Weaving through poles, jumping into pools, or catching a Frisbee: dogs can do it all! While many people may be familiar with the beauty pageant portion of dogs, few are aware of their canine athlete counterparts.
These athletic competitions exist to showcase the partnership and dedication between a person and their pet. The American Kennel Cub, the largest purebred dog registry in the world, sanctions competitions in 17 different sports.
Some of these sports, such as herding tests, are only open to dogs of certain breeds. Other sports, such as obedience, are open to dogs of all shapes and sized sizes. The most popular of these sports is agility.
Agility is a timed competition where a handler guides their dog through a numbered obstacle course. Obstacles include tunnels, jumps, weave poles, a teeter totter, and several things to climb. Open to dogs of all breeds, including mixed breeds, the AKC reports over a million entries per year in this sport. Competitions exists locally, nationally, and even internationally.
In a competition, dogs compete against other dogs their same size. The canines are sorted into different jump heights based on the height of the dog. The smallest dogs jump only 4 inches while the biggest dogs jump 24 inches. There are no points awarded for style or beauty; it is purely a competition of speed and accuracy. The dog and handler must complete the course without faults, and the fastest dog wins. Examples of faults include knocking over a jump bar, missing a weave pole, and running past an obstacle.
The course is redesigned for each trial, so the handler has no idea the order of the obstacles until the day of the show. They must rely on their training in order to navigate the course successfully.
Morgan Vance, a senior at James Madison University, has been competing in agility for 7 years.
Q. How many dogs do you have?
I currently have 5 dogs, although only two of them live with me at school. My main competition dogs are Shadow, a 9-year-old Shetland Sheepdog, and Scrat, a 5-year-old Border Collie. Scrat is named after the squirrel from the Ice Age movies.
Q. How did you get started in agility?
I saw an agility competition happening at the sports center where I played hockey. At the time, I had an older Pomeranian, so I made a PowerPoint asking my parents to get a dog I could do agility with. We got Shadow, and the rest is history. Now, both my parents have gotten dogs to do agility with. It is quite addictive.
Q. What is your favorite thing about agility?
My favorite thing about agility is the bond and connection you form with your dog. When you step to the line, your dog is putting their complete trust into you. At the same time, your bond is so strong that they are willing to do anything for you. The connection must be there in order to get through the course successfully. The dog has no idea where they are going, and it is up to you to show them the way.
Q. What is your favorite memory from agility?
I had the opportunity to compete overseas two times at the European Open Junior [EOJ] competition. The EOJ is a competition open to all countries who send representatives to run. What is special about the EOJ is that the representatives must be under 18 years old. Most people in agility are retirement age, so it was special being surrounded by people my own age.
Q. What is the most challenging aspect of agility?
You have to remember that dogs are animals and not robots. Sometimes they do things that don’t make any sense. At a big competition in Florida, Shadow got scared by a large rolling trashcan during his run. At the time, it didn’t make any sense to me, and it was disappointing because we didn’t qualify. However, looking back, I can laugh at the experience. Sometimes the things the dogs do are hilarious.
If you are interested in getting your dog involved in dog sports, visit the American Kennel Club’s dog agility page. From there you can find a local club and get started!