Agility for Triathletes

The following was originally published in Saber Tails


By now you may have heard that the 2016 PBGVCA National Specialty will include a triathlon, to recognize those dogs and handlers who compete in multiple performance and companion events at the specialty. Do you have a smart athletic PBGV who could participate in this event? One of the most exciting activities in the triathlon will be the specialty (PBGVs only) agility trial, which will be held in a secure indoor area on artificial turf. My PBGVs have let me know that this is their favorite type of running surface, often resulting in faster and less distracted runs than when they compete on grass or dirt.


If you think that you might want to try agility competition at next year’s show, don’t wait, now is the time to start preparing. Prior to beginning serious agility training, a PBGV should be physically mature, structurally sound, and in good overall condition. If a conformation judge would say your PBGV is in good weight, he is probably 5 to 7 pounds too heavy for a demanding sport like agility. You may want to work on getting in shape along with your dog, because agility is a team sport and you will need to be willing and able to run quickly and make frequent turns too.


If you haven’t done any obedience training with your dog, this may be a prerequisite to take an agility class. Even if you don’t have to do obedience first to join agility class, it would be beneficial to begin training reliable stays and a very strong recall- besides you will need those skills for the other triathlon events. Try to find a trainer who utilizes primarily positive reinforcement based training methods and who is comfortable using food as a reward rather than toys. Teaching your PBGV to play tug anyplace and anytime is required by some instructors to begin agility training. If so, you may want to find a different class or it could take years before your dog sees his first obstacle. Most PBGVs are happy to work for food treats and with some creativity it’s possible to train to a high level without relying on toy rewards. You may want to see the facility where the classes will be held before signing up. An outdoor class in an unfenced area may not be the safest option for your PBGV and even a dirt floor in a barn will likely result in a more distracting learning space than a cleaner indoor space. If you don’t feel comfortable with the level of security the class provides it will be harder to give your full attention to your dog.


If competing at next year’s national is a goal, you should communicate this to your instructor. Many agility training programs will focus on teaching students all of the skills needed to compete at Master level before the student is encouraged to compete at all. There are definite advantages to doing this, but many dogs could compete successfully on novice courses before all of the more advanced skills are perfected. There are several different venues offering agility titles in the United States and the equipment is not always standardized between venues, so you will want to make sure that the equipment your dog learns on is the type used at AKC events.


Before entering an agility trial, you will need to have a good idea of your dog’s height at the shoulder. In the regular agility classes, PBGVs 14 inches and under jump 12 inches and those over 14 inches jump 16 inches. Anyone has the option of entering the preferred classes, where dogs jump four inches less than their measured jump height and are allowed an extra five seconds to complete the course. Preferred is a good option to consider for your first trial, especially if you think your dog might be more than 14 inches tall.


To count agility towards a qualifying score in the triathlon you would need to qualify in either standard or jumpers with weaves. Time 2 Beat scores count towards the Beginner Triathlon, but this would be a more challenging course for an inexperienced dog and handler team.


Novice standard would be a flowing course with some basic challenges, such as one or more times when the handler needs to change sides. (Yes, the dog does have to work on both the left and right side of the handler in agility). The course time in Novice standard is very generous and the dog can make some mistakes, including running past an obstacle or taking a wrong course, and still qualify if they successfully complete all of the obstacles and don’t incur too many faults. A standard course includes all of the contact obstacles (A-frame, dogwalk, teeter), a pause table, tunnels, a chute, six weave poles, and a variety of jumps including the tire and broad jump. Knocking down a jump, not completing every obstacle, or missing a contact zone would result in a non-qualifying score in standard. In novice refusals are not counted at the weave poles, but you are only allowed three attempts to complete all of the poles in succession.


Novice jumpers with weaves might be an easier option for a dog new to agility. Only jumps, six weave poles, and possibly tunnels are included in jumpers so it isn’t necessary to have mastered all of the obstacles to enter this class. The course itself will be a little more technically challenging than standard and less time will be allowed to complete it, but a dog can still qualify with up to two refusals and some time faults. Knocking a jump bar, going off course, or not completing all of the obstacles would result in a non-qualifying score in jumpers.


Time 2 Beat is an agility game where qualifying scores can be earned and counted towards the beginner triathlon. Normally this is a relatively flowing course with challenges similar to those seen at the open level. Time 2 Beat courses can include jumps, tunnels, twelve weave poles, an A-frame, and a teeter. Refusals are not faulted, but failing to complete all of the obstacles, knocking bars, missing contact zones, going off course, or exceeding the allowed course time of 60 seconds would result in a non-qualifying score.


Hope to see you and your well-educated athletic PBGV in Indianapolis next year!BK2_1446MD