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There are few greater joys than running/jogging an agility course with your dog. A course takes from 20-60 seconds to run with adrenalin pounding for the entire time. It is one of the most bonding sports you can take on with your dog. Each member of the team has to be focused yet highly in touch with his or her teammate. A moment’s loss of this team touch and BOOM, you’re busted and off course. Lots of dog training books talk about “the other end of the leash” and how our dogs feel our emotions. In agility there isn’t a leash. There really is a “Vulcan Mind Meld.” Good handlers know and feel their dog and EVERY dog feels their handler. When it goes well, qualify or not, finishing a run is a great thrill. Both dog and handler come off laughing, bounding, joyful, and exuberant. It’s a blast!

There are two types of regular courses in every trial. The first is the Standard course which contains jumps, weaves, tunnels and chutes, an A-frame, teeter totter, and dogwalk. The second regular course is Jumpers With Weaves (JWW). This course is made up of tunnels, jumps, and weaves. It’s very fast and very technical with lots of side changes and often more distance between the handler and the dog. Most dogs love doing JWW cause they get to go really fast!
There are also games—Time 2 Beat(T2B), and FAST (Fifteen and Send Time). T2B is a fast-paced combination of the JWW and Standard courses. The course isn’t about difficulty but about speed with all the obstacles available for the judge to use in establishing the course. The FAST class is a test of strategy, skill, accuracy, speed, timing, and especially distance handling.

The judge puts 15 obstacles on the course. Each obstacle is worth a certain amount of points. For once there is no set course. Each team can pick their own route. There is a distance element called the “send bonus” of several obstacles that awards the team points if they can negotiate the send correctly. The dog must negotiate while the handler maintains separation of five feet at novice up to fifteen feet at excellent level. The challenge is to figure out how to run the course and get enough points to qualify, do the send correctly to get the bonus and get over the finish line before the buzzer. Its thirty-two seconds of crazy!

Before every run there is a strategy component. Handlers get to “walk” every course without their dog before they run. Courses are walked over and over to determine the best handling strategy and to memorize the route. Dog on my right or dog on my left? Do we change with me in front or me behind? What will my dog do in the tunnel, on the teeter totter, on the dog walk?

Will that jump tempt my dog to go off course. Can I move quickly enough to provide support at the pinwheel of three jumps . . . ? Rarely in dog sports do we have such a great thinking opportunity on top of an athletic challenge.

The sport is available to a broad range of teams. We’ve seen an 90 year old lady competing with her dog as well as a ten year old. The challenge level can vary from national trials earned through a full year of competition to local trials, and fun matches where every run wins and all of us cheer. Aside from AKC sanctioned trials there are several other governing bodies that have their own standards, course types, obstacles and rules. There is a level for the most casual to the most dedicated. Everyone who tries the sport with their dog universally comments about how much more fun agility provides than any other canine sport.

How do you get started in canine agility?

First contact any of the Board members and they will direct you to your nearest club agility handler (most of our board members participate themselves). That person can then point you to the nearby agility trainers. This sport normally takes about 12-18 months for a puppy to be ready for competition. An older dog might take less than a year of instruction. However it’s the handlers who really need training. Luckily, northern California has some of the best instructors in the country. Many of our local instructors are featured in Clean Run magazine, the bible of agility. Classes are available day, night and weekends. Even if you never compete, the learning challenge to you and your canine partner is a ball. Most dogs come home from agility class mentally and physically tired. And, your relationship with your dog will be incredibly strengthened!