The quick brown dogs jump over the lazy hurdles

Today I attended a dog agility competition for the first time, tagging along with my friend Wendy. It was a beautiful sunny day (despite significant fire-induced haze along the mountains) and we drove out to Rancho Cucamonga to Chaffey College for the show. We found a grassy field surrounded by tents and umbrellas to provide shade for the dogs as they waited for their events. We took our seats and watched quietly as a voice said, “Go,” and the first dog and handler pair came out.

There were two courses: “standard” to the left and “jumpers” to the right. Unlike ballroom dance competitions, the dogs seemed to be grouped in descending order of advancement, so first the “excellent”, then the “open”, and then the “novice” dogs competed. The Standard course included a ring to jump through, several low jumps, weave poles, a tunnel, a seesaw, an A-frame (to climb up and then down), a table (on which the dog had to sit for 5 seconds), a dogwalk (raised platform with a ramp at either end), and a chute (like a tunnel but with one end collapsed so the dog has to escape blindly). It was particularly fascinating to watch the dogs traverse the weave poles, which are spaced closely enough that the larger dogs end up hopping with their back legs held together in a complicated slalom to make it through. Very impressive. The Jumpers course was all jumps, plus weave poles and two tunnels, and generally looked easier to my untrained eye, but the dogs seemed to find it more difficult. I also think they had to clear the jumps without touching the bars, while touching I think was permitted in the Standard course (it wasn’t always clear when and for what reason faults were being called). Ultimately I believe these runs were being judged based on time (rather than style, faults excepted), but the times and the final results were never announced, so this is surmise (plus wikipedia research — and of course corrections are welcome!).

It was fascinating to watch the interplay between dog and handler. Some had a degree of synchrony that seemed almost psychic, or as if the dog didn’t even need a handler. Others would be going along fine and then the dog would just break focus (often for no apparent reason), leaving the frustrated and/or embarrassed handler to dance around, calling instructions, until giving up and carrying the dog off the course. Some handlers had a calm clear voice and others shouted continuously, sounding angry (but apparently investing energy in the voice helps communicate a need for speed to the dog). Some dogs would randomly run in the wrong direction or off the course — mistakes that would leave you wincing in sympathy.

Overall, it looks like a great way to spend time with your dog (and get exercise with yourself), and from what I saw, the dogs in general were very well behaved both on and off the course.

1 Comment
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  1. Katie said,

    May 12, 2009 at 1:58 pm

    (Knew it already.)

    Dog agility competitions are really amazing. If you liked this, I think you’d like a sheepdog competition, too. Dogs really are amazing, and their trainers are equally impressive!

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