Everything You Need to Know About Dog Agility Competitions

Everything You Need to Know About Dog Agility Competitions

Bringing your dog to competition standard takes time, patience, more time and more patience. If you are thinking about giving dog agility comps a go, expect it to take at least a year of training.

There are many obstacles that your dog will need to master in order to compete in a dog agility competition:

  • A Frames
  • Dog Walks
  • Seesaws
  • Tunnels
  • Jumps
  • Pause Tables
  • Weave Poles

All of these obstacles will need to be completed following certain rules, within a certain time frame and, in some cases, a certain order.

Remember also that the course is designed for your dog to run, not you, so don’t be disheartened if your fitness isn’t top notch. They take the human half of the competition in consideration, and the course is designed in such a way that it will be easier for the handler to keep up with their dog to ensure that your dog is (hopefully) puffing more than you are when you cross the finish line.

Dog Agility Competition Basics

Basic Rules

There are a lot of rules that apply to all dog agility competitions, and although each organization has their own variation of the rules, the concept remains the same. Some of these general rules that apply to all agility competitions are:

  • Dogs always run off leash
  • No treats or incentives may be used during the run
  • As a handler, you may not touch your dog or the obstacles (except in an emergency obviously)
  • This means you may only direct your dog vocally, which means you need to be completely in tune with your dog

The Course

The course is set by the judge, and the handlers will get a course map, which is basically a map with the obstacles and sequence (if there is one) drawn up. The handler is allowed to walk around the course before the competition starts to assess strategy, but not the dog. In some courses, there is only one way to complete the course, and all dogs must follow the specified sequence, wherein the obstacles are labelled with numbers. In others, it’s more flexible.

The groundcover may include dirt, grass, rubber or special mats, so your dog should be familiar with all of these underlays.

The Objective

The winning pair will be the handler and dog that clears the run the fastest and most accurately. These two objectives are equally important, which is a fine balance of speed and precision. Simple in objective, difficult in execution.

Agility Obstacle Standards

Some of the different organizations have slightly different standards when it comes to obstacles – i.e. dimensions and rules. However, the fundamentals are the same.

Contact Obstacles

Contact obstacles are obstacles that require contact with a specific part of the obstacle, also known as the contact area. This occurs on A Frames, Dog Walks, Crossovers and Seesaws. At least one paw needs to touch each contact area, which are usually found at the start and end of the obstacle.

A Frames

Standard dimensions are 2 x 3ft (~0.91m) wide x 9ft (~2.7m) long panels, hinged together in an “A” shaped frame. There are contact zones at the bottom of both the ascension and descension ramps, on which the dog must place at least one paw on each.

Rules that differ between organizations include whether horizontal slats or rubberized surfaces are required/allowed or not, and whether the A Frame can be narrower up the top than at the base.

Dog Walks

Standard dog walk dimensions are 3 x 8-12ft (3-3.7m) long x 9-12” (23-30cm) wide planks, consisting of 2 ramps either end with a raised platform in the middle at a height of about 4ft (1.2m) off the ground. The rules for contact is the same as with the A Frame.

Rules that differ between organizations include whether horizontal slats or rubberized surfaces are required/allowed or not, and whether the A Frame can be narrower up the top than at the base.


Standard seesaw dimensions range between 10-12ft (3-3.7m) long x 9-12” (23-30cm) wide plank, which is pivoted slightly off-centre on a fulcrum. By pivoting more to one end it ensures one end (the entry end) is always resting on the ground.

The seesaw is one of the classic examples of why smaller dogs get more time to complete a course, as even if the balance point is set so that a very light dog can cross the seesaw, it will take them considerably longer than a heavy dog.

The seesaw does not have slats, and some organizations allow a rubberized surface.


Standard dimensions of a crossover is a 3x3ft (0.91×0.91m) platform raised 4ft (1.2m) into the air with either 3 or 4 ramps of the same dimensions as the dog walk ramps connected to the platform. The dog must ascend and descend the correct ramps as advised by the handler.

This obstacle has been discontinued by most organizations due to its cumbersome size and danger to dogs.


Standard tunnel length is 10-20ft (3-6.1m) and 2ft (61cm) in diameter. The tunnel can either be configured in a straight line or in a shape, and the objective is to get through the tunnel as quickly as possible.

It’s important to try to get your dogs attention as soon as they exit the tunnel by calling out for them, as they cannot see you whilst in the tunnel, and you need to direct them in where to go next.

The collapsed tunnel is similar, but with 8-12ft (2.4-3.7m) of fabric attached to a shorter tunnel. The collapsed tunnel has been suspended in some organizations due to the number of injuries. On the other hand, the UKC (United Kennel Club) have 2 additional types of tunnels, being the crawl tunnel and the hoop tunnel.


Standard heights for all jumps vary based on the size of the dog. The double jump can have parallel or ascending bars, the triple jump always has ascending bars.

The tyre jump must have an 18-24” (46-61cm) clearance in the middle.

Many organizations now allow/require a displaceable or breakaway tire, which means the tire comes apart in some way if the dog hits it with enough force.

Once again, the UKC have a number of additional obstacles not found in other organizations, including the high hurdle, bush hurdle, log hurdle, rail fence hurdle, picket fence hurdle, long hurdle, water hurdle and window hurdle.

Pause Tables

A 3x3ft (1x1m) raised platform where the dog has to jump up and display a pause behaviour, in either a standing, sitting or lying down position. The pause has to continue for a predetermined time, which is usually 5 seconds, but can be longer or shorter. The height of the pause table ranges from 8-30” (20-76cm) depending on the dogs height and the organization.

Pause squares have the same requirements, but on-ground.

Weave Poles

A series of between 5-12 poles that the dog must “slalom” between. The standard pole dimensions are 3ft (0.91m) tall and spaced at 24” (61cm) apart. The dog must always enter with the first pole on his/her left.

Equipment Specifications

For a full list of exact specifications for your club, see the links below:

Agility Scoring & Clean Runs

Scoring is based on the number of faults incurred during the run, which are both action and time based. Each organization has its own rules of what constitutes a fault, and whether they can earn a qualifying score with faulted runs.

There are different types of faults, including course faults and time faults. The obvious course faults include:

  • Knocking over objects
  • Missing the contact areas
  • Taking a wrong turn
  • Completing the obstacles in the wrong order
  • Entering the weave poles with the first pole on your dogs right
  • Skipping poles or backweaving
  • Hesitating or backing away from an obstacle
  • The handler touching the dog or an obstacle
  • The dog has its collar on
  • The dog bites the handler or the judge
  • Unsportsmanlike behaviour (the judge determines this)
  • The handler carrying food or toys into the ring

There are also time faults, which are applied if it takes your dog longer than the standard course time to complete the course. The penalty is applied in number of seconds over the standard course time. The standard course time is determined based on course complexity, competition level and other factors.

If your dog does pass the minimum standards for time and faults (or lack thereof), then this is referred to as a qualifying run (also called a leg or a Q).

If your dog makes it through the course under the standard course time and without course faults, this is referred to as a clean run, or clear run.

The Competition Process

Setting Up The Course

Firstly the judges create the course map. Once this is complete, a team of course builders will assemble and place the obstacles as per the map. They will also ensure things like distance between, and alignment of, obstacles are safe.

Once the builders have set up the course, the judge walks through and makes sure everything is as intended, and that the conditions of the course and ground is good (i.e. free of mud pits, pot holes etc).

The judge must then determine the standard course time, by measuring the total distance between obstacles, and add a standard time allowance for each of the obstacles. Sometimes, this is not measured out, but simply determined by the judge.

Everything You Need to Know About Dog Agility Competitions

Running The Course

Sometimes the judge will hold a briefing session prior to the start of the comp. This is usually done only if the course includes obstacles that are unusual, complicated or new, or if the competitors are novices. The handlers then get to walk the course to assess strategy and surroundings.

Once the walk through is finished, the gate steward will call the dogs forward in order (pre-determined by the trial secretary). Once all pairs have run the course and their scores have been noted, the dogs are graded in their respective height groups, levels and Classes.

Final Words

Entering your dog into a comp takes a lot of prior work and training. It can be a very intense and competitive thing to do, but remember that the main reason you should enter an agility competition, is to strengthen the bond between you and your pooch and to have a good time!

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