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Agility

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by Dan and Debby McNamara

Where it Began – The idea of agility was born in 1977 when Crufts Dog Show needed something to fill up spare time in the main arena between the end of the obedience championships and the start of the group breed judging.

Various dog-training demonstrations were held over the years, some of which included dog jumping. The new demonstration had to be a nice to see test and it should be suited to the hard Olympia floor. The main idea of a dog jumping competition is based on the show jumping of horses. Some people put their heads together and they came out with a test based on vast practical dog training knowledge and experience in working trials. Main factors that had to be kept in mind were: that it should be fun, without being dangerous and it should have to amuse spectators. They built the equipment. Another club was contacted to form a second team of four dogs and they all helped each other with training ideas and modifications to equipment. And so the base was laid for the agility we know now.

The American Kennel Club entered the world of agility competition in August of 1994 offering titles in standard agility. In January of 1998, Jumpers with Weaves became a titling event.

The exciting sport of Agility is an event where a dog demonstrates its versatility in negotiating a variety of obstacles in a specified sequence and within a given time limit.

It can be one of the most enjoyable activities for you and your dog. The agility ring allows the handler and their dog to run full speed while performing accurately and safely on obstacles such as an A-Frame, a Dog Walk, a Teeter-Totter, Weave Poles, and a variety of jumps and tunnels.

Adding to the challenge of agility is the variety of sequences of obstacles you and your dog will encounter. The combinations are endless! You will never run the same course twice! Each judge designs their own courses based on the size and shape of the building or field to be used for the course. Therefore, a handler must analyze each course and come up with a strategy on how to successfully negotiate the obstacles.

Agility is truly a team event. Handler and dog both must negotiate the obstacle course together. The handler is a very integral part of this team. The handler must think and act quickly on their feet; by use of verbal commands and especially body language, they must help guide their dog thru a course. Timing of commands is crucial. Your dog is depending on you, the handler, to know which direction to go and what obstacle is to be taken next. And when you have finished running an agility course, both you and your dog share in the success!

AKC Agility – Standard Titling Class:

Novice Agility: this class is divided into two divisions:

Division A – for persons and dogs that have never acquired an agility title

Division B – for dogs that have acquired the Novice Agility title or persons that have handled a dog to an agility title, and for agility judges.

Open Agility: Open to dogs that have acquired the Novice Agility or Open Agility titles but which have not acquired the Agility Excellent Title.

Excellent Agility: Open to dogs that have acquired the Open Agility title and to dogs that have acquired the Agility Excellent title.

The following titles may be earned in standard titling in AKC agility:

Novice Agility – NA

Open Agility – OA

Agility Excellent – AX

Master Agility Excellent – MX

Master Agility Championship – MACH

A dog must earn a qualifying score in its respective class on three separate occasions under two different judges in order to acquire an agility title.

The maximum attainable score is 100 points. To earn a qualifying score a dog must pass with a score of 85 points or better, and not receive any non-qualifying deductions.

To earn the Master Agility Excellent title, a dog must first earn the Agility Excellent title and then earn ten (10) more qualifying scores in the Agility Excellent class level.

In 1999, the AKC introduced its Master Agility Championship (MACH) title. To earn this elite title, a dog must have earned the Agility Excellent title, and then continue to earn perfect scores (100) at the Agility Excellent level and accumulate 750 points in the process. Points earned are based on a system of how many seconds you finish under standard course time and if you have a placement of first or second in the event.

To level the playing field so that all dogs may participate, agility has several jump height classes defined. They are:

8 inches: for dogs 10 inches and under at the withers.

12 inches: for dogs 14 inches and under at the withers.

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16 inches: for dogs 18 inches and under at the withers.

20 inches: for dogs 22 inches and under at the withers.

24 inches: for dogs over 22 inches at the withers.

Dachshunds, of course, will compete in either the 8-inch or 12-inch height classes.

The difference, and increasing difficulty, between the classes is based on course size, standard course times, the number of obstacles to be performed, and the difficulty of “traps” occurring in the course.

In the Novice Class, the minimum course area is 5,000 square feet. This class will have 12 or 13 obstacles to be performed, and course times are determined based on covering two (2) yards per second. The obstacles you will encounter are the A-frame, dog walk, pause table, open tunnels, a teeter-totter, closed tunnel, broad jump, panel jump, double bar jump, tire jump, and bar jumps. The Novice Class will not use the weave poles or the triple bar jump. The Open Class must have a minimum course area of 6,500 square feet. The 8-inch and 12-inch height divisions will be required to cover the course at 2.25 yards per second. At this level, a dog will encounter from 15 to 17 obstacles. These obstacles are the A-frame, dog walk, pause table, open tunnels, a teeter-totter, closed tunnel, broad jump, panel jump, double bar jump, and the tire jump. In addition, the weave poles are now a required obstacle, and the triple-bar jump may be used. Other bar jumps may be used to compete the minimum obstacle requirement. In the Excellent Class, the minimum course area is 8,000 square feet.

The 8-inch and 12-inch height divisions will now be required to cover the course at 2.50 yards per second. Here a dog will be expected to maneuver thru 18 to 20 obstacles. These obstacles are the A-frame, dog walk, pause table, open tunnels, a teeter-totter, closed tunnel, panel jump, double bar jump, the tire jump, and the weave poles. The triple-bar jump now becomes a required obstacle, and the broad jump becomes an optional item. Other bar jumps may be used to compete the minimum obstacle requirement.

Take notice that each level increases with distance to be covered, number of obstacles to be performed, and the amount of time given to cover the course. As you go up in levels, your dog will be expected to maneuver more obstacles over a greater distance and at a faster rate of speed.

A course will be designed for each level of competition based on the above requirements. Dog and handler will be expected to maneuver the course in the proper sequence and within the allotted time.

Running errors performed in executing the course will be deducted from your initial score value of 100. For example, if your dog goes off course, you will have 5 points deducted. If you have 3 wrong courses in any one run, you will be eliminated. On the pause table, a dog is required to stay in a sit or down position during a count of 5 by the judge; if the dog jumps off the table before the count is completed, it will be a 2-point deduction.

Contact obstacles (A-frame, teeter-totter, and dog walk) have zones a dog “must” make contact with. These zones occur on the up side and downside of each obstacle. For the teeter-totter and dog walk, the contact zone must be touched by any part of one foot on both the up- and down-side of the obstacle. The A-frame only requires the downside contact zone touched by any part of one foot. Failure of the dog to touch these required contact zones would result in mandatory elimination.

But, there is even more to challenge you to attain a qualifying score. This brings us to “refusals” and “run outs”. A refusal, for example, may occur when a dog starts toward an obstacle and then turns back on its path. A run out occurs when a dog passes the plane of the next correct obstacle.

Depending on what level you are competing in determines the effect on your score. At the Novice level, two refusals/ run outs are permitted with 5 points deducted for each occurrence. At the Open level, only one refusal/run out is permitted, with a 5-point deduction. At each of these two levels, if more refusals/run outs occur than the specified limit, it will mean elimination of your dog. At the Excellent level of competition, no refusals/run outs are permitted.

The dog would be eliminated if this occurred.

If you and your dog take more time to run the course than what thejudge has allotted, deductions occur for each full second over time. At the Novice level, a 1-point deduction is made for every second over time. In Open, a 2-point deduction is made, and at the Excellent level a 3-point deduction is made for every second over time.

AKC Agility – Jumpers With Weaves (JWW)

PURPOSE: This agility class is intended to be a fun yet competitive way to demonstrate a working relationship between dog and handler. In this classdogs are not slowed down by the careful performance and control required by the contact obstacles and pause table. Dog/handler teams can therefore racethrough a course composed primarily of jumps demonstrating a dog’s speed and jumping ability.

Novice Jumpers With Weaves: The Novice JWW Class is to be divided into two divisions. Division “A” for persons and dogs that have never acquiredan agility title, and division “B” for dogs that have acquired any agility title, persons that have handled a dog to any agility title, and for agility judges.

Whenever the Novice JWW is offered both “A” and “B” divisions must be offered.

Open Jumpers With Weaves: The Open JWW Class is open to dogs that have acquired the Novice JWW title or the Open JWW title but which have not acquired a qualifying score towards a Excellent JWW title.

Excellent Jumpers With Weaves Class: The Excellent JWW Class is to be divided into two divisions. Division “A” for dogs that have not acquired the Excellent JWW title and Division “B” for dogs that have achieved the Excellent JWW title. Whenever the Excellent JWW class is offered both “A” and “B” divisions must be offered.

Agility Titles For Jumpers With Weaves: The titles earned for the Jumpers With Weaves Class are as follows:

Novice JWW NAJ

Open JWW OAJ

Excellent JWW AXJ

Master Excellent JWW MXJ

In order to acquire a Jumpers With Weaves agility title a dog must earn a qualifying score in its respective class on three (3) separate occasions under two (2) different judges.

To obtain the MXJ title a dog must acquire the AXJ title and then earn ten (10) additional qualifying scores in the Excellent Jumpers With Weaves class (“B” division).

This may seem overwhelming, but with proper training, patience, and especially teamwork, you and your dog will become successful in the sport of agility. It is a lively, entertaining, and enjoyable sport for both you and your dog.

Training(1): Some basic obedience training is necessary before commencing agility training. At a minimum, the dog must be able to sit, down, promptly come when called off-leash, hold a brief stay, maintain control around other dogs, and accept handling by strangers. Off-leash heelwork is a big plus but not required. In addition, a trainer/handler that has encouraged their dog from puppy hood to play fetch will have a distinct training advantage over someone who has not.

Initial agility work begins by introducing the dogs to low and/or smaller versions of the obstacles. The height and/or length of the equipment is slowly extended over several training sessions to their full competition forms. Dogs at this stage of training require physical ‘spotting’ similar to gymnastics training while they develop the necessary skill and confidence on the obstacles.

Leashes are usually quickly dispensed with as they may become entangled on the dog and/or equipment. Techniques or collars that apply physical corrections of any type should not be used; they are disruptive to maintaining balance & physical coordination (and may therefore lead to injury) and will slow down the dog’s opportunity to become physically and mentally confident in his ability to negotiate the equipment safely. Physical handling and spotting techniques are often supplemented with food, praise, and fetch/tug type objects that both lure and reward the dog to perform the equipment.

Once the basic obstacle work is learned, the dog enters the next phase of training. During this time, the handler works to gradually condition the dog to higher jumps and obstacle heights, and to develop a working ‘command vocabulary’ of both verbal and body signals necessary to direct the dog off leash around an agility course. A well-trained agility dog learns to respond instantly to commands directing him to perform specific obstacles (when obstacles are placed immediately adjacent to one another) as well as commands causing him to run faster/slower, turn left/right and veer away from/closer to his handler. At the highest levels of agility competition, it is possible to see dogs that are able to perform these commands and maneuvers instantly and accurately even when working at full speed several yards away from their (much slower) handlers.

Training – group classes as well as private instructions. Find a club/or private instructor that will take the time to work with small dogs. Training small dogs is much different from larger breeds. Be happy with the quality of instruction you are getting. Safety should be your first concern with a fun, positive reinforcement environment also important. If you have the option take advantage of both of them. They both have their place in forming your training routine. Also, have your classmates, traveling partners, club members watch your runs and offer suggestions/critiques. Attend fun matches, corrections and guest train at other facilities. The variety of training venues you can get your dog to will only help in competition. If it’s the first time you have entered an outdoor trial, I would hope it’s not the first time your dog has ever done a course outdoors.

Volunteer to help at a trial. It’s amazing what you can learn by watching people handle their dogs at trials. Everyone can set bars and straighten chutes or tunnels. While these may be considered boring jobs, they offer the best opportunity to really watch the competition and learn.

Health Considerations(1): Not every dog should be doing agility and may become injured or aggravate a pre-existing condition if the owner does not perform some pre-screening before entering the phase of intensive training.

The pre-screening should at a minimum consist of hip, elbow, and eye checks.

Veterinarians should be informed what is planned for the dog and the dog should be radiographed for both hip & elbow dysplasia. The owner should reconsider their plans for agility if the dog is rated anything less than ‘Fair’.

Unobstructed vision is also critical.

Because agility is a fairly new type of dog competition, it is not unusual for a veterinarian to be unaware of the requirements for agility. In this case, it is very helpful for the owner to have available a short video (2-3 minutes long) of a dog performing the equipment, this will give the veterinarian an idea of the physical requirements necessary for the sport. Both the owner and veterinarian should be particularly sensitive to the dog’s weight. What is a good healthy weight for a pet dog with normal activity expectations may be too heavy for agility training and competition. Poor performance or injuries, which can include muscle strains and other soft tissue injuries, are nearly always due to the ‘weekend athlete syndrome’ — i.e. the dog is overweight and/or not conditioned properly.

On-going conditioning separate from the equipment training is vital to keeping the dog’s agility performance high and injury-free. Weight bearing exercise is the most appropriate; for example walks interspersed with short sprints condition both the dog and the handler. Long distance, low to the ground games of ball are particularly helpful for building the dog’s cardiovascular and/or muscular capacity. Swimming can also be beneficial for improving cardiovascular & muscular capacity.

The agility obstacles that require the most conditioning (particularly for international style agility) are the jumps. In order for a dog to be able to safely engage in the amount of jumping required for both agility training and competition, the dog must not only possess the proper cardiovascular and muscular structure, he must possess the necessary skeletal structure as well. Skeletal conditioning is performed slowly over time by spending at least 6-9 months of training at low jump heights; this minimizes impact to the bones and yet induces the rather slowly growing bones to thicken and develop the strength needed at the correct points to withstand the impact of landing after jumping.

These months of low jump training are a good time for a handler to work on developing the dog’s command vocabulary. Once this conditioning period is accomplished, the jumps can then be systematically raised in training until the dog’s full jump height is reached and actual competition can be considered.

Some on-going physical maintenance of the dog is necessary as well in order to prevent injury whether in training or competition. In particular, nails must be kept trimmed back at all times so that they do not catch on the equipment or impede the dog’s traction. Some sacrifice in dog appearance must be accepted in those breeds which have a lot of hair over or about the eyes; this hair must be kept trimmed or tied back so as not to interfere with the dog’s vision.

It’s important to warm your dog up before an agility run. Stretching exercises and massage techniques are all part of the “agility run”. Also, cool down exercises are just as important to help prevent any muscle or tendon injury. An agility run is more than the 60 seconds on course. It takes course strategy, warm up of your dog, running the course, cool down of your dog and of course lots of praise, love and a little liver never hurt anyone.

Dachshunds and Agility:

Running a dachshund in agility requires some special considerations.

First of all, you have to realize your running a dachshund.

Dachshunds are not the first breed that comes to mind when people think about agility. But dachshunds have made great strides and have had numerous successes in agility. The numbers of dachshunds competing in agility are increasing every year. It’s a great activity to share with your dog and provides lots of fun and confidence between the handler and dachshund.

Sniffing – being a hound, this is a natural tendency. As we work field trials and earth dog where we emphasis use of the nose, attention work is sometimes needed to overcome this.

Outdoor trials – grass that is not cut short. This really makes a difference for a smaller dog. It really slows them down. It would be the same as a larger breed running through grass that was to its chest.

Weather – while weather is a problem for a lot of dogs/breeds, I’ve noticed it seems to effect small dogs more drastically. Rain and muddy conditions end up being very hard to navigate. While a club may put down straw/hay to help footing, you may loose your doxie on the course somewhere. Also, the material on the chute gets to be to heavy for the smaller breeds to push open.

Weave poles – usually are the hardest obstacle for handlers to master. Weaving is the one thing that dogs do not do naturally. They jump, crawl, climb, run, but weave is not a natural ability. 24″ weave poles pose the greatest problem. Each pole is almost like a separate obstacle. This size of weave pole makes a natural cadence through the weave poles impossible. Also metal bases tend to get hot and most small dogs end up touching/stepping on the bases more than longer legged breeds. They do get to be very hot and you will find a lot of dogs popping out of the weave poles.

Body Language – you need to be more animated in your use of it. Just turning your shoulders doesn’t help a dog that can’t see above your shin. Working body language with a smaller dog takes a longer time to become a team than a larger breed. You need to work within your dog’s site limitations. It is the handler’s responsibility to make the signaling as effective as possible for the dog.

Distractions – Dachshunds are dachshunds. They are very prone to distractions both scent and movement related. This especially noticeable if a piece of treat as fallen out of someone’s pocket or there is something very attractive on the course. Their noses are only a few inches from it and it does get their attention. Overcoming this will come from good obedience foundation and really working on attention commands and cues. The “leave it” command has become an integral part of handler’s trailing vocabulary.

Inexperienced Handler – this is a team sport. The handler plays a very integral part in the success of the team. The dog can only perform as good as the direction from their handler. It takes time to develop teamwork and timing on the agility course.

Jump heights – with age, jump heights became a concern. With short legs and long back, jumping for a dachshund is a concern anyway. Owners need to be very concerned with this aspect. If you are starting a young dachshund in agility, make sure that they are not overweight. In fact, being on the lean side is a plus for agility dogs. As your dog ages, you need to carefully judge your dog’s performance and find out if you are asking too much of your dog. No title is worth injury.

Small Dogs – as a handler of a small dog you need to be aware of the crowd around you and your dog. Little dogs get lost in the crowd of the start and/or finish line. All jokes withstanding on carrying in your little dog, it has become a safety issue foremost.

Miscellaneous – at any time, your dog may have their own agenda. You need to realize this and be able to be humble. Remember you own a dachshund.

Videotape – this is a great tool to use in analyzing your runs. If you have someone that can tape your runs, take advantage of it. It’s amazing on how your perception of how your run was is different from the one you watch on tape. This can be a handler’s greatest learning tool.

Training and Health Considerations adopted with permission fro an article by Janet Gauntt at www.dogpatch.org