Agility is a sport that appeals to all dog lovers - from young people to senior citizens. Fun for participants and spectators alike, the sport has been receiving increasing exposure in the media, adding to its popularity. Agility is designed to demonstrate a dog's willingness to work with its handler in a variety of situations.
Agility is an athletic event that requires conditioning, concentration, training and teamwork. Dog and handlers negotiate an obstacle course racing against the clock. It is a rapidly growing canine sport where dogs must correctly and rapidly perform a series of obstacles under the guidance of their handlers.
The AKC offers five types of agility classes:
- Standard: This class includes contact objects such as the dog walk, the A-frame, and seesaw. Each of the contact obstacles has a "safety zone" painted on the object and the dog must place at least one paw in that area to complete the obstacle. Other obstacles include different types of jumps such as a triple, a double, a panel, a broad, and bar jumps, and weave poles and a table.
- Jumpers with Weaves: This class can have only jumps, tunnels and weave poles with no contact objects to slow the pace.
- FAST (Fifteen and Send Time): This class is designed to test handler and dog teams' strategy to make up a course, run it and make time with enough points to earn a qualifying score. Accuracy, speed and distance handling are key to make this class interesting.
- Time 2 Beat: Handler and dog teams run a course of 17 to 19 obstacles which will include jumps, weaves, and a contact obstacle. Teams must complete the course without taking a wrong course or dropping a bar and they must correctly performing the contact obstacle (A-Frame, Teeter, or Both). Teams in this class can be Novice through Masters level.
- Premier Jumpers and Premier Standard: Teams must be competing at the Masters Level. The course design for this class requires advanced handling skills to negotiate this very technical and fast course.
All classes offer increasing levels of difficulty to earn Novice, Open, Excellent and Master Titles. After completing both an Excellent Standard title and an Excellent Jumpers title, handler and dog teams can compete for the MACH (Master Agility Championship title). Complexity of the course and criteria for a qualifying performance (called a "run") increase in difficulty as a dog progresses through 3 levels of competition - from novice (beginner) through open (intermediate) into the Excellent and Master classes (advanced). The classes are divided by jump heights in order to make the competition equal between the different sizes of dogs.
The obstacles a dog may need to perform include a variety of jumps, tunnels, a seesaw, a narrow "dog walk", a tall A-frame, weave poles (a series of poles the dog must slalom between), and a pause table where the dog must stop and wait for the judge’s count of 5. The handler runs with the dog and guides the dog to the correct obstacle with voice and signals. In competition, the handler may not use food or toys, or touch the dog or the obstacles; however, toys and food are used extensively in training.
A dog needs to be healthy and reasonably fit to participate safely, but it's a game that purebred or mixed breed dogs of all sizes and shapes can play.