The second Olympic Pet Special report is focussing on the hugely popular sport of Dog Agility. The sport began in 1977, initial intentions were as a crowd pleaser for the 1978 Crufts dog show. The demonstration was invented to keep audiences entertained between competitions and it turned out to be a huge hit in the Uk and around the world.
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Dog Agility became so popular that within a few years the FCI World Championships were organised, this years competition is being held in the Czech Republic. Competing at both a regional and world level requires commitment of the highest order in a fast and furious sport.
The aims of dog agility are not dissimilar to the aims of show jumping – the completion of all the obstacles without fault in the shortest time possible. A different course is set for every competition, which the competitors are expected to walk and memorise before each event.
A course normally consists of a maximum of 20 obstacles and each obstacle must be taken in the order it is numbered. Any error is faulted and eliminations for taking obstacles out of order are common. Dogs compete in classes according to their size and ability, and when they have been successful enough in any grade, they progress to the next level.
Dogs must run off-leash with no food or toys as incentives. The handler can touch neither dog nor obstacles, and the handler’s controls are limited to voice, movement, and various body signals. This requires exceptional training and communication between the animal and the human.
Courses are complicated enough that a dog could not complete them correctly without human direction. In competition, the handler must assess the course, decide on handling strategies, and direct the dog through the course, with precision and speed equally important.
Many strategies exist to compensate for the inherent difference in human and dog speeds and the strengths and weaknesses of the various dogs and handlers.
If you would like to find out more about Dog Agility visit www.agilityclub.org. The community will be able to put you in contact with your local club and get you started on a great new exercise programme for you and your dog. Clubs have competitive and non competitive members, so everyone can take part no matter their experience.