The joy of four furry legs outstretched, flying like a superhero over a Bar Jump. The intense energy of a dog zig-zagging through a series of Weave Poles. The heart-stopping second that a dog stops at the edge of the Seesaw just before it tilts down. The exhilaration of a dog agility run simply has no equal. Seeing dog agility in action is a fantastic experience, one that inherently inspires dog owners — from conformation competitors to everyday family dog owners — to give it a try. History has repeatedly proven this theory correct.
It was 1977. John Varley, a committee member for the Crufts Dog Show in England, sought to keep audiences entertained between the show’s main events. Interested in horses as well as dogs, Varley conceived an equestrian-style jump course for dogs. In 1978, between obedience and the conformation group judging, two teams of four dogs and their handlers ran their first course. The crowd went wild, wondering how they could participate with their own dogs. The following year, agility debuted at Crufts as a competition event.
Sixteen years later, on Aug. 11, 1994, the AKC officially introduced the sport at the Astro World Series of Dog in Houston. There, 58 breeds were represented within the 192 entries. Twenty-four years later, the 2018 AKC National Agility Championship, which takes place March 23-25 in Reno, Nevada, will feature 912 dogs handled by 750 exhibitors representing 88 breeds. You can watch the finals live on AKC.tv or our Facebook page on Sunday, March 25, 2018 at 8 p.m. EST.
We surveyed those 750 exhibitors and, with an overwhelming 529 replies, here’s what we learned about dog agility in the modern day.
Once you start, you won’t want to stop. Thirty-seven exhibitors have already competed 10 or more times at the National Agility Championship.
Age is just a number. Dogs competing range from two to 14 years old, according to our survey, with four-year-olds dominating. The average age of a competing dog is seven years old.
Don’t be afraid to be the newbie. This year, 32 percent of exhibitors will be competing for the first time at the National Agility Championship. For 24 percent of those responding, the dog(s) they’ve entered in this competition are also new to competing at the National Championship.
Exhibitors got their start in the sport all kinds of ways. While a majority 83 percent took a class and six percent say they just practiced at home, others had a pretty unique story to tell. Some exhibitors saw it on TV or read about it in a magazine. Others transitioned from obedience training. In fact, one simply “listened” to their pup when, at an obedience course, he ran over to the agility equipment.
All breeds are welcome! Seven percent of competing dogs are All-American. The biggest breed representation will be the Border Collie, making up nearly a quarter of the dogs competing. Shetland Sheepdogs make up 14 percent.
You don’t have to train forever before you compete. A whopping 58 percent of respondents say they trained a year or less before competing. Forty percent of respondents trained two to three years.
It helps to know your dog’s faves and challenges among the obstacles. Dogs relish the Open Tunnel and the Weave Poles, and don’t much like the Table. Who can blame ’em? Adrenaline pumping, competitive spirit soaring, and they’ve got to pause for five seconds. Be prepared to spend time training for it.
Reward well at the end of the run. Tangible beats intangible by a long-shot. Hugs and praise are nice, but our survey shows that toys are a much better incentive, and, ultimately, nothing is better than a treat.
Consider cross-training. While many dogs concentrate on their Agility competitions, many more compete in at least one other sport. The most popular are Obedience, Rally, and AKC Trick Dog.
There’s no such thing as “too far.” While 32 percent of attending dogs hail from California and 11 percent will come from Washington, 73 percent of respondents plan to travel more than 500 miles to attend the National Agility Championship in Reno. Eighteen percent will be coming from 250 to 500 miles away.
Fun Dog Agility Number Facts for the AKC National Agility Championship