels. Each level has a set time limit in which the dog and handler must complete the course.
- Gamblers: Gamblers is an agility course made up of two timed parts: the opening, and the closing. The opening of a gamble does not have a numbered course. Every obstacle is assigned a point value, and each obstacle can be taken 1-2 times for points. The goal in the opening is to perform as many obstacles as possible, especially obstacles which are worth the most points. Some agility organizations allow for “mini” gambles in the opening, which are small (2-4) obstacle sequences that the dog can earn double points for completing in sequence from a set distance (marked by tape) from the handler. When the opening time is up, the whistle will blow. In the closing of this game, called the “bonus” or the “final gamble,” the handler must rush to a set box or behind a set taped off line, and then direct their dog to perform a short numbered sequence of obstacles from a distance. The difficulty of the closing sequence (distance, challenge of sequences) increases at every level.
- FAST (Fifteen and Send Time), Jackpot, Joker: The timed opening of this agility game has no numbered course. In the opening, every obstacle is assigned a point value. The goal in the opening is to perform as many obstacles as possible, especially obstacles which are worth the most points. Some agility organizations allow for “mini” gambles in the opening, which are small (2-4) obstacle sequences that the dog can earn double points for completing in sequence from a set distance (marked by tape) from the handler. When the closing time is up, the whistle will blow. In the closing of this game, called the “bonus” or the “final gamble,” the handler must direct the dog to a closing numbered sequence of obstacles from a distance (marked by tape). The difficulty of the closing sequence is heightened as skill is gained.
- Snooker: A game of strategy, loosely based on the classic billiards game. The course contains 3-4 red jumps, all labeled “1,” and a random assortment of obstacles labeled “2” – “7.” The numbers indicate the point value of the obstacles. When the dog and handle begin the course, they must perform three sequences of: a red jump (a different one each time) and an obstacle of their choice. A fourth round can be done if the handler chooses. Once this opening is accomplished, the handler must then direct the dog to a set closing sequence of numbered obstacles. The closing does not need to be finished to achieve full points. There is a minimum number of points that must be achieved in total.
- Time 2 Beat (AKC): A Jumpers with Weaves course, sometimes with contact obstacles. Dogs can qualify by completing the course without faults under the maximum course time — and can earn an extra 10 points by beating the fastest dog in their height class.
- Team Relay: Teams of 2-3 dogs and handlers are given a set amount of time in which to successfully complete a portion of a Standard course. Handlers either pass a baton in between, or verbally communicate “go!” to their teammate(s).
- Collar, Toys, Food: Dogs must run “naked,” and handlers must not bring toys or treats into the ring. Doing either will result in disqualification.
- Time: Going over the standard course time (SCT) is a fault. Sometimes a time fault can be compensated for with points earned in the run, but for most courses, it is a critical fault.
- Off-Course: When a dog does an extra obstacle.
- Pause Table: Hopping off of the pause table before completing the 5-second sit/down.
- Refusals, Run-Outs: When the dog moves towards an obstacle, and then ceases the intent to complete the obstacle by running past, stopping in front of, or twirling in front of.
- Missed Contact, Flyoff: When a dog does not touch at least one paw on the contact zone of a contact obstacle.
- Knocked Jump Bar
- Weave Pole Mistakes: Entering the weaves improperly (not from the left shoulder of the dog, not at the first pole). Depending on the organization and the level at which the dog is competing, sometimes as long as the dog originally entered correctly, they can go back and correct subsequent mistakes.
- Touching/Handling: Handlers are not allowed to intentionally touch their dogs or the obstacles, or to run through the weave poles.
- Training in the Ring: No obstacle training is allowed during a run, or between runs on show grounds, with the exception of warm-up jumps.
- Eliminating: A dog that eliminates in the ring will be disqualified from the run. No comment on when the handler does so…
- Aggression: Unsportsmanlike conduct from the handler or dog is not tolerated.
AAC – The Agility Association of Canada
AKC – The American Kennel Club
CKC – The Canadian Kennel Club
CPE – Canine Performance Events
FCI – Fédération Cynologique Internationale
NADAC – North American Dog Agility Council
TDAA – Teacup Dogs Agility Association
USDAA – United States Dog Agility Association
UKC – United Kennel Club