Agility Show – what is it and why would you go?
If you follow me and read my posts then you will know that I am pretty passionate about dog agility. I have done other things with my dogs, most notably flyball, with Aura. I have competed in obedience and had a go at heelwork to music. So what is the attraction of an Agility Show?
For me, it is about having fun with your dog, pure and simple. It is about spending focused time with your dog, working together and doing something they enjoy. This is particularly important if you have more than one dog, as you need to spend some time with them on their own. You need to pay attention to them as an individual and learn about their personality and what they like.
Training vs competition
Classes at an Agility Club are a great way to have fun with your dog. They are very sociable too; you get to hang out with other lovely dog people, chatting about your dogs. You get to run about, keeping yourself and your dog fit. And you have to think, following instructions and trying to remember the course and how to handle it.
But if you want to go to the next level, you need to enter a show. Agility shows are run throughout the year, around the country. However they are mainly concentrated over the ‘summer’ months, ie April to September. During this time there will be several shows held over every weekend.
I have already explained about the equipment and the different grades and rules in my beginners guide to agility, but I forgot to mention the height differences. This is important, as it puts the dogs into (currently) three main categories: small, medium and large. It is complicated by the introduction two years ago of an optional (for show organisers) Lower Height, which can be added to all three of the current heights. Usually, at the moment, shows offer a Lower Height Option (LHO) in the classes for large dogs, as there have historically been many more large dogs than small and mediums.
Dogs are measured to confirm their height at official measuring sessions. A metal hoop is placed over their shoulders and they must be under the hoop to get into the category. Border Collies have nearly always measured as large dogs, hence the majority of competing dogs are large.
Over the last few years however, there have been several changes to this situation, in addition to the LHO being added. These include:
- more medium and small dogs being run, making these classes bigger
- smaller collies being bred, measuring into medium and even small classes
- an increasing number of other dog breeds coming into agility
Very tall dogs might be able to ‘step over’ the jumps, but any jumping, climbing or running puts strain on their joints. They will also have more difficulty getting through the tunnels and the weaves. On the other hand, there are plenty of smaller dogs who struggle with even the ‘small’ jumps.
Small dogs are easy
You might think that a small dog would be easier to run in agility. Dream on! They are in no way easier, in my opinion. For a start, as I have explained many times, Border Collies are simply motivated to do it. Other breeds have different motivations; in the case of terriers, for example, they just want to run off after a scent. Some dogs are just not that fussed about doing it. When they are motivated, they are just as fast as a collie.
It might also seem that small dogs find it easier to negotiate the obstacles. This is also not the case, as I saw yesterday. I watched around 30 small dogs do a course and none of them went clear! And then I saw an amazing character fail to touch the bottom of the dog walk! Bless her, and well done to her handler. I do not think I would have her patience :p
What happens at a show
Briefly, there are different classes for different grades and heights. You enter the ones appropriate to you and your dog. Usually a dog will run in a maximum of four classes per day. You receive a ‘running order’ a few days before the show. This tells you which order the classes are being held and in which ring they are happening. You also find out when you are supposed to run your dog in each class. This might be at the beginning, middle or end.
For example, you will find out that you are doing a grade 3 agility class in ring 4 and your running order is 64, out of 107 dogs. The class is the second class in the ring, with the first class having 58 dogs. This tells you that your class won’t start for at least an hour into the show, and that it will be at least an hour after it starts before you should run.
The complication is that in addition to knowing when you are supposed to run, you also have to know when the class is ‘ready for walking’. You need to go round the course, without your dog, learning which way to go. This is a crucial part of the competition.
In an ideal world, we would teach the dog to read numbers, so they could figure it out. Sadly, they are not able to do that, so we have to tell them what to do.
Why I love an agility show
Agility is fun! Did I mention that? The dogs absolutely love it. They get a real buzz from being around it, even when they are not competing. It is really stimulating for them and they love to run with you. They don’t know or care if they have won or lost, they just know that they are doing something really special with you.
The people are great. Unlike some sports and activities, where people are all really competitive and can be bitchy, or ‘cliquey’, agility is a real community, where everyone supports everyone else. If you want to see examples of good sportsmanship, go to an agility show. We all know how hard it is to work with your dog, so we all celebrate the victories and commiserate with those who have struggled.
As a way to spend a day, or a weekend, it’s pretty cool. You get to hang out with lovely dog people, and your dogs. It is time being outside, moving about. Oh and you get a rosette, if you’re really lucky 🙂
What I’m not so keen on
It’s tiring! You spend most of the day walking and running about. Agility is demanding, both mentally and physically. There is also a lot of hanging about. Each run takes around 30 seconds. Four runs = 2 minutes. And it can be quite expensive. We don’t camp (in a caravan) at shows, but most people do and this all adds up.
Still, it is a lot better than sitting in the house all weekend watching the telly. See you there!
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