Luna Lovebug Dog Blog Pages

Friday, 24 January 2014

Dog Agility - A Beginner's Guide and History

For various reasons, I've been very quiet on the Luna Lovebug Dog Blog recently. In the meantime, Luna has started attending agility classes (I went too) and is progressing well. As originally stated, the Luna Lovebug Dog Blog was also to be Journal of our agility training journey. Since we have taken up the sport, I have encountered a few blank faces when I've told people we're doing it. As such, before I get into Luna's progress, I've decided to post a brief explanation of dog agility, where it came from, what it involves and what might make someone want to pursue it with their dog in the first place.

Dog Agility - A Brief History

Dog Agility Demonstration - Crufts 1978
Crufts Agility Demonstration 1978
Copyright The Kennel Club - used with permission
Dog agility has not been around for very long. The sport started in the United Kingdom in the 1970s and gained notoriety in 1978 when it was shown at Crufts (the world's largest dog show, run by the Kennel Club in the UK) as something of a novelty item to keep people entertained between the usual conformation and obedience events. It resembled something akin to an equestrian show jumping event for dogs, which isn't surprising considering the committee member in charge, John Varley, was also heavily involved with horses.

The fundamental principles that were behind developing the 1978 demonstration still apply to the sport today: i) it must be fun, ii) it must be safe for the dogs involved and iii) it must have spectator appeal. Similarly, many of the original pieces of equipment are still used in the sport today, although sometimes in slightly different forms - note that you won't see many wishing wells in a modern day agility course, although you may, on occasion, still see similar clothing.

The 1978 Crufts demonstration was so successful that they were asked to do it again the following year. The 1979 event featured competing teams, which proved even more popular. Formal regulations followed in 1980 and the sport skyrocketed from there, spreading worldwide (formally entering the US in 1986 with the formation of the USDAA). It is now a global sport with many official sanctioning organisations, titles to earn and a world championship.

Dog Agility EquipmentDog Agility - An Overview
The sport of dog agility basically involves a handler directing a dog through a set of obstacles as fast as possible, with as few errors as possible. The standard obstacles include jumps, tunnels, poles that the dog weaves between and 'contact' obstacles that the dog must traverse. In a typical competition, there are a number of these obstacles set out around a square field. The obstacles are numbered by the order in which the dog must negotiate them. The number of obstacles and the difficulty of the route set typically increase with the level of competition.

In principle, mastering the completion of each of these obstacles individually is not too difficult to teach a dog. However, it is in competition where you begin to understand the level of bond and communication between dog and handler that is required to really do well in the sport. Every second counts and, as the dog sprints, jumps, climbs and weaves, it is looking to its handler for direction through the course which has to be given with accuracy and perfect timing.

In case you've never seen a dog run an agility course before, here's the winning run from the 'medium' category at Crufts 2012 as an example below. The commentators gloss over the dog's name as simply 'Dizzy', but I really like the pedigree name of this one: Raeannes Flipping Heck.

Dog Agility - Why Do It?
There are a number of reasons why someone might want to take up agility training with their dog. Typical responses might be that it builds a stronger bond with their dog, that the dog enjoys it, that it can bring a dog out of themselves or that they enjoy competing. For me, it is probably for all of these reasons and a few more. I find videos like the one above emotive, knowing how much work is involved and how strong the dog's bond with their handler is. Luna is a high-energy dog who loves to work, so it's not a surprise that she's taking to agility training well so far and most importantly, she's really enjoying it.

More soon!