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2018 AKC National Agility Championship. A Samoyed jumps over the bar.

The AKC National Championship presented by Royal Canin will take place Saturday to Sunday, December 15 to 16, 2018, in Orlando, Florida. Tune in to AKC.TV, or download the AKC.TV app on RokuApple TV, or AmazonFireTV to catch the live stream starting on Saturday, December 15 at 12 p.m. ET. Watch the TV premiere on New Year’s Day on Animal Planet at 6 p.m. ET. Encore performance airs at 12 a.m. ET.

A lot of dog owners may not be familiar with agility competitions, which dogs navigate through an obstacle course while racing against the clock. Even for those who have heard of the sport, acting as a simple spectator can be a little intimidating. But in honor of the 13th AKC Agility Invitational (held in conjunction with the AKC National Championship presented by Royal Canin), which takes place December 15 and 16, in Orlando, Florida, the American Kennel Club (AKC) is here to fill you in on the basics of watching an agility event — including a breakdown of each obstacle and how scoring works. Who knows, you may just be inspired to start training your pup after this mini introduction.

A Closer Look at the Obstacles

Courses typically have between 14-20 obstacles. Here are several you’ll run into:

1. Jumps — These vary from course to course, but a dog must leap over the bar without displacing it. The height of the dog determines the heights of each jump. FYI: Dogs are measured before the competition.

Agility Competition Jump

2. Dog Walk — A dog must run up the ramp on one side, scamper across the top horizontal plank, then run down the ramp on the other side, being sure to touch the “contact zone” (usually painted a bright yellow) at the bottom of the board as they exit.

Dog Walk Agility

3. Weave Poles — Comprised of six to 12 upright poles, a dog must enter to the right of the first one and weave through each of the others quickly without missing a pole. It is considered one of the trickiest obstacles to master.

Agility Competition Weave Poles

4. Tire Jump — A dog must jump quickly and cleanly through the opening of the tire. The height of the jump is based on the height of the dog.

Agility Competition Tire Jump

5. Open Tunnel — The objective is simple: A dog must enter from one side and exit through the other. Although the tunnel is often curved so the dog can’t see the exit from the entrance, given how straightforward it is, the Open Tunnel is often considered a great place to start when training.

Agility Competition Open Tunnel

6. Seesaw — Unlike the seesaws you may have played on as a child, dogs don’t get a partner for this obstacle. After running up the board and down the other side as it pivots with their momentum, a dog must touch the “contact zone” with at least one toenail as they descend.

Agility Competition Seesaw

7. A-frame — Made up of two broad ramps hinged together, a dog must quickly scale the structure, scramble over the apex, and touch the “contact zone” while descending.

Agility Competition A-Frame

8. Pause Table — A dog must leap onto the table and stay there for five seconds, which is counted by the judge. Hey, we can all use a five-second break from time to time!

Agility Competition Table

9. Broad Jump (not pictured) — A dog must leap over a set of raised platforms without putting their paws down on any of them. Once again, the length of the jump is determined by the dog’s height.

An Intro to Scoring

To earn a qualifying score, a dog must complete the course with the minimum defined standards for time, faults, and points and without receiving any non-qualifying deductions. Wondering how a dog gets judged on each obstacle? AKC’s Director of Agility, Carrie DeYoung, walks us through the process.

1. What is a fault and how is it calculated?

Many actions can result in a fault such as entering the Weave Poles incorrectly or missing a pole altogether, failing to place a foot in the “contact zone” while performing an obstacle like the Seesaw, or performing the obstacles out of order.

“There are many different faults, which result in five faults to a disqualification,” DeYoung explains. “For example, if [a dog] knocks down a bar on a Jump, it is a ‘Failure,’ and they get a ‘0’ score [for that obstacle]. In Novice or Open Standard and Jumpers With Weaves courses, if a dog gets a Refusal (R) — meaning he turned away from or stopped in front of the obstacle — he can still qualify since it is just five points off, but in Excellent and Masters [courses] a dog has to have perfect runs.”

2. How does the scoring differ based on class?

There are many classes and levels — which include Novice, Regular, Jumpers With Weaves, and Master, to name a few — so it would be difficult to list all the differences here. A dog competing in the Master Class, which provides “an opportunity for dogs and handlers to demonstrate their superior skills in agility,” according to AKC’s regulations for agility trials, has higher expectations than a dog competing in the Standard class, for example. As DeYoung shares, a Master Class dog must receive a score of 100 to qualify and has more obstacles to complete. A Novice or Standard dog has more room for error.

3. How are course times determined?

“In Standard and Jumpers With Weaves, the courses are measured by the judges [with a measuring wheel],” DeYoung says. “In Time 2 Beat, FAST, and Premier classes, there is a set time in the regulations. The jump height ultimately determines times in all classes.”

4. What happens if a dog goes over time?

DeYoung explains, “At a Regular trial, they lose points based on the level they are competing at. At the Master level, they must always be under time to qualify. At Nationals, for each second over they receive a three-point penalty.”

5. What are the different height categories?

“The different jump heights are determined by the dog’s height at the shoulder,” DeYoung shares. The following jump height divisions are used in all trial Regular classes:

  • 8 inches: For dogs 11 inches and under at the withers (the ridge between the shoulder blades of a dog).
  • 12 inches: For dogs 14 inches and under at the withers.
  • 16 inches: For dogs 18 inches and under at the withers.
  • 20 inches: For dogs 22 inches and under at the withers.
  • 24 inches: For dogs over 22 inches at the withers.

Feeling inspired to sign your dog up for an agility class yet? At the very least, we know you’re itching to watch AKC Sports! Catch AKC.TV Live From the National Championship at 12 p.m. ET on December 14, 15, & 16.

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