Dog Agility Basics

PetMD Editorial
By PetMD Editorial on May 13, 2011

Dalmatian running in dog agility course

Some dogs are more active than others. If you have found that your dog has a lot of stamina and seems to want to keep going even when it’s time to call it quits for the day, you might want to try getting him more involved in sport activities. Find a dog park that is equipped with obstacle course, and if it proves that your dog has the innate speed and strength to run fast and jump over and through various obstacles, you just may have an “agility” dog on your hands.

Agility is a canine sport that puts dogs through courses of various jumps and obstacles at a rapid pace. The handler -- which may or may not be you, depending on your own stamina -- runs along with the off-leash dog, giving commands and directing the dog to the next obstacle along the way.

The best thing about agility training and competition is that any dog that is capable of taking part is welcome, regardless of size, weight, height, breed or age.

Getting Started

Most dogs can learn agility at any age. However, before undertaking any sort of new activity with your dog, check with your veterinarian to make sure that there are no underlying health issues to be cautious of. Conversely, if your dog is still very young, you may have to wait until he is mature enough and healthy enough to handle the running and jumping necessary for agility sports. Of course, you can start training while he is young, around a year old, and by the time he is old enough to compete he will be in top condition. During the training period, your dog should also be learning some basic obedience training. He should be consistently responding to obedience commands before getting started in group agility training and competitions.

It almost goes without saying that your dog will need to have a good temperament with other dogs and people, but this is important to take into account. Because he will be off-leash, it is essential that your dog is not aggressive toward others, and that he responds immediately to commands. 

Training will begin with smaller, more simplified versions of the obstacles. There are several common obstacles that your dog will learn to navigate during agility training sessions, such as tunnels, hoops, and the A-frame. The see-saw (or teeter-totter) and the weave poles are among the most challenging on the course. As training advances and your dog continues to excel, the obstacles are raised and extended to advance the challenges.

Never forget to reward your dog for a good performance. Treats and praise, as well as special objects, can be used to prompt the dog to achieve more. For a dog, one of the main pleasures in training and competition is the positive response and attention he receives from the human he has bonded with.


In a competition situation, you and your dog will run through a course of standard obstacles that have been laid out in a 100-foot by 100-foot area. Unique configurations are set up for the individual height class that the dog is in -- from dogs that are small in stature, to dogs that are tall. For each trial, obstacles are set up, each of which depend on the class or experience level of the dog that is competing. You and your dog are judged by the time it takes for you to complete the sequence as determined by the competition standards. 

Handlers are allowed to give any command or signal to the dog, but are not allowed to touch the dog or the obstacle. Dogs are given point deductions if they miss an obstacle, go out of sequence, knock down a jump bar, or don’t touch the specific contact area on the obstacle. The dog with the fewest faults and the quickest time wins the height division, or class.

Whether you are looking to compete at a world-class level, or you and your dog are just out to have a good time, your dog will certainly have fun doing his agility routines. Check out the local agility clubs in your area and attend some events to find out more about this sport.


United States Dog Agility Association
North American Dog Agility Council
American Kennel Club

Image: Alessandro Musicorio / via Flickr

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