You've seen it on TV or maybe attended an agility trial in person. Perhaps your obedience club offers classes. Welcome to the most entertaining spectator sport in the canine world – agility.
AKC agility is divided into three sections, Standard, Jumpers with Weaves, and FAST. Also, dogs of differing sizes have varying heights and times in which the courses have to be run. There is also the Preferred classes which allow slower speeds and lower jump heights; but the courses are the same as those in the regular classes.
You may have attended a trial and watched the participants milling around with a hand outstretched guiding his or her virtual dog. Before each class, each handler can get a course map and visualize the course and potential problems. They then have ten minutes to walk and memorize the courses before the judge clears the ring and people get their dogs. Tunnels, see-saws, A-frames, tables, and jumps are just some of the equipment that you will see out on the course.
The idea, at varying levels of difficulty, number of obstacles, and times is to run the course at or below the allotted time as designated by the judge. In all of the varieties of agility, you have the Novice (beginner), Open (intermediate) and Excellent (advanced) levels and can receive an AKC title after three passes. After the Excellent title is reached, you may continue with multiple passes for more advanced titles.
The ultimate achievement for an agility dog is to obtain the MACH (Master Agilty Champion) title. To qualify, a team has to earn twenty Double Qs (an Excellent Standard and an Excellent Jumpers pass) on the same day. Also, seven hundred and fifty time points (Seconds under the judges' allotted times) have to be accumulated. To achieve this level of accomplishment is a great achievement. However, some of the outstanding dogs have accomplished these requirements multiple times.
In the Preferred classes, the PAX (Preferred Agility Excellent) title may be earned with twenty Double Qs after the Preferred Excellent Standard and Jumpers titles have been earned. Recently, the FAST (Fifteen and Send Time) has been added to give the teams another exciting agility event in which to compete.
Sweeper is my fifth dog that has competed in agility and he has achieved the MACH at three and a half years of age! We took our first private lesson at three months and then a second a month or two later. Having some equipment at home allowed us to practice daily but I was very careful not to have him jump more than twelve inches during his first year. We practiced the sit, down, stay, heel, and come commands that every new dog should master. The only additional commands that were added were following both my right and left hand. Of course, I taught the tunnel, but Goldens seem to think that tunnels are their safe haven. Getting them not to go into a tunnel is a little more difficult. For most dogs, the two most difficult skills to master are the weave poles and the see-saw. There are many different ways to teach these skills but there is no single right way. There have been and are many great dogs who have been taught by different methods to achieve the same results. It just takes time and commitment.
Of all of the dog venues, agility seems to be the most “positive training” activity. Food, toys, and a happy and smiling trainer (even if you are crying on the inside) seem the be the optimum ways to achieve success in this sport. Watch this video of Sweeper winning a MACH title. Notice Sweeper's tail. He is really enjoying himself!