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AKC Agility Invitational at the 2018 AKC National Championship presented by Royal Canin.
David Woo ©American Kennel Club

Agility is a fast-paced and exciting dog sport that is in essence a doggie obstacle course where the handler directs the dog. In an agility competition, the dog and handler team navigates the obstacles in the correct order, as quickly as possible, and with minimal faults. The delight of the dogs on the course makes it a popular activity for spectators, and many dog owners want to give agility a try for themselves. But before you jump in, it can help to familiarize yourself with the terminology and lingo of the agility world.

Agility Course Test

Specifically for beginner dogs, the AKC Agility Course Test (ACT) is designed to welcome newcomers to the sport. These events allow dog and handler teams to show off their entry level skills as well as get used to the particulars of competition such as entering and exiting the ring and being judged. There is ACT Standard (ACT 1 and ACT 2) for beginning level standard courses and ACT Jumpers (ACT 1J and ACT 2J) for entry level Jumpers courses.


German Shepherd Dog leaping through a tire jump at the 2018 National Agility Championship.
David Woo ©American Kennel Club

Agility Trial

An agility trial is an officially sanctioned competition versus a match which is an informal trial done just for fun and practice. Trials allow you to work towards earning titles for your dog. In AKC Agility, all breeds of dogs as well as mixed breeds can participate. While you may see a lot of Border Collies and Shetland Sheepdogs in the sport, you can see everything from Basset Hounds to Pembroke Welsh Corgis jumping and running over the obstacles. Find an event near you by using the AKC’s event calendar.


Agility courses are divided into classes by the types of obstacles and challenges they include. In AKC Agility, there are three classes including Standard, Jumpers With Weaves, and Fifteen and Send Time (FAST). The Standard class has jumps, weave poles, tunnels, a closed chute, a pause table, and contact obstacles which are those obstacles that include contact zones. Jumpers With Weaves is a faster-paced class as there are no contact obstacles or pause table to slow things down. FAST adds additional elements of timing and distance handling along with 15 point-valued obstacles.

Optional classes include Time 2 Beat (T2B), Premier, and International Sweepstakes Class (ISC). Time 2 Beat is an optional class focusing on clean, fast runs. All dogs of any skill compete in a single level, and the dog with the quickest time sets the time to beat for the other dogs in that jump height. Premier aims to challenge teams at an increased speed andskill level above Master level classes. Handlers and dogs will navigate varied approach angles, spacing, and obstacle discriminations in Premier. Lastly, ISC is a non-regular class that usually focuses on international-style Standard and Jumpers With Weaves courses. The rules for this class are generally based on Fédération Cynologique International (FCI) rules.

Clean Run

If a dog completes a round of the agility course without any mistakes, called faults, that’s known as a clean run.

Jagdterrier leaping over an agility jump in an outdoor course.
Zocha_K/Getty Images Plus via Getty Images

Clicker Training

Clicker or mark-and-reward training is popular with agility enthusiasts. This form of training marks the exact moment the dog has done what you were looking for, such as putting a paw in the contact zone, by using a toy noisemaker known as a clicker or a sound such as the word “yes.” Every click or mark is followed by a reward. It’s a form of positive reinforcement training that encourages dogs to love working for a click and treat.

Contact Zones

Contact obstacles include the A-frame, dog walk, and teeter or seesaw. For safety reasons, these have sections on the ends that are painted a different color, usually yellow, to distinguish those end zones from the rest of the obstacle. The dog must touch at least one toenail in the contact zone when travelling across these pieces of equipment or else receive a fault. The idea is to slow the dog down enough that they don’t fly over the obstacle too quickly, and show accuracy on the obstacle.


When a dog makes a mistake on the agility course, they’re given a penalty by the judge known as a fault. Course faults include errors such as the dog refusing to take an obstacle, taking an obstacle out of sequence, knocking a bar off a jump, or missing a contact zone. Handlers can also acquire faults if touch the dog or an obstacle while they are running the course. Finally, time faults are given if the dog goes over the Standard Course Time.


Handling refers to the way a person manages their dog on the agility course. The dog doesn’t know which order to take the obstacles until their human directs them, so through verbal cues and a whole lot of body language, the handler is responsible for guiding the dog from obstacle to obstacle. Some types of handling maneuvers include the front cross where the handler crosses from one side of the dog to the other in front of the dog’s path while facing the dog, a blind cross where the handler crosses in front of the dog’s path while their back is to the dog, or a rear cross where the handler crosses the dog’s path while behind the dog.


Height Division

Dogs come in all sizes, but they don’t all compete on the same size jumps. For fairness, dogs are divided by their height division. That means, based on an official measurement of the dog’s height at the withers (top of the shoulder), they will be placed in a height division with similarly sized competitors. In AKC Agility, a dog needs a jump height card to determine their jump height.


The judge is the official who is responsible for evaluating the performance of the dogs and handlers in the agility ring and determining faults. They are also responsible for the proper setup of the obstacles on the courses they are judging. Before a competition, they meet with the handlers to summarize the class rules and give the Standard Course Time for that particular course.


Dogs with more agility experience don’t compete against newbies. In fact, there are levels dogs can progress through as they master the sport. In AKC Agility, Novice is for dogs that are just starting out and these courses have 13 to 15 obstacles each. Once dogs have completed the Novice level, they move to Open. This level requires more handling skill, and each course has 16 to 18 obstacles. Finally, dogs progress to Excellent where they will find 18-20 obstacles per course and greater challenges in obstacle placement.



Each agility trial has a unique course consisting of 13-20 obstacles arranged in a particular way. Some of the typical obstacles you might find on a course include:

  • A-frame: Two broad ramps stood upright into a peak that stand five or more feet high. The dog has to scale up one side, climb over the top, then descend into the contact zone on the other side, and the dog must touch the down sidecontact.
  • Dog walk: Like a bridge, the dog walk consists of a flat elevated section of narrow board with an up ramp at one end and a down ramp at the other. These obstacles have contact zones as well, and the dog must touch the down sidecontact.
  • Seesaw or teeter: Just like a teeter-totter at a child’s playground, the dog must run up the low side, ride the seesaw down to the other side, then run off while touching the contact zone.
  • Jumps: There are a variety of jumps in agility from a bar between two stands all the way to tire jumps which are donut-shaped rings suspended in the air. Dogs must jump cleanly without knocking anything over.
  • Weave poles: This is a sequence of six to 12 upright poles spaced evenly apart along a straight line. The dog has to enter to the right of the first pole then weave through the rest of the line without missing any openings.
  • Pause table: This is a raised platform the dog must jump onto and then sit or lie still on top of for five seconds before jumping off.
  • Tunnel: This is a long vinyl tube that can be straight or curved

Standard Course Time

A Standard Course Time is the amount of time the judge has determined will be needed to complete a course. If a team goes over that time, they will incur a time fault. In most classes, the judge calculates the time by traveling between the obstacles in their predetermined order using a measuring wheel to calculate the distance then factoring in the level of the class and the height of the dogs taking part.


David Woo ©American Kennel Club


As in other dog sports, an agility title is a merit bestowed on a dog who has completed certain performance requirements, such as earning the acronym NAP for Novice agility in the Standard Class. Most titles go behind the dog’s name, but certain high-level achievements such as National Agility Champion go at the front.

Walk Through

Because every agility course is unique, part of the challenge for the handler is determining the best way to handle the dog through a given set-up. The walk through is the perfect time to decide that. It’s a period of time before the official runs begin where the handlers are allowed to walk around the course to memorize the order of the obstacles and plan their strategy.