About Agility for Dogs

  • History of Agility
  • Agility Venues
  • Agility Equipment
  • Agility Glossary
  • Agility Training
  • Agility Resources


Here in the USA there are many different agility organizations, but the objective of all of them is to have fun with your dog while successfully navigating a challenging course of obstacles in a timely manner.

Each qualifying run, or Q, brings the dog/handler team closer to a title. Each run embodies countless hours of bonding through training and play. Dogs compete off leash and the handler is not allowed to touch the dog or the obstacles, but we are allowed to encourage and talk to our dogs.  In watching an agility trial, what you will see with most runs is a celebration of the human-dog bond. Agility is one of the newest dog sports and it has been growing exponentially during its short history.

Agility started as a way to entertain the audience at the Crufts dog show between the conformation and obedience competitions. What was presented to the audience was a mix of jumps (much like jumping competitions from the horse world) and obstacles based on training exercise for RAF/police dogs.

Here is a brief history of the sport of agility just so you can see how quickly this little exhibition has grown into a full-fledged sport.


1978 — Exhibition at Crufts

1979 — Several clubs in England were offering classes

1980 — Agility recognized by The Kennel Club (England) as an official sport with guidelines and rules

Early 1980s — Agility exhibitions in the US

1984 — Charles (Bud) Kramer began to develop the National Committee for Dog Agility (NCDA) which later merged with UKC (in 1994)

1987 — USDAA (US Dog Agility Assoc) was incorporated under the guidance of Kenneth Tatsh

Early 1990s — Australian Shepherd Club of America developed an agility program

1993 — Sharon Nelson founded North American Dog Agility Council (NADAC)

1994 — First AKC agility trial held


  • AKC
  • UKC
  • CPE

Generally all of these venues have a Standard class where the judge lays out a course for the handler/dog team to complete.  The standard course includes jumps, weaves, tunnels, chute and all contacts.  Dogs do have a time requirement (Standard Course Time – SCT) to complete the course in order to qualify.  Some classes are point based classes where the team must accumulate a certain number of points in order to qualify.  Points are assigned to different obstacles by the judge.  Usually more time consuming or difficult obstacles are given a higher number of points.  Usually the handler decides the path of the dog for the point-based classes and the judge decides for the other classes. 

For more information on rules and regulations, please check the individual websites.  This is just a brief overview of the most popular agility venues in the USA.  Because of the very dynamic nature of agility, rules are constantly being updated and new venues are being created.


Website link: http://www.akc.org/events/agility/

The AKC agility trials are open to all registered purebreds and some trials are also open to mix breeds.  There are 3 different levels of expertise in agility: Novice, Open and Excellent.  Each level increases in difficulty and the number of obstacles allowed.  The novice courses, for example, only have 6 weave poles and a maximum of 16 obstacles whereas the excellent courses will have 12 weave poles, up to 20 obstacles and offers more handler challenges. 

The AKC offers several different classes: Standard, Jumpers with Weaves, FAST and Time 2 Beat (as of July 2011).  The JWW class is a timed course that contains jumps, weaves and may have tunnels.  The course, like the Std class, is dictated by the judge.  FAST, Fifteen and Send Time, is a point based class that tests the dog's ability to accurately perform obstacles at a distance from the handler.  The course has a Send Bonus that is dictated by the judge — both the obstacles and the distance.  The remainder of the course consists of obstacles with a point value.  The amount of points required to qualify depends on the level.  In addition to the handler creating their own course to maximize points, the handler also has a limited amount of time to complete the course.  Once the buzzer sounds, one point is deducted from your score for each second it takes to cross the finish line.  Time 2 Beat is a class that emphasizes speed and efficiency.  The class contains jumps, weaves, tunnels and 2 contacts.  Titles for Time 2 Beat are based on points accumulated.

The AKC also offers a Preferred jump height for each level and class.  Preferred dogs jump one jump height lower and are allowed a little more time to complete the course.  This is ideal for older dogs, dogs with structural issues, dogs that need some confidence building or for people who prefer to jump their dog at a lower height.


Website link: http://www.nadac.com/

NADAC trials are open to all pure or mixed breed dogs.  There are 3 different levels of expertise: Novice, Open, Elite.  Each level increases in difficulty and handler challenges. 

NADAC offers several different classes – Regular (Standard), Jumpers, Tunnelers, Weaves, Touch-n-Go, Chances and Hoopers.   Jumpers consists of jumps and 1 - 2 tunnels.  Tunnelers is a course that only has tunnels.  Weavers consist of weaves, tunnels and hoops.  Touch-n-Go consists of contact obstacles, tunnels and hoops.  Chances class may have any obstacle and includes a distance challenge.  The Hoopers class only contains hoops and the handler dictates the dog's course and contains a bonus distance section. 

NADAC offers a Skilled jump height where a dog can jump one jump height lower.  NADAC also offers classes for junior handlers (handlers 17 years or younger), veteran dogs (over 7), veteran handlers (60 or over) or disabled handlers where the dog may jump one jump height lower starting with 4 inch jump height.  Also NADAC lists some breeds that may jump a lower jump height.  If you entered skilled and if the dog is also a veteran or the handler is a junior handler, veteran or disabled, the dog would jump another 4 inches lower. 


Website link: http://www.usdaa.com/

USDAA events are open to all pure and mixed breeds (called All Americans).  There are 3 different levels of expertise: Starters/Novice, Advanced, Masters.  Each level increases in difficulty and handler challenges.  The USDAA offers several different classes: Standard, Jumpers, Gamblers, Snookers and Relay.  The Jumpers course contains jumps, tunnels and sometimes weaves.  The Standard, Jumpers and Relay courses are dictated by the judge.  Gamblers is a course with a distance challenge where the dog/handler team accumulates points.  The handler chooses her own course.  Snookers is a game that tests handler's strategy.  The handler creates her own course and accumulates points.  However, the team must perform a "Red" obstacles (generally a bar jump) between doing other obstacles.  Relay classes consist of 2 or more dog/handler team where one team does ½ the course and the other team finishes the course. 

The USDAA also offers a Performance class for each level.  Performance dogs are allowed to jump one jump height lower, a lower A-frame and the spread jumps are removed.


Website link: http://www.docna.com/

DOCNA trials are open to all pure or mixed breed dogs.  There are 3 different levels of expertise: Beginner, Intern and Specialist.  Each level increases in difficulty and handler challenges. 

DOCNA offers several different classes including standard, gamblers, snakes and ladders and trigility.  The gamblers class contains a distance challenge.   Snakes and ladders is a course that only contains tunnels, contacts and weaves.  The trigility class is a team of 3 handlers and 3 dogs.

DOCNA also offers a Veterans division for dogs over 7 or handlers over 60.  These dogs are allowed to jump a lower jump height.  There is also a Grand Veterans division for dogs over 10 or handler over 60 and dog over 7.  These dogs are allowed an even lower jump height, much like what is outlined in NADAC.


Website link: http://www.ukcdogs.com

The United Kennel Club is another organization which offers agility trials. UKC offers performance events including agility. You will find that there are several obstacles that are unique to the UKC venue. Visit the website to see more detailed information.


An agility run at a trial is made up of a number of obstacles designed to demonstrate the agility of the dog. While there are several different venues that host agility trials in the US, the obstacles are generally the same or similar.  The heights or lengths of the contact obstacles may vary from venue to venue, but here is a brief overview of each obstacle. 


Rigid tunnels consist of a wire frame, covered in vinyl. They are tubular in fashion and remain open for their entire length. They generally have the flexibility to be stretched out in a straight or curved line. Standards usually call for a tunnel 10-20' in length, 24" in diameter.

Collapsed tunnels are constructed with a rigid, tubular entrance. Connected is an 8-10' fabric trailer, which the dog must push his way through. These are often referred to as a Chute in many agility venues.


A seesaw, or teeter-totter, is constructed using a plank, attached and perpendicular to, a center support pole. The plank is weighted on the entrance side so that it will automatically return to the starting position. The dog enters on the lowered side. As he reaches the center of the plank, his weight will cause the plank to shift, like a seesaw, and he will walk down, and off the exit side.

Dog Walk:

A dog walk is built using one center plank, 4' from, and parallel to, the ground. Two other identical planks serve as the entrance to and the exit from this center plank, mounted at opposing angles from it to the ground. All 3 planks are to be 9-12" wide and 8-12' long.

Pause Table:

The pause table is just that - a table on which the dog pauses. It can be any 3' by 3' table or platform, 8-30" from the ground (differs per height class). The dog jumps onto it and remains there for 5 seconds. A recent rule change (AKC) allows the dog to sit, stand or lie down on the table.

Pause Box:

A pause box is used just like a pause table, except that it is simply a 3' by 3' square marked off with tape or other material on the ground.


A tire jump is built by supporting or suspending a tire from a frame. The dog must jump through without touching the tire.

Not a high jump, the broad jump is made by adjoining low platforms on the ground.

The single jump is constructed of two vertical side bars, with one adjustable horizontal bar for jumping over.

The double jump is fashioned after the single jump, but rather consists of 2 sets of vertical supports, placed one set in front of the other, with horizontal bars mounted at differing heights.

Additionally, the triple jump is built using 3 sets of vertical supports and horizontal bars, at varying depths and heights, much like stair steps.

Finally, a panel jump also uses vertical supports, but rather than a bar for jumping, a solid, removal panel is utilized. Panels of varying heights are used for different height classes.


A-Frames are constructed from 2 planks, placed at upright angles, to form a rough "A" shape. Each plank is 8'-9' long and 36" wide. They are hinged at the top, where they meet. Contact zones of 36-42" are required on the entry and exit sides, and grips or ridges are necessary to help the dog in navigating up one side and down the other.

Weave Poles:

Weave Poles are upright and fixed in a straight line, 24" from one another. The dog must weave in and out of the 3' tall poles, in a zigzag fashion, entering with the first pole at his left shoulder.


These are some of the most common terms you will encounter in reading about agility.

  • Front Cross — The handler moves in front of the dog's path so that the dog is now on the other side of the handler. The handler turns 360 degrees so that the handler can always keep an eye on the dog.
  • Rear Cross — The handler moves behind the dog so that the dog is now on the other side of the handler.
  • Blind Cross — The handler performs a front cross but turns her back on the dog.
  • Lead Out — The dog performs a stay at the start line and the handler moves into position away from the dog.
  • Refusal — The dog balks at the correct obstacle by either stopping in front of the obstacle or by running past it.
  • Wrong Course — The dog takes an incorrect obstacle.
  • Q — Qualifying run. Also called a "leg".
  • QQ — Two qualifying runs on the same day.
  • Standard Course Time (SCT) — The time allowed to perform the course.
  • Time Fault — When a dog goes over the SCT.
  • Fault — Any incorrect performance. This could be a refusal, a dropped bar, a wrong course, a missed Contact zone or a time fault.
  • Contacts — (1) Contact obstacles – Aframe, Dogwalk, or teeter. (2) Contact zone – the yellow portion of the contact obstacles. A dog performing the contact obstacles must put at least a toe in the contact zone of each contact obstacle. Up contacts are judged in some venues; down contacts are judged in all venues.
  • Fly Off — the dog jumps off a contact obstacle without moving into the contact zone.
  • Judge's Briefing — A talk by the judge before the handlers run the course where the judge will give important information. This is the handler's opportunity to ask any questions about the course, rules, etc.
  • Walk Through — A time for the handler to walk the course without the dog and plan a strategy for a successful run.


Is your dog well-versed in basic obedience commands? If your dog consistently obeys standard commands such as sit, stay, down, heel, etc., then you may be ready to embark upon the agility training adventure. If your dog isn't confident in you and the commands that you use, he'll never trust you when you ask him to enter a dark agility tunnel or walk up the plank of the dog walk.

Besides your dog's vocabulary, his physical maturity needs to be a consideration. Dogs must be a minimum of 9 months old to compete, but that doesn't mean that every dog is ready at 9 months. Keeping this in mind, asking a puppy to clear regulation-height agility jumps before he is finished growing is a risky endeavor. His joints can't handle that kind of trauma. Jumps higher than a growing puppy's shoulder should remain out of the question. But, by all means, grounded equipment, like tunnels and boards, can be tackled as soon as the basic commands are mastered.

Maybe you've watched an agility trial, and you and your dog are both anxious to compete. The adrenaline, the competition, the...slow down, Fido. Experts maintain that most dogs will need months of daily, committed training before they're ready for an agility trial. It is a journey - a very rewarding one at that.

Bond with your dog in a playful atmosphere. Use toys to play fetch, tug-of-war, or Frisbee to reinforce commands and bring home the idea that work can be fun for your dog. Your dog needs to work up to his best physical condition. Gradually introduce equipment, one piece at a time, in the form of short agility tunnels and low jumps. With time and continual success, tunnels may be lengthened and bars raised to regulation level. This will not only build your dog's fitness and difficulty levels at a manageable pace, but will prevent injury and frustration.

There are many training locations which offer training classes. You will want to find one close to you and sign up for lessons. Agility is a sport that requires specialized training for both you and your dog. You need to learn how to handle your dog on the equipment and your dog will need to learn how to understand your commands and how to approach each piece of equipment. Dogs should never be permitted to "play" on the equipment. Agility equipment is specialized for the sport and both handler and dog need to be trained before using the equipment.


There are many resources available both in print and online with agility information. One of the most popular magazines for the agility participant is the magazine CLEAN RUN. In this magazine you will find training information, backyard courses and much more. A valuable resource not only for the advanced handler, but also for the beginner handler. The address: www.cleanrun.com

BAD (Beardie Agility Diehards) is an organization for the beardie agility enthusiast. You might want to visit their website to see all that has been happening with beardies in agility. The address is: www.beardieagilitydiehards.org

Another place to get first hand information about agility is by attending a trial. You can probably find trials at least once a month in the state of Colorado.