Dog agility is a dog sport in which a handler directs a dog through an obstacle course in a race for both time and accuracy. Dogs run off leash with no food or toys as incentives, and the handler can touch neither dog nor obstacles. Consequently the handler’s controls are limited to voice, movement, and various body signals, requiring exceptional training of the animal and coordination of the handler.
In its simplest form, an agility course consists of a set of standard obstacles laid out by a judge in a design of his or her own choosing in an area of a specified size. The surface may be of grass, dirt, rubber, or special matting. Depending on the type of competition, the obstacles may be marked with numbers indicating the order in which they must be completed.
Courses are complicated enough that a dog could not complete them correctly without human direction. In competition, the handler must assess the course, decide on handling strategies, and direct the dog through the course, with precision and speed equally important. Many strategies exist to compensate for the inherent difference in human and dog speeds and the strengths and weaknesses of the various dogs and handlers.
Dogs can begin training for agility at any age; however, care is taken when training dogs under a year old so as to not harm their developing joints. Dogs generally start training on simplified, smaller, or lowered (in height) agility equipment and training aids (such as ladders and wobbling boards to train careful footing); however, even quickly learning puppies must be finished growing before training on equipment at standard height to prevent injury.
Introducing a new dog to the agility obstacles varies in response. Each individual dog learns at his own pace; confident dogs may charge over equipment with little encouragement, while more timid dogs may take weeks to overcome their hesitations with much encouragement. Both scenarios present their own challenges; dogs may be overconfident and sloppy to the point where they have a serious accident, so self-control must be taught. Timid dogs need extra support to boost their confidence. Given the right encouragement, a timid dog can gain confidence through learning the sport itself. The size of the dog can also have an effect on training obstacles, particularly with the chute, in which smaller dogs are prone to getting trapped and tangled inside. Great effort is taken in general to see that the dog is always safe and has a good experience in training for agility so that they do not fear the obstacles, and instead perform them willingly and with enthusiasm.
Agility is a challenge and a competition to be enjoyed by handler, dog and spectator. The main elements of the sport are good sportsmanship and fun for the dogs and handler.
Agility Trials are open to all four legged dogs capable of demonstrating the element of agility and control and the mental and physical ability to carry out the required tests.