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Is Agility Safe? (Dogs)

A personal opinion

Safety is an issue that has been cropping up on the Agility Forum lately, specifically the height our dogs jump. Jackie Gardner intentionally trains her dogs over different heights in order to make them think about what they are jumping. She's competed in the UK and Europe with no problems, and found that whatever height her dogs are asked to jump, they quickly adapt to. So what's the problem?

I find it very strange that some people are saying that lower height jumps would result in more injuries. Do these people not put their own dogs over lower height jumps in training ever? What about if their dog was coming back from an injury or operation, do they go straight back to competing at 30”?

There are also a lot of people who want to prove that lower jumps are safer. This is, of course, a very commendable thing... if it was possible. But do they really believe that when agility was invented a proper study was undertaken?

The original jump heights were 3ft (36”) as this was what the dogs were jumping in Working Trials, so they just kept the same height. The bars were later lowered to 2ft 6in. (30”). There was no outcry or referendum. It just happened. Jumps were usually homemade, so you didn’t really know what height your dog was jumping anyway. 

Europe also started competing over 30” but decided to lower the height of their jumps. Once again I don’t think any proper study was undertaken, but I might be wrong. They decided that was what they wanted, and it works well for them as our height does for us.

What height is best for our dogs to jump?
I personally do not feel that research could give a conclusive answer to this question. All dogs are different, and there are so many variables you would have to take into consideration, i.e., height, weight, build, breed, the speed of the dogs, plus other factors. The results of a study would, therefore, only show what the best height for the dog being studied is. It would be a pointless exercise as the dog you were studying would have gone through such intensive tests - over and over again - to prove that stress and damage were being caused, it would no longer be fit for agility.

I personally believe that it would be a benefit to agility to add an extra lower FCI height band for the Standard dogs, and then let people with standard height dogs choose which category they want to compete in.

Agility is a sport, although an unrecognised one. All sports come with an element of risk. If you take away all the risks that we put our dogs and ourselves through in agility, we would have a very boring sport indeed. It would probably be who can be the quickest from start post to finish as every obstacle on the agility course carries a risk.

Remember Agility is supposed to fun. There will always be winners and losers, but if you are not enjoying yourself, then you are in the wrong sport.

About the Author...
Jackie Gardner started training dogs at the age of 12, and used to attend obedience shows with her dad. She got her first dog, a Border collie bitch called Gemma (Kentrygern Kracker) when she was 14 years old. They competed in Obedience, taking Gemma from Beginners to ‘C’ only in three years.

She started training her for Agility in 1983 at St. Edwards DTC, and competed in her first agility show in 1984 where she became hooked. Gemma quickly won into Senior, but had to retire early as she had suffered from anal cancer at the age of three. The disease had taken its toll. She was a very special dog, who started Jackie's love of Border Collies.

Jackie has now been competing in agility for 20 years, and has owned five dogs in that time including:-

  1. Detania Luncies Todd - Todd was her first real Advanced agility star, taking Jackie to every agility final, and winning a couple as well.

  2. Danny Boy - Danny was a real sweetie. He was not a natural agility dog, but he still managed to get to Advanced and to all the agility finals. Danny was one of the first dogs to compete in Europe, when the PETS scheme was introduced, and he was a dog that excelled when the jumps were slightly lower.

  3. Touchango Glen Boy - Glen is one of Jackie's current dogs. He competes in Advanced, and has been to all the major agility finals. He won the Dogs in Need Senior final at the age of two. He has competed in Belgium, Holland and was part of the British team in Norway.

  4. Borderstorm Tom Boy - Tom is Jackie's baby. He is competing in Novice, but shows lots of potential to be an excellent agility dog.

Unfortunately Jackie has suffered two major agility injuries. She damaged her back in 2001 at Supadogs show, and she had to have an operation on a disc in March 2002. Recently she damaged her knee while training for Olympia. She still ran (hobbled) at Olympia and won the pairs with Stuart Carter. After Christmas she saw a private consultant who has subsequently operated on her knee. She is currently undergoing physio.