The fast-paced, highly competitive sport of canine agility pits highly trained dogs and handlers against the clock to see which team can complete a highly regulated obstacle course with the quickest time and fewest mistakes. While there are many sanctioning bodies for the sport, the American Kennel Club's (AKC) guidelines for obstacle safety, size and performance are used and applied most commonly.
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Called the "A-frame" because of it's distinctive shape, this obstacle is made of two flat panels joined at the top with a hinge. It can be painted any contrasting color with bright colors preferred. The 42-inch contact zones should be painted on the lower end of the panel closest to the ground and most commonly are bright yellow so they're easy for the dog to see. Panels should be roughly 3 to 4 feet wide and each panel should be within two inches of 9 feet long. To perform this obstacle properly, your pup should hit the obstacle on the side indicated by the judge, run to the top and down the other side, ensuring to place at least one part of one foot in the contact zone while exiting the obstacle.
The dog walk consists of two 12-foot ramps and a 12-foot center plank. The entire obstacle is 12 inches wide and should be painted similarly to the A-frame. As a contact obstacle, the dog walk also has 42-inch contact zones on the section of the ramps closest to the ground. Your dog should enter the obstacle, run up the ramp, across the center plank and down the second ramp with at least one part of one foot entering the contact zone on the second ramp.
The seesaw or "teeter-totter" is one of the most challenging obstacles for a dog to perform. This 12-inch wide, 12-foot long plank rests on a fulcrum. The seesaw should be balanced carefully so a 3-foot weight placed 12 inches from the high end of the seesaw causes it to hit the ground in 3 seconds or less. Your dog must run across the seesaw confidently and touch both 42-inch contact zones with at least one part of one foot.
The 36-inch square pause table challenges the self-control of even the most highly trained agility dog. The height of the table is 8, 16 or 24 inches, and varies depending on the jump height of the dog. Dogs must jump onto the table and hold their place with all four feet on the table top for 5 seconds.
Tunnels tend to be an agility dog's favorite obstacle. There are two different types of tunnels, open and closed. The open tunnel is 10 to 20 feet long and open on both ends. It can be straight or curved but must not move when a dog runs through it. The closed tunnels presents a bit more of a challenge as the dog enters the open end and must push through a chute of fabric to emerge on the other side. The entire length of the closed tunnel is 12 feet long, but can reduced in severe weather. Dogs must enter one end of the tunnels and emerge on the other side.
Weave poles are made from 3/4-inch wide, 40-inch high PVC pipes spaced 20 to 22 inches apart to form a straight line. A dog must enter between the first and second pole on the right hand side and, in sequence, weave left to right all the way through the obstacle. If a dog misses a pole, the handler can try again. After 3 attempts, the dog and handler must complete the rest of the course.
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While there are several different types of jumps, all jumps are 4 to 5 feet wide and the height of the jump varies with the height class of the dog. Bar jumps are formed from 1-inch wide PVC pipe, panel jumps from 3- to 5-inch wide cross-boards, and the tire jump from a 2-foot in diameter object. It may or may not be an actual tire. All jumps must be performed without the dog knocking any part of the jump off or over.
Since 2001, Kea Grace has published in "Dog Fancy," "Clean Run," "Front and Finish" and an international Czechoslovakian agility enthusiast magazine. Grace is the head trainer for Gimme Grace Dog Training and holds her CPDT-KA and CTDI certifications. She is a member of the APDT and is a recognized CLASS instructor. She's seeking German certification from the Goethe Institut.