Introduction to Dog Agility Part I
Click here for a list of major organizations

This is a great place to start if you are new to the wonderful sport of dog agility.

Basics of Agility
     Dog agility is a sport in which a handler is given a set amount of time in which to direct a dog off-leash through an obstacle course. Originally loosely modeled on equestrian stadium jumpers competitions, the sport has evolved its own additional obstacles, scoring  systems and performance ideals. Agility made its debut as an entertainment for spectators  at the Crufts Dog Show in 1979; it has since become the most rapidly growing dog sport  in England, Western Europe and North America. Spectators continue today to get caught   up watching the dog and handler's enthusiasm in their athletic race against the clock.

     In the United States, there are several national organizations for agility which sanction tests or trials held by local dog training clubs. Trials which are based on the original international rules and specifications call for the highest level of agility from the dogs both  in terms of speed and the physical ability to perform the obstacles. There are also domestic varieties of the sport that call for less actual agility (by using lower jump heights and smaller obstacles) from the dog and focus more on the handling aspects of the game.

There are several obstacles common to all the different organizations:

Some Obstacles for Standard Agility Classes:
Three contact obstacles, including the A-frame see-saw,and dog walk or crossover.

Set of ten to twelve weave poles.

T wo tunnels, one collapsible tunnel and one pipetunnel.

One Table.

One Tire Jump.

Three winged hurdles, one of which must be a spread  hurdle.  Other additional hurdles (primarily of a winged-type) may be added to meet minimum obstacle standards for each class level as listed below:

Starters, Novice & Veterans Classes have 14 to 16 obstacles to deal with.
Advanced & Masters Classes have 17  to 20 obstacles to deal with.

Dog Walk
Pipe Tunnel
Collapsed Tunnel
Pause Table
Weave Poles
Tire or Hoop Jump
Various Types of Jumps

     The obstacles used in agility have been designed with both safety and spectator appeal in mind. All jumps have easily displaceable bars so that the dog should not experience injury should he misjudge and take down a jump bar. All obstacles that the dog must physically scale have 'contact' zones painted on the equipment; the contact zones enforce safe   training techniques since handlers know that dogs will be faulted unless one or more feet   are in the contact zones when ascending/descending these contact obstacles. All contact   equipment surfaces are roughened for good traction in both dry and wet weather.

     In competition, the obstacles are arranged in various course configurations, always unique from trial to trial, that offer levels of challenges appropriate to the class and experience   level of the dogs competing. The handler must direct their dog around the course in the sequence that has been predetermined by the judge. At the entry levels of competitions, courses contain few complications and are more of a test to prove the dog can competently perform the equipment within a reasonable amount of time. As the dog and handler earn their way into successively higher levels, the courses increase in complexity and begin to require split second timing and coordination between the handler and dog in order to accomplish the course within the 'Standard Course Time' (SCT) established by   the judge.

     The rules are fairly simple; handlers may give an unlimited number of commands or signals to their dogs, but may not touch either the equipment or the dog. Dogs are  'faulted' for actions such as taking down a jump bar, failing to put one or more feet in the safety or contact zone when ascending/descending contact equipment, taking obstacles   out of sequence, and running past or stopping before the next obstacle to be performed.  Time penalties are additionally assessed against dogs that exceed the SCT.

     Dogs compete only against dogs of similar height at the withers within a fixed number of   jump height divisions. The number of height divisions and the ranges of dog heights assigned to a height division (and therefore the difficulty factor) differ considerably from organization to organization. Regardless of the organization, the dog with the lowest   number of faults and the fastest time wins the class or height division.

Catalog = published list of Exhibitors for a given Trial
Crating Area = where you set up your stuff
CST (or SCT) = Course Standard Time. This is calculated by measuring the course in yards, and dividing the result by the yards-per-second requirement for the class (which is specified in the rules). In other words, this is the "time to beat" for any given run.
Dog Show = any form of canine competition - conformation, agility trial, etc.
Exhibitor = Competitor
Four-Paw Rule = in some trials, if your dog puts all four paws on a contact obstacle and then jumps off, you will be asked to go on to the next obstacle. The intent is safety Ė at that moment in time, your dog is deemed not ready to do that obstacle.
Fun Match = a low-key practice event run by a local agility club Ė formatted the same as a trial, but without timers or judges.
Games = courses that are NOT Standard Agility; e.g., Jumpers, Snooker, Gamblers, Pairs. Some donít use all of the obstacles, and the rules and strategy are quite different from Standard.
Leg = Q, but in NADAC you can get half-legs or half-Qs (5 points toward a title).
Performance Class = a category in USDAA that allows dogs to compete at lower jump heights
Performance Event = any non-conformation (agility, herding, lure-coursing, tracking, etc.)
Placement = finishing position relative to the other dogs in your class for a given event
Premium = the packet that includes the Entry Form, Event-Specific Information, and a Summary of the Rules/Classes for the Trial.
Q = Qualifying Run. USDAA requires a clean run for a Q, NADAC gives ½-Qs for 5 faults or less.  Qs accumulate toward Titles Ė the number required varies from organization to organization.
Show Dog = any pooch that exhibits in Dog Shows.
Standard or Regular Agility = traditional agility course, incorporating all obstacles the organization uses.
Title = the reward for accumulating Qs. Standard Agility Titles are awarded in all organizations at all levels; Games Titles are awarded at all levels in NADAC, but in Masters only in USDAA.
Trial = a competitive event sanctioned by one of the established agility organizations (see Organizations below)

     The two good resources found on the Internet for Agility are The DogPatch ( and Agility Ability ( Both include tons of information, schedules, links, tips, software, equipment sources and plans, training tips, books, videos, articles, etc. Spend some time poking around both of these sites and the depth of information.

     If you want a monthly publication all about agility, you can't beat Clean Run Magazine. In it you'll find trainer profiles, handling exercises, judge's debriefing, great ads and classifieds, and much, much more.  Clean Run Productions also has a good selection of agility-related books and supplies.  Two very good sources for agility and training books on the web are DogWise and SitStay.

The Games/Events
 Standard - courses must include jumps, all 3 contact obstacles, weave poles, the table, the flexible tunnel and chute. The number of obstacles increases with the level of competition. It demonstrates the overall ability of the dogs to perform all the obstacles.

Gamblers - the object of Gamblers is to successfully complete as many obstacles as possible within a set time allowed in an opening sequence. The obstacles each receive a different point value, common values are jumps, 1 point, tire and tunnels are 2 points, contact 3 points, weave 3 to 5 points. The opening sequence expires with blow of a whistle, at which point the handler has a shorter set time to complete a closing sequence. This final sequence or "gamble" must be done with the handler remaining outside a prescribed area usually outlined with rope or tape and within the time allowed. A required number of points are required, in addition to the successful completion of the gamble within time for a leg to be earned. Gamblers: Requires a little bit of distance handling, but in Novice, the distance obstacles will not include weaves or the teeter Ė usually tunnels, jumps, and maybe the A-frame.

Jumpers - is composed of jumps, tires, tunnels, and chutes. This game is probably the most popular event by many competitor and spectators alike. It involves excellent handling skills and real teamwork. The pace is fast and furious with twisted flows and potential chances for off course penalties at every turn. There is no reason not to enter this class early on in your competitive career.

Team Relay (2,3 or 4 dogs) - designed to demonstrate team spirit, strategy and sportsmanship. Relay involves a course layout similar to standard agility. The course is divided in sections. All team members must run clean and under the time allowed to earn a qualifying leg. Failure to pass the baton in the specified area results in elimination. This is run as a relay Ė the first dog/handler run half of the course, pass a baton to the second team, who finish the second half of the course. You can enter with someone you know or get matched up by draw. At the Novice level, everybody is in it for fun and nobody really cares if something goes wrong in your half of the run, so donít hesitate to enter.

Snooker - is base on the British game of Billiards. There are two separate sequences. The opening sequence requires the handler to perform one of 3 or 4 designated (red) jumps followed by an obstacle of choice, and repeat this pattern at least twice more, a third time is an option left to the judges discretion and outlined in the briefing. The closing sequence requires the dog to follow the obstacles numbered 2 to 7. The game is based on points accumulated and as long as the dog has reached or surpassed the required point level, a qualifying score will be earned. One of the most complex games.