What Is a Dog Steeplechase?

Even little dogs can soar in steeplechase.
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Steeplechasing dates back to the 1600s, when races between competing horses started at one church steeple and ended at another. The steeplechase component of dog agility harks back to another equine sport, that of show jumping. In the canine version, dogs compete over obstacles in timed events.

Agility Steeplechase

In the United States, dog agility steeplechase includes jumps at various heights, based on the size and experience of competing dogs, as well as other obstacles that are common to agility competition. These include weave poles, tunnels and A-frames, which dogs cross by climbing up, over and down. As in equine show jumping, top dogs can qualify at events around the country, leading to national and international championship competition and prize money. Faults include refusals to jump or knocking down jumps. Speed matters, because time penalties accrue for dogs not finishing the course within the allotted time.

United Kingdom Rules

Under United Kingdom agility rules, the steeplechase class consists of a minimum of 17 obstacles and a maximum of 20, consisting only of jumps and tunnels, with exceptions of a tire jump and a long jump. Dogs performing the obstacles in incorrect direction and order as noted by numbers on the jumps are disqualified. For a round to count as clear, a competing dog must not have any faults and must complete the course under the standard time allowed.

Terrier Races

Nonagility steeplechasing consists primarily of terrier racing. Not only are breeds such as Jack Russells adept at digging and hunting varmints, but they can run and jump quite well. While agility steeplechase is one dog at a time, terrier steeplechase is more like horse racing, with all of them starting at once. Terrier races sanctioned by a breed club must run a course that's a minimum of 150 feet, with a starting box for the dogs at one end and a finish line at the other. The finish line generally consists of hay bales with a hole in the middle of each for the dogs to run through. For safety, all dogs are muzzled for safety while competing. A lure tied to very long string is pulled along for the dogs to chase. Most clubs use a lure machine rather than a human to pull the lure.

Terrier Hurdles

Terrier races are divided into flat racing, with no jumps, and steeplechase, which has hurdles. Steeplechase races contain a minimum of four jumps placed no less than 20 feet apart. The final jump should be at least 30 feet from the finish. All jumps are constructed of light materials, with maximum heights of 16 inches for adult dogs and 8 inches for puppies. If a dog goes around rather than over the hurdle, he's disqualified.

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