Agility is a fun dog sport where the dog is directed through an obstacle course by their handler. Dogs jump over jumps, race through tunnels, scramble over an Aframe or dogwalk, walk on a moving seesaw and negotiate weaving through weave poles, all encouraged by the handler’s voice and hand signals or body language. The teams try to successfully complete the course laid out by a judge in the fastest time possible with the fewest faults. There are several organizations that sponsor agility trials, including the AKC (American Kennel Club), USDAA (United States Dog Agility Association), CPE (Canine Performance Events) and more. All the organizations have slightly different rules and different games that highlight certain skills.
Currently we have Field Spaniels competing in many different organizations, and many compete in more than one venue. Agility is very appealing to Field Spaniels—its speed and excitement, plus the working with their handlers find most dogs begging for more. Their intelligence makes them well suited to training in agility because the courses are always different, although occasionally the dogs try to make up their own courses! Positive training and motivation is a must for agility—the partnership and communication between dog and handler essential. Agility can be a great confidence booster in a reserved dog or a great outlet of energy for an active dog. The greatest joy is to watch your canine partner soaring over a jump at your side, with those Spaniel ears flapping in the air!
Types of Classes
There are several types of classes offered at an agility trial: Standard, Jumpers with Weaves, Fifteen And Send Time (FAST) and Preferred. The Standard class has contact obstacles, which have yellow “contact zones” at each end. Contact obstacles include A-frame, dog walk and seesaw. The dog must place a least one paw in the contact zone in order not to receive a fault. This encourages safety in training and in running the course. The Standard class also has a variety of jumps; weave poles, pause table, tunnels and a closed tunnel. The Jumpers with Weaves class does not have contact obstacles or a pause table to slow the team’s forward momentum. This is a very fast course requiring instant decisions by the handler and close attention from the dog. The FAST class is an additional test of strategy, skill, accuracy, speed, timing and distance handling, to demonstrate a dog’s athletic ability and willingness to work with its handler in a fast-paced atmosphere over a variety of agility obstacles. As indicated by the title, the Fifteen and Send Time class uses fifteen (15) point-valued obstacles and/or obstacle combinations. The course will include a ‘Send Bonus’ or distance element that will award a bonus of twenty (20) points if completed successfully.
Levels of Agility Competition
There are three different levels of competition in agility:
NOVICE – for the dog that is just starting in agility. There are 14 to 16 obstacles on this course. The focus of the Novice class is on performing the obstacles with minimal handling technique.
OPEN – for the dog that has completed the Novice level. There are 16 to 18 obstacles on this course. The focus of the open class is on more difficult obstacle course performance with more handling skill required.
EXCELLENT – for the dog that has completed the Open level. There are 18 to 20 obstacles on this course. The focus of the Excellent A & B class is to provide the opportunity for dogs and handlers to demonstrate their superior skills in moving quickly and efficiently with close communication and teamwork through challenging agility courses. The Excellent B level is the class where dog/handler teams can earn the title, Master Agility Champion (MACH), in the Regular Classes.
How Agility is Scored
Agility is a time and fault sport where the qualifying requirements are more challenging as the competition class levels get higher. There are two types of faults: time and penalty. Time faults are given for every second a dog goes over the Standard Course Time as set by the length of the course.
Below are examples of Penalty Faults that a judge may assess a handler and dog:
• Taking an obstacle out of sequence
• Missing a contact zone
• Displacing a bar or panel on a jump
• Jumping off the pause table before the judge is through counting
• Running around or refusing the next obstacle
• Exceeding the amount of time set by the judge for running the course
• Touching either the dog or any obstacle by the handler while running the course
• Outside assistance may be penalized
• Handler failure to control the dog may be penalized
Agility Jump Heights
The classes are divided by jump heights in order to make the competition equal between the different sizes of dogs.
8" Class – dogs up to 11" at the shoulder
12" Class – dogs over 11" and up to 14" at the shoulder
16" Class – dogs over 14" and up to 18" at the shoulder
20" Class – dogs over 18" and up to 22" at the shoulder
24" Class – dogs over 22" at the shoulder
26" Class – dogs may be entered at this height at their owner’s discretion.
A dog may jump in a jump height class higher than his/her shoulder measurement, but never lower.
This class affords an opportunity for a greater variety of dogs, and their handlers, to participate in the sport of agility. Handlers have the option to enter the Preferred classes with modified standards of lower jump heights and more generous course times. They must compete at the required jump height.
A perfect score in any class at any level is 100. A dog must earn 3 qualifying scores under two different judges. The minimum score to qualify is 85 in all classes except in the Excellent B class where the minimum score is 100. The minimum time allowed to run the course and the number of obstacles to complete successfully, increase as the level of difficulty increases.
The AKC offers a wide variety of resources to assist anyone interested in Companion Events, whether you are new to the sport or want to know how to offer a trial. Contact AKC Customer Service at 919-233-9767 or Orderdesk@akc.org to inquire about the following resources:
Regulations for Agility Trials and Agility Judges Guidelines - Two important books for any agility exhibitor to have. These regulations and guidelines for AKC agility trials explain how titles are earned, courses designed and levels of competition.