Agility was invented in England in 1979, and is now the fastest growing dog sport in North America, England and Europe. The sport is modeled on equestrian jumping competitions, but has evolved to become a unique sport designed to showcase canine agility, speed and dog-handler teamwork. Agility is entertaining to watch, and one of the most challenging activities for you and your dog. It is a sport at which small dogs can excel, and there are an increasing number of Westies in competition.
At each agility trial, the judge designs a unique course for each level of competition. The course consists of jumps and obstacles", and the dogs, who are further divided into classes by height, must complete the course in a set amount of time and in the proper sequence. Faults are assigned if the dog touches or knocks down jumps, takes the obstacles out of sequence or misses an obstacle, or goes over the course time. The dog within each height division that has the fastest time with the least number of faults wins. The complexity of the courses increase, and the time allowed decreases at the higher levels of competition.
There are four organizations that currently offer agility competition in North America: the AKC, the UKC, the North American Dog Agility Council (NADAC) and the United States Dog Agility Association (USDAA). The competitions offered by these groups differ from each other primarily in the height/jump requirements and the number of faults allowed to qualify for a title. USDAA is generally considered to offer the most difficult courses, and NADAC the least difficult.
Obstacles include tunnels, tires that the dog must jump through, narrow walkways the dog must negotiate, a 5'6" to 6 foot high "A frame" the dog must climb up and over, a see-saw the dog must climb on and balance until it rocks down on the other side, and many different types of jumps. Agility equipment is designed to be appealing to the eye, but also safe for the dogs. There are "contact zones" on the large obstacles to help ensure that the dogs will not injure themselves. In addition, the equipment is designed to assure good traction in any weather; the jumps have bars which are easily knocked down if the dog misjudges the height or falls.
In agility, the dog runs the course off-lead, and in most cases, the dog does not wear a collar. This is one reason why most organizations that teach agility require basic obedience skills before they will allow you to train your dog in agility. Most dogs, if properly introduced to the equipment, absolutely love agility and participate enthusiastically. Food and praise are used to train the dog, and negative reinforcement or corrections are seldom, if ever, used either in training or in competition. Your dog must be in excellent physical condition to compete in agility.