Imagine a dog or any of its wild canine cousins weaving through trees in a forest, jumping over logs and rocks, and ambling through piles of brush in pursuit of a rabbit for dinner. These are the same type of activities that dogs who participate in agility undertake.
As Casper gears up for the annual AKC Central Wyoming Kennel Club Dog Show the end of this month, I wanted to take a look at agility competitions and what they mean to dogs, their owners, and the show spectators.
Benefits of Agility
There are several benefits for a dog and its owner to participate in agility. First, agility fulfills a dog's natural instincts. As mentioned above, wild canines traverse obstacles such as trees, logs, rocks, and brush in pursuit of prey. They also do these things to avoid being prey. Therefore, agility courses set up with weave poles, tunnels, jumps, and other obstacles offer a dog the opportunity to mimic the natural type of scenarios it would experience in the wild. Secondly, agility provides great exercise for a dog … as well as its owner. Running through the course, weaving in and out of poles as well as through tunnels and upon seesaws provides a great cardiovascular workout for a dog; the owner/handler runs alongside providing the commands needed to complete the course – that running gives the handler a great workout as well! Additionally, the interaction between dog and owner during the course-running creates a deeper, stronger bond between the two. An agility dog relies on the verbal and hand signals of the handler, and as the two work in tandem to complete the course, their dependence upon each other during the competition instills a deeper dog-owner bond.
Best Breeds for Agility
All dog breeds are welcome in agility competition. Even though all breeds are welcome, certain dog breeds do best in agility. Those are the working breeds, the ones with energy and who are most genetically-gifted in running with purpose. Border Collies, Australian Shepherds, Jack Russell (now called Parson Russell) Terriers, Pembroke Welsh Corgis, and Shetland Sheepdogs perform well in agility competitions. According to the AKC, the most popular dog breeds in agility these days are Shetland Sheepdogs, Border Collies, Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers, Welsh Corgis, and Papillons.
Certain breeds may not perform as well in agility due to their personalities or their body composition. For example, Dachshunds have very short legs and may not jump hurdles very well; pugs with their flattened noses may experience breathing problems from running the course; and giant breeds, such as St. Bernards, may not navigate the course very rapidly, particularly weave poles.
AKC events allow varying jump heights, adjusting to the type of dog competing. The classes are divided by those jump heights to make the competition more fair between the different dog sizes. The dogs run the same course, though, with adjustments in expected time and jump height.
Dogs between the ages of one and eight seem to do the best in agility. Young dogs and puppies can be trained, however, AKC competition rules state a dog must be at least a year old to compete in agility events. Dogs trained in basic obedience perform the best because they follow their owners' commands and instructions. A person can start basic obedience with puppies and young dogs and work up to agility training in the backyard or with a local group in preparation for agility competition when the dog is closer to one year of age, and therefore, allowed to compete in an AKC-sanctioned agility event.
History of Agility
Dog agility began in England in 1978 when the Crufts Dog Show featured a jump-style course as entertainment between competitions. Dog agility came to America during the 1980s. The first AKC event was held in 1994. According to the organization, agility is one the fastest-growing dog sports in America and the fastest growing event in the organization. In the first year of AKC agility trails there were 23 competitions; in 2003 there were 1,379 and in 2007 the number increased to 2,014.
Dog agility is a sport recognized around the world. A world agility championship is held annually as is the Agility European Open and the AKC's National Agility Championship. Learn more at http://images.akc.org/pdf/Dog_Shows.pdf.
Catch a Show, Casper!
The Central Wyoming Kennel Club Dog Show is scheduled at the Fairgrounds in Casper July 29 – 31, and the AKC Agility Trials for Central Wyoming begin in September. Stop by and cheer on your favorite breed! Learn more at http://www.centralwyomingkennelclub.org/events.html and https://www.apps.akc.org/apps/club_search/index_master.cfm?action=refresh_index&active_tab_row_A=1&active_tab_col_A=2&Fixed_ID=2.
Gayle M. Irwin is a writer and public relations professional who volunteers with various animal rescue groups. She enjoys sharing her books and her passion for pets and the environment with others.