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How to Design a Dog Agility Course

By Cindy Quarters
 

Overview

Dog agility is a popular sport that provides fun, exercise and mental stimulation for both dogs and their owners. Owners of dogs registered with the American Kennel Club can earn agility titles for their dogs through the AKC. Dogs can also earn titles through the United States Dog Agility Association (USDAA), an organization that accepts all breeds of dogs, including mixed breeds, as well as other clubs, such as the Canadian Kennel Club. The design of a dog agility course is based around the class the dog is training for or competing in and takes into account which obstacles are required for that class, though practice courses can include any obstacles you wish.

Step 1

Consider the ability level of the dogs that will be using the course. While different organizations use different terminology, in general the dogs will be beginners, intermediate or advanced. These levels will influence the ultimate design of the course, particularly the number of obstacles and the difficulty of the layout.

Step 2

Choose the obstacles you want to include in the course. The particular agility class you are designing for will determine the specific obstacles you include. For example, a USDAA standard class requires the three basic contact obstacles: an A-frame, a teeter-totter and a dog walk. You must also include both a collapsed tunnel and a pipe tunnel, a table, a spread hurdle, at least 10 weave poles and a tire jump. The rest of the jumps consist of a combination of winged and non-winged high jumps.

Step 3

Plan for the fluidity of the course, so that a dog and handler team negotiating the obstacles can move smoothly from one task to the next. The USDAA recommends a distance of at least 18 feet between obstacles for this reason, with an average spacing of 18 to 22 feet. Exceptions may be made for specific obstacles.

Step 4

Determine the appropriate challenges for the course. These are based on the particular class and level, but will include such challenges as object discrimination, where the dog must go to the correct obstacle based on the handler’s direction, and handler constraint, where objects block the handler’s path and he must direct his dog from a distance. Note that the objects must not be anything the handler could trip over. Use specialized agility course design software or a pencil and graph paper to plan the arrangement of the obstacles based on the course requirements.

Step 5

Include adequate room for the judge to move in and around the obstacles, so that she can clearly see the dog and handler as necessary. This is of particular importance near the contact obstacles, weave poles, long jump and table. This spacing is not required for a practice course, but including it can help a dog be better prepared for an actual trial. It is important to make sure that the judge’s path and the agility team’s paths don’t cross at any time. Ensure that the judge has a clear view of all obstacles along the planned judging path.

Step 6

Place the start and finish lines in a way that allows for accurate timing of the dog, with obstacles set far enough back to allow a clear view of the dog at both points. This is essential since agility is a race against the clock as well as a challenge to maneuver around the course without errors.

Step 7

Review the placement of all obstacles and be sure the course is safe. For some obstacles, such as the teeter-totter and the A-frame, angles greater than 45 degrees are not allowed by the USDAA due to safety considerations. These must also not be located in such a way that the dog will approach them at high speed. Check the location of other obstacles as well for safety violations, both on the approach and in the landing zone. For most jumps the landing zone should be at least 12 to 15 feet long. Adjust your sketch or the computer layout so that your finished course conforms to all requirements.
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