Introduction to Agility
By Ann Stetson
Odds are you’ve seen dogs doing agility, either while at a dog show, or in a video shared on Face Book, or even in a friend’s backyard. You might have been standing in puppy class with your new Golden Retriever puppy, and on the far side of the training building you saw older dogs running over obstacles.
And now you’re thinking: “my dog can do that!!” And you’re right!!!
Golden Retrievers usually love the silly games we come up with. They love working with their humans and they love to run around. So agility is a natural for our dogs.
As much fun as it looks like, it’s important to remember that when you’re at the Golden Retriever National or another event with a big agility trial, you are seeing the polished results of lots of training and hard work. But you and your dog will get there one day, and you’re going to have a great time working together.
There are some things you can do to make it even more fun, as well as safe for your new-to-agility dog.
Safety is always the first consideration. If your dog is carrying a few extra pounds, start him on a weight loss and fitness program. Talk to his breeder or a Golden Retriever person you trust to give you an honest appraisal. If your dog has been a couch potato, start taking her on walks every day, or playing fetch. You both can get out there and have fun.
If you haven’t really taken a close look at your dog’s feet lately, check those nails. You want to keep the nails short and the fur on the bottom of their feet trimmed. While some dogs can get away with a nail trimming every few months or so, if your dog is running agility, you want to keep the nails short, so they don’t catch on the equipment.
Finally, you want your dog to be comfortable in a crate, even in a busy and noisy place. Agility trials can be a long day, and as much as you and your dog love each other, your dog is better off in a crate at times. That will also allow you to volunteer to work. Agility trials need lots of volunteers, and doing so is a great way to learn more about the sport. You’ll be setting bars or timing runs, and your dog can be safe and resting in her crate.
Meanwhile, find a trainer and classes. If you have friends who do agility with their dogs, ask them where they train. Go to the facility one day during classes and take a look, and talk to people. Find someone who you think you and your dog will like. Some Goldens like people so much, that when they go into the agility ring and are off leash, they’ll go say hi to their new best friend, the judge! You want a trainer who understands our dogs, and knows how to train them so they can work even when surrounded by so many great people.
So now you and your best friend are taking classes together, and your instructor tells you that you and your dog are ready to run for real, at a trial! Odds are the people who you train with will be able to help you find local agility trials, but you can also check online at http://www.akc.org/clubs/search/index.cfm?action=agil&display=on for AKC trials.
There are lots of flavors of agility, and depending on where you live, you may find lots of non-AKC agility trials. Agility is agility, but the titles that will count for the Golden Retriever Club of America are the AKC ones. One day when your dog is at the top of his game, you may be going for the GRCA Agility Dog Hall of Fame! That’s also true for the columns in the GRCA News. If your dog has earned a MACH or a PACH or an MX and MXJ you can have a free write up and picture of your dog in the magazine. But again, those are AKC titles.
Now, you’re saying, all those letters!! What are they??
The AKC has four main agility classes. In most, there are divisions as you move up the ranks. And, your dog will run in a class based on his height.
As a side note, it’s a good idea to teach your dog to accept being measured. He’ll have to be measured, so the AKC knows that he’s in the right height class. You can read about that here: http://www.akc.org/events/agility/jump-height-card/
At an AKC agility trial, there will be anywhere from two to four of those classes mentioned above, that you and your dog can enter each day. There will always be a Standard class and a Jumpers with Weaves class. The Standard class will have jumps, tunnels, weave poles and the contact equipment: the A-frame, the Seesaw and the Dog Walk.
The Jumpers with Weaves class will have tunnels, jumps and weave poles.
Your dog will enter one of each of these classes. If you and your dog are just starting, you’ll run your dog in Novice, for both classes. There are several levels for the classes, but your dog, who is new to agility, will start in Novice. Your trainer will probably know best as to whether you should enter regular or preferred classes. The preferred classes give dogs a little more time, and the jumps are lower. If your dog is older, or if he’s not as athletic as other dogs, Preferred may be a good place to start.
Some trials also have one or two other classes. You can enter both of them or only the one you feel like you’re ready for. The other two classes you might see are Fifteen and Send Time (FAST) Class and Time 2 Beat (T2B) Class. Your trainer will probably know best what you should enter your first time out, so that you and your dog can be successful and have a good time.
And that’s what it comes down to: agility is a fun sport, and Golden Retrievers usually love it, as do their humans. You may find that you have obtained a whole new way of life that will result in new friends, as well as many weekends spent at agility trials. And along the way you’ll find that you spend more and more time with your Golden Retriever, and you’ll have an incredible bond. And that’s what it’s all about!
Finally, for the full set of AKC rules, you can go to https://images.akc.org/pdf/rulebooks/REAGIL.pdf
It’s a lot to read, but if you’re going to compete, you want to understand the rules of the game.