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Slower Agility - In Defense of

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Slow and steady wins the race...

Anyone who has been involved with agility for a while will agree that, over the past few years, the sport has been getting faster and faster. These days, unless you have a dog that takes off like a bullet, speeds like lightning, turns on a blade of grass and virtually thinks for itself, you will get stuck in the lower Grades, like the bulk of us. All of which gave Martin Gill reason to wonder if there is a place for another form of agility where skill and accuracy - not just speed - are the prime movers. He's been having fun dreaming up a slower agility.

There is a school of thought that says 'Agility is exactly the sport that collies have been waiting for' especially when you attend Agility shows and competitions. Without a doubt Collies dominate and make up a huge percentage of the dogs you can see. There is another school of thought that says 'Agility is the sport that nearly all dogs have been waiting for,' and at Agility shows you will certainly see a huge variety of dogs, breeds and mutts. Whichever school of idea you subscribe to, there are several truths which cannot be denied.

  1. Agility is played against the clock.

  2. Most dogs do enjoy agility

  3. Collies do dominate

  4. Success comes only from practice, training, consistency and repetition

  5. Top plaudits come from a mixture, of training, handling and speed

It is that last bit, speed, that is becoming a real issue. In the ten years or so that I have been competing, there has been an incredible increase in the speed of competition dogs, with average times for courses hovering around the 20 second mark or less for Jumping courses and only a little longer for Agility courses. In some ways, it is just as well that courses are run as fast as they are when you consider the increasing number of dogs now competing regularly. If each course was taking say 40 seconds, we would need floodlights for rings still running after dark.

I have given this some thought  and the first thing I know is that it will need new obstacles. With the exception of the table and to a lesser degree, the contact equipment, all obstacles invite speed. The table is almost gone these days due to electronic timing.  Where is the point of having a timing system accurate to 1000th of a second, if the judge is going to make a manual count in the middle of the course accurate at best to half a second?  So we need obstacles that require skill to negotiate, are safe to use, cheap to produce, easy to erect and, most important, fun for the dogs. The more I thought about this, the more it became clear that I was thinking up a completely new sport

My idea incorporates jumps, both types of tunnels, tyre, long jumps and contact equipment in the usual way, but the number of jumps will be reduced in number to make way for the new obstacles. Weaves will be used, but in a one attempt only, way. You train your weaves at your clubs, like all other obstacles, you get just one attempt in competition. The suggestions below take away some of the advantage of a fast dog and returns the advantage, in part, to the handler and accurate dogs.


  1. Refusals are hard to define and probably best not marked.

  2. Classes would probably need to be limited.

Comments and observations

  1. Trotting Poles will tend to slow dogs automatically as will the Olympic rings, right angle table and the non-jumping sequence. 

  2. The Slalom will probably become another fast exercise.

  3. The judge will not need to set course times but would still need to have times recorded to determine the winner, i.e. still against the clock. Agility jumps in particular show a startling lack of imagination when compared to the jumps used in horse jumping and cross country.  Where is our reduced 5-bar gate or the crossed X poles?  Cross Country horses jump Toyota trucks, so Large agility dogs could easily jump wheelbarrows. Logs? Not a problem.  Tree and Barrel wings.

  4. With a bit of imagination - and I know... money - the sport could be made to look far less bland than it does.  An A-frame that looks like a grassy hill. A dogwalk that looks like a dragon. Tunnels with entry surrounds. Let your imagination go.

 Obstacle 1)  Trotting Poles

Construction: 10 poles, 1metre in length, 12cm in diameter

Poles are laid on the ground in parallel 60cm apart.

Trotting Poles

Object: The dog has to jump over all 10 poles, BUT has to put at least 1 foot down between each pair of poles.

1 attempt only.  Any restart is an elimination.

If two or more poles are jumped without a foot on the ground in between = 5 faults.

You will not be eliminated if your dog jumps through the obstacle, but your faults will accumulate rapidly.

Obstacle 2)  Slalom


Six pairs of jump wings, six lengths of plastic barrier fencing

Each pair of wings is set up as for a normal jump.

In place of the pole the gap between the wings is the plastic barrier fencing which is stretched across the gap.

Each set is 1 metre from the next set.

Entrance on left or right dependant on judge.


Object: The dog enters the obstacle between wing pairs 1 and 2 and zigzags through the obstacle.

1 attempt only.  Any restart is an elimination.

If the dog runs up and down the same slalom = 5 faults.

If the dog runs down the wrong slalom or misses a slalom = 5 faults.

Obstacle 3)   Weaves

Construction: Standard 12 weaves


Object: Complete the weaves with a single attempt.
Marking 1 attempt only.  Any restart is an elimination.
Entry as standard (Left shoulder, first pole) or 5 faults.  If your entry is wrong, keep going forward with 5 faults only plus another 5 as you will also miss the last weave. You will not be eliminated for incorrect completion.
Any missed poles = 5 faults.

Obstacle 4)   Table

Construction: Standard table. Poles or flags to mark the mount and dismount sides. Mount and dismount do not need to be opposite each other, but could also be at right angles, or even, on and off the same side.


Object: Mount and dismount table following defined directions. No need for 'a down' or a stop.

Table can be mounted ONLY from 1 side . Any other side will be an elimination.

Dogs must leave the table through the dismount gate or be eliminated.

Obstacle 5)   Olympic Pause Rings

Construction: Five plastic Hoola hoops laid out in a pattern similar to the Olympic symbol but not overlapping or interlocking.

Olympic Pause Rings

Object: Dog is to get all four feet into each ring before moving to the next ring.

1 attempt only.  Any restart is an elimination.

Not having 4 feet within a ring = 5 faults

Miss a ring = 5 faults

Return to a previous ring = 5 faults

Obstacle 6)   Non-Jumping Sequence

Construction: 3 standard jumps, set up as 3 side of a box, rope or painted start line.

Jumping sequence

Object: Negotiate all the spaces between the jumps, using push and pull through techniques, without the dog taking a jump.
Marking 1 attempt only.  Any restart is an elimination.
Dog takes a jump = 5 faults.
Dog returns through same gap = 5 faults.

Just to prove I'm not out to grind Agility to a complete slowdown how about these fun classes.

The 5 Metre Measured Mile

This is a team competition with 6six dogs in a team. The course layout is measured so that is is 440ft in length from jump centre to jump centre plus the other obstacles.

Three dogs start at one end of the reversible course and three at the other. There is a handover baton at either end. The course is run 12 times (twice for each dog/handler combination.) Dogs run alternatively from either end until all the dogs and handlers are back where they started. The very last dog - and only the last dog finishedon the finish hurdle (20b) to stop the clock. Should any other dog take that jump, the team is eliminated. At the end, everyone is puffed and the dogs between them have completed a mile.

The size of the teams and the length of time for a full mile would make this a limited class. Because it is measured, the teams would be able to practice it. Of course, the course would be shortened to make a kilometre and thus reduce the number of dogs from six to four with eight runs each but a measured mile has a better ring to it!

This is a fast (in the extreme) class. Straight up a lineof obstacles, thurn into the cloth tunnels and straight back down again. Why 5 metres? Because wach obstacle is set exactly 5 metres from the next/previous one.


It's hard to imagine anything faster than this!

The 5 Metre  Lunatic Lunge

These are just a few ideas but obviously there are many more possibilities. I am actually looking forward to discussing an alternative agility.  Certainly if anyone is interested could you contact me and maybe we could discuss a prototype show, or more likely a prototype class at an existing show. I'm willing to be lead here. If a call to action is perceived as a way forward, I'm happy to go forward with it. Or am I voice in the wilderness?


From Alison Williamson
Here are my thoughts on slower dogs. Like many others, I love the sport of agility, and yes, I do love to do well! I know not everyone wants to try to win, and for them, it is the taking part and social side they love. But I do try to win my class, every time I enter the ring with my GSD. 

I find it quite disheartening that even though I have a fairly decent GSD, in a large KC Open show in (what I understand is) one of the most competitive areas of the country, I am struggling to win out of Grade 1, and as for the 'dizzy heights' of winning out of Grade 2, at the moment, it seems to be quite beyond the scope of our abilities.

Now, I also know that a good number of my fellow competitors would say that if I want to do well, I should get a collie/kelpie, or perhaps even an aussie.  But I also know the KC and others think agility is a 'sport for all'.  Believe me, faced with the possibility that the very best we can hope for is to win out of Grade 2 in a 7 Grade system, I do not really think, in competition terms, it is really a sport for all.  I accept that unless I get a collie, I will not do fantastically in the graded system, but I love my breed, and love agility, and want to stick to both! I also think it a huge shame that you see so very few other breeds in the rings beyond Grade 2

Does anyone else think it would be nice to see more special ABC classes split into the lower grades (which let's face it, is where most of the ABCs are!) rather than just ABC 1-7?  What about splitting a class on shoulder height, to give the bigger dogs like GSDs, Retrievers etc. a chance to do well competing against each other?

If nothing else were changed though, what I do really support is the idea of introducing more varied equipment again at all Grades. Whatever has happened to the water jump, brush jump, table, wishing well, tyre, wall and all the other types of 'horsey' jumps that appear in old fashioned books on agility? And why not have barrel jumps and some of the other jumps suggested in the recent 'Slower Agility' article?  It would make it far more interesting again - provided they are taught in clubs and erected safely in competition.  I'm all for variety, especially since I am confined to pretty straight forward 'up and down' courses which present us with no real handling challenges (and yes, I know, you shouldn't have handling challenges in Grade 1, but that is part of my point!).

No doubt most of you will think my suggestions daft - but there we go! Let me know if there is any support for my ideas through this column, I would like to think I am not alone as a slightly frustrated handler in the lower echelons of the agility competition world!

From Angela Lucas...
I think Martinís ideas are interesting. It would be good if a club would be willing to pick up and run with the suggestions. Maybe at one of the weekend or week long shows in 2008, as a ring in its own right?  I think they deserve a trial of open competition. They could become a competition in their own right, rather than looking from the point of trying to mix and match.

If you have ever gone to the Paws in the Park or Brentwood events, and dragged your self away from the agility classes for an hour, then you may have seen the distraction/control courses that other people have invented. There is often a queue for these. Your dog is more than a speeding bullet you know.

I would like to see if 'armchair agility' could be added to Martinís list of suggestions. Basically, test the handlers distance control of their dog, as they stand or even sit in a certain spot and direct their dog to do obstacles under 90% verbal control. It could start off  by being just a circuit of obstacles, then building up to  testing the directional control by adding turns. The distance could also be increased according to ability. I think it would be fun too, to add those obstacles that are little used in the formalised world of agility such as the water tray, brush fence, etc.

I know that some of the things I have trained my dog to do I am unlikely to need in a competition ring. Just for fun, I sit on the dog walk and send my dog around  without me.  Itís to find out how confident and motivated she is within herself.  The way agility is working now, the training is heavily geared to those who can keep up with their dogs and run. Distance working, or as I call it, being able to trust your dog, seems to be a vanishing art.

I think we can be proud of those people who over 30 years ago, devised the obstacles we use, because they are virtually just as safe now as they were then, and how many other examples can you think of that have that claim? I have this feeling that like obedience, there are those within agility who would not welcome a change of pace.  By adding this different translation to agility, I think you would still be keeping it for all people and dogs. (07/06/07)

From Tracy Sowden...
I would just like to say that I think Martin has some great ideas. I think that it would make jumping courses much more interesting (certainly from a judging point of view) to be able to add in some of the obstacles he has suggested. I like the idea of the trotting poles and Olympic pause rings and can see no reason why crossed pole jumps and reduced 5 bar gates couldn't be used. I went to a local fete a while back and they had an 'agility' course open to anybody . The course consisted of very low horse jumps (yes, including crossed poles) balanced on straw bales. The dogwalk was a line of straw bales for the dog to walk along (single bale height), and they even made a type of brush fence with branches of a conifer, artistically arranged along one of the straw bale and pole type jumps. It was great fun.

The local dogs had a great time 'having a go' even if they had never tried agility before and our agility dog didn't bat an eyelid over the strange obstacles. She thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Going on this, I would think that the dogs would enjoy a bit more variety. I would like to hear more of Martin's ideas too. (23/05/07)

From Sandra Barker...
I think Martin has a point for slower accurate courses. I have only been going to shows for just over a year and I have noticed that the faster dogs are not always the most accurate in their contacts/jumping and collect faults. One of my dogs who is a lurcher/labrador X is reasonably accurate but tends not to go that fast. She has a couple of clear rounds under her belt both at jumping and agility but has had time faults. If my other one would concentrate more on the course the judge sets rather than the one he would rather run, we may at some time or another get round clear.

About the author...
Martin Gill first became aware of Agility through a Sunday afternoon TV series (Super Dogs), if memory serves, in which regional teams competed in a weekly knockout. He was spellbound and vowed that when he got his next dog he would try his hand. In 1996 Flikka had been training at The Vyne for 12 months and he took his first steps on an Agility competition course at the Vyne that year. He has been competing ever since.

At one point Martin had five dogs to run (heady days), but these days he am down to two. Through illness and injury he has missed several seasons, but never lost the passion.

He deeply resents all the rules and regulations that have been foisted upon such a simple sport and feel that the grading system is an unmitigated waste of time and administration. He also has some strongly held views that the whole sport is much bigger than just the Jumping and Agility format it has become as illustrated above. Like most competitors, he has roosted in the Novice/Intermediate (or some 'stupid grade' - his word, not Agilitynet's) nest for several years, and looks destined to stay there a while as his super fast collie in training just cannot cope with the hustle and bustle of shows and sometimes gets time faults. We all have our cross to bear...

First published 17 May 2007