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Agility... A Beardie Sport
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Agility...A Beardie Sport

by Emily Venator
Revised by Sharon Dunsmore

Agility, in action draws spectators from out of the woodwork. Everyone loves it as the dogs speed around the course, working with tails wagging, hair flying and muscles rippling. While it is the handler's job to direct the dog and help them do well, it is certainly the dog who is in the limelight during the competition.

Agility was originally developed by combining the challenges of stadium jumping in the horse world, with different challenges unique to dogs. Each course demands strategy from the handler to get their dog from the start to finish through an array of obstacles within a limited amount of time. However, the catch is that points are deducted for failing to clear obstacles or correctly complete the course.

Now doesn't this sound like something you and your Beardies would enjoy? I know with the approach of the warmer weather, my own Beardies are awaiting the time when the Agility equipment will be set up.

INTERESTED?

First, start with a trainer or training school that has equipment which conforms to the standards of Agility competition. Equipment must be well constructed and safe. When introducing your dogs to Agility equipment it is really helpful if the equipment can be broken down to small heights. For instance start with a 4 foot A-Frame and work up to competition height of 5 foot 6 inches. There is nothing worse than running a dog over wobbly equipment and to have the dog fall off, only to become shy of the obstacle. It is much easier to teach them to be confident on easier equipment. If you do not feel that the equipment is built solidly and safely, seek out another training organization. There are guidelines and regulations set by all the governing bodies of Agility as to the specifications for heights, lengths, and widths of equipment that should be followed when building equipment.

Every instructor will have different methods of teaching the obstacles. Look for an Agility instructor who uses motivational methods, and incentives such as toys, food, and praise to keep the learning fun! Remember that one of the most important lessons your Beardie will learn is control. Do not allow your dog to "run wild" at any time. Keep training sessions short and fun! Before starting Agility training, your dog must respond consistently to basic obedience commands, such as Sit, down, and stay. Most importantly your dog must come when called!! As the sport of Agility has grown many schools offer a Foundation or Introductory Course that concentrates on the skills, both obedience and agility, that are necessary to help the dog and you learn the sport.

EAGER TO GET STARTED?

If your energetic puppy is climbing over everything in the house and you want to start doing Agility work, hold on and wait. Let your puppy grow up a little more before you are tempted to try out the jumps, or the tire. Young puppies can be taught many skills on the ground(Flatwork), targeting skills , focus exercises. There are now many Puppy Agility Courses geared to the young puppy that concentrates on the behaviours needed for future Agility dogs but also takes into account soft growing bones and muscles of the young puppy. Most Beardies can jump full height by 18 mos. depending on their fitness level.. You can start teaching puppies at any age how to go through the flexible tunnel, and you can place a plank on the ground to teach them how to walk on the dog walk or teeter-totter. Do not allow the puppy or adult dog to play on Agility equipment unsupervised. As the dog's partner in Agility, you must always be there to be the 'spotter'.

Many Agility training schools will start puppies in class as early as 4 mos. Are you ready? Does your puppy have some skills such as focus work,, walk on a loose leash, and the beginnings of come to you? Starting a puppy in Agility class is fun for all and a great way to train your dog while exercising them appropriately!
Agility is also a great activity for the older dog. Before you start, make certain that your canine team-mate is in good shape, and not suffering from spending time as a "couch potato" over the winter months! Remember many Veterinarians say that dogs should not jump or climb until their growth plates are fixed! If in doubt check with your own Veterinarian before starting class. Growth plates are closed on the average Beardie by 14 – 16 months. They then need time to develop those muscles and ligaments before doing their full height.

If you cannot find a training organization in your neighbourhood, there are many good books, and videos on the subject of Agility authored by Susan Garrett,, Angelica Steinker, Greg Derrett Chris Zink.

In the US see www.dogwise.com or one of the best Agility sites is www.cleanrun.com .

Better yet, why not ask someone who is competing in Agility with their own Beardie, (or another breed) for some help on how or where to get started!

AGILITY ORGANIZATIONS

There are a number of different organizations who set Rules and Regulations for equipment standards, and competition. In Canada, the sport of agility is offered by the Agility Association of Canada (AAC, www.aac.ca) and the Canadian Kennel Club (CKC, www.ckc.ca). There also is some Canine Performance Events offered in BC, Ontario and Nova Scotia ( CPE, www.k9cpe.com)

Under the rules of the Agility Association of Canada, & the Canadian Kennel Club dogs cannot compete in sanctioned events until they are 18 months of age.

Sanctioned Agility tests and matches are held throughout the year in Canada and the United States. Events in Canada are advertised on the web sites of the organizations.

The Bearded Collie Club of Canada holds a yearly Agility Trial . for more information contact Sharon Dunsmore, sharon@k9klubhouse.ca

HEIGHT CATEGORIES

Agility classes are divided into height classes depending on the organization. Your dog will need to be measured by approved Agility judges in AAC, prior to competing in sanctioned events. In Canada, classes are divided into four- six height categories based upon the measurement of the dog at the shoulder and the organizing body.. The smallest competitors are placed in the 4-6 " jump height class, and the largest are in the 24-26 inch class. Your dog must be capable of jumping his appropriate height before being entered in a Sanctioned event. Both organizations offer a lower height class to all dogs who may need it, for instance dogs coming back after an injury or older dogs. Agility is a sport that can be played for almost the entire life of your dog

THE CLASSES

Just like there is more than one class at a conformation show, there are different types of classes, or events offered at Agility tests. Agility competitions are similar in structure to Obedience trials, in that there is a progression from the beginning level dog phase to the more experienced level. The entry level class is called Starters in AAC and Novice in CKC progressing up to Masters and Excellent, the top levels of competition..
Clear rounds as defined by the sanctioning organization must be completed before titles are awarded.

Standard Agility classes, are those that have most of the obstacles in them – Contact obstacles, jumps, open tunnels and closed tunnels. The courses are designed by the judge for the various levels with Starters/Novice being the easiest to complete.

In addition to Standard classes, games classes are offered. In CKC, Jumpers with Weaves is the only Games Class offered. In AAC Games consist of Jumpers, Snookers, and Gamblers class. The Games classes offer a variety of skills sets for the dogs and handlers. For instance if your dog is not fully trained on the Contact obstacles then you could just run him in the Jumpers class which is jumps and tunnels.

AGILITY OBSTACLES

Ready to learn more? Lets start by discussing the different types of Agility obstacles that you and your eager Beardie will encounter!

Basically all organizations have similar obstacles. Contact obstacles are those that the dog must show some control on by touching the painted yellow zones at the ends. They are the A-Frame, the teeter and the Dog Walk. These obstacles have specific criteria that the dog must meet in order to have performed the obstacle successfully. Contact zones are probably the hardest to teach to your exuberant Beardie and the hardest to maintain. As the game becomes more exciting to the dog, the faster they go and the harder it is to get them to stop in that yellow. You can easily see that the 36 inches of yellow paint is a very small jump for any Beardie!!

In order to teach the contacts in a way the dog understands they must be taught in a methodical manner with consistency. It is a very difficult skill to master but it can be done.

The Pause Table is another form of contact obstacle. The table requires the dog to be controlled to do a Sit or Down stay for the count of 5 seconds. Sounds easy enough!! However add that to it being performed in the middle of a fun running jumping sequence and you see why so many beardies may have difficulty.
All kinds of jumps can be seen, Single jumps, jumps with wings some plain and some fancy, Spread Jumps and double jumps all with the intent of testing your dogs ability to jump with speed and accuracy.
The tire jump is another type of jump seen in all organizations. The Tire jump does require a lot of training to teach the dog to go through the middle. Many dogs figure it is faster to go under. Any one think our beardies would figure that out?

One of the most fun obstacles for many dogs are the tunnels. There are two types, the open tunnel and the closed tunnel or chute as it is called. Dogs love blasting through these and often go out of their way on course to find the tunnels even if not directed by you! These dogs are often called ‘Tunnel Suckers” as the tunnels can suck them in form great distances.

Very likely the most impressive obstacle to watch a dog perform with style, and speed are the weave poles. A dog who performs this obstacle well is a joy to watch and usually draws many oohs and Ahhs from the spectators. There are so many different and positive ways to teach these poles although it is probably the piece of equipment that takes the longest to train.

In author Dr. M. Christine Zink's book "Peak Performance: Coaching the Canine Athlete" she notes that the exercises performed in Agility are excellent conditioning exercises for your dog. The weave poles, A-frame, teeter-totter, dog walk and tunnel all can improve a dog's strength and coordination.

A FINAL WORD

More and more people are discovering that Agility is one of the most fun activities you can share with your dog. Agility is a great way to show-case our Beardies versatility! Training in Agility helps to build confidence, and to maintain a dog's physical condition. It is also a great way to continue spending time with the finished Champions who live for the thrill of the ring!

Obedience competitors see Agility as a way to increase motivation, and to demonstrate and improve the high degree of teamwork that they have developed with their dog.

Owners of companion Beardies can get started in Agility as a fun way to spend quality time with their dog, and these owners often got hooked on the excitement of competition!

I hope that this article has stirred your interest in the sport of Agility. Agility training whether for fun and exercise, or for competition is truly an activity for any sound dog. If you think that you and your Beardie(s) would enjoy this great sport, and don't know how to get started feel free to contact me at: sharon@k9lubhouse.ca . If you have already started your Beardie in Agility keep me posted on your progress!


Copyright © [1997] Emily Venator.   
Revised: Copyright © [2009] Sharon Dunsmore
All rights reserved.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
   


© Bearded Collie Club of Canada 1997 - 2010
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Last revised: February 27, 2012