Loosely modeled on equestrian jumping competition, the sport of dog agility as we know it today is one of the most popular canine activities in the world. Dog agility is a sport where the dog handler is given a time period to direct a dog off-leash through an obstacle course in a race against the clock.
The dog agility course made its debut at the world famous Crufts Dog Show in England, held on 2-10-78. It was created to entertain the people surrounding the main competition ring between the obedience championship and the judging of the show dogs called conformation. The dogs were costumed in team track suits and the attending crowd loved the spectacle and performance. The success of dog agility training began on that day.
John Varley and Peter Meanwell – “founding fathers”
John Varley, a member of the 1978 Crufts Organizing Committee, had an interest in dogs as well as horses. This combination of interests was likely the inspiration behind what we now know as dog agility. He and Peter Meanwell together planned and masterminded the very first agility demonstration at the 1978 Crufts Dog Show, and are also responsible for the majority of the rules for the sport as well as the concepts that are still a part of dog agility training as we know it today.
The criteria for their entertainment concept was it had to be fun, not endanger the dogs, and had to have a strong spectator appeal. Agility training became a big hit, and the sport developed a strong following from that point forward.
By the end of 1979, agility was a featured highlight at the internationally renowned English Horse Show Olympia. It is now almost 3 decades later and Olympia is still seen to be the highest achievement a dog/handler team in England can achieve. The 1980 Crufts Dogs Show marked the formal introduction of what is titled the English Kennel Club Agility Test Regulations. At that 1980 show, Peter Meanwell was the Judge and the first person to interpret the new Regulations.
There are several national organizations for dog agility in the United States that sanction trials held by local dog training clubs. Trials are based on international rules and call for the highest level of agility from the dogs in participation in terms of speed and their ability to perform the obstacle course.
Obstacles used in agility have been designed for safety
All obstacles used in agility have been designed for safety so the dog should not experience injury. Obstacles that the dog is expected to physically scale have “contact” zones painted on the equipment to enforce safe training techniques in that the handlers know the dogs will be faulted unless one or more paws are in the contact zones when ascending or descending these contact obstacles.
The handlers direct their dogs around obstacles arranged in various course configurations in a sequence that has been predetermined by the judge. At the entry level competition, courses contain few complicated tasks and call for less actual agility (by using smaller obstacles and lower jump heights) and focus more on the handling aspects of the game to allow a dog to display it can competently perform the tasks the equipment is requiring it to navigate within a reasonable amount of time.
As the dog and handler develop into higher levels of attainable difficulty, the courses increase in complexity requiring split-second coordination and timing between the handler and dog to accomplish the course within the “Standard Course Time” (SCT) established by the judge.
Dogs only compete against dogs of similar height at the withers within the jump height divisions. The dog with the lowest number of faults and the fastest time wins the class or height division.
Dog agility is fast and exciting
Teaching methods and skill development are continually evolving and enthusiasts are now found around the world.