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Agility Information for New Enthusiasts
Thanks to The Dogpatch for the Agility clip-art.
If you're reading this in hard copy, go to and read it on-line - the links are all live!

When I started Agility training with my dog, I found it difficult to find information when we were ready to compete. And sometimes it was even harder to understand the information I did get! I’ve put together this cheat sheet to help others avoid the struggle. Included are intros to the organizations, Internet resources, local clubs, a pseudo-FAQ, some trial tips, and a Glossary of Agility lingo. I’ve concentrated on the Internet and the SF Bay Area for resources.

IMPORTANT NOTE: I’m assuming that you are already participating in formal Agility training with a qualified instructor on safe equipment. But if not, I want to emphasize that Agility equipment can be dangerous for the dog if the equipment is sub-standard, or if the obstacles are performed incorrectly. It is not a sport that can be self-taught – you must get proper training on equipment usage for the safety of the dog. If you need information on SF Bay Area trainers, please contact me. If you need information on trainers in your area, check The Clean Run Clubs Page.


USDAA: United States Dog Agility Assn – welcomes mixed-breed dogs in competition
Registration: $12 per dog, one-time fee for life
PO Box 850955, Richardson, Texas 75085-0955
ph: (972) 231-9700, fax: (214) 503-0161

CPE: Canine Performance Events – new fun organization, started in the MidWest but growing fast in the West; titling programs in many games that the others don't include, such as Colors, Wildcard, Jackpot, and BlackJack; registration is not required to compete, but is for titling. Registration: $5 per dog, one-time fee for life; $15 for humans (not required, but gets a hard cover rule and records book.
Contact E-mail:

AKC: American Kennel Club – Registered purebreds or ILP’d dogs only; registration fees vary.
580 Centerview Drive, Raleigh, NC 27606-3390
ph: 919-233-9767, fax: 919-233-3627

NADAC: North American Dog Agility Council – welcomes mixed-breed dogs in competition
Registration: $10 per dog for members, $15 for non-members, one-time fee for life; Dues: $12 annually for humans (not required in order to compete, but it does get you the discount)
HCR 2 Box 277, St Maries, ID 83861
Internet:; E-mail:

ASCA: Australian Shepherd Club of America – allows mixed breed dogs in all agility trials, runs under NADAC rules, and frequently runs dual-sanctioned events with NADAC; registration not required.
6091 East State Highway 21, Bryan, Texas 77803-9652, (409) 778-1082

UKC: United Kennel Club, allows mixed breed dogs to compete with Limited Participation registration; minimal value locally (SF Bay Area) since most of their agility trials are in the Midwest and East.
Registration: $28 for purebred, $30 for LP, one-time fee for life
100 East Kilgore Rd., Kalamazoo, MI 49002-5584
ph: 616-343-9020, fax: 616-343-7037

JFF: Just For Fun – low-key organization that encourages "park-style" competition and league play for fun (as the name implies); no registration is required (or even available). There are currently no clubs in California offering JFF events.


The best single resource for Agility information in the Internet is Clean Run Productions ( They publish a monthly magazine, Clean Run Magazine. In it you'll find trainer profiles, handling exercises, judge's debriefing, great ads and classifieds, and much, much more.  They also have a terrific on-line store at with an enormous selection of agility-related books and supplies, as well as back-issues of their magazine with a searchable index.  And finally, they host a searchable database at their Info Center, with clubs, trainers, and a national schedule of agility events.

I'm sad to report that one of the original resources for information, The DogPatch, seems to have faded away. Two very good sources for agility and training books on the web are DogWise and SitStay.

If you don't mind sifting through an extra 50 or so e-mail messages per day, there's a very active Agility mailing list available to which you can subscribe.  I have found this to be an invaluable source of information, with topics ranging from joint care to hydration to canopy selection to simple brags from individuals. To subscribe, send mail to LISTSERV@APPLE.EASE.LSOFT.COM with the command: SUBSCRIBE AGILEDOGS. Be sure to read the guidelines when you are accepted - the Admins really try hard to keep the list on topic.


I highly recommend joining a local agility club. I’ve found that even if they aren’t exactly nearby and you don’t actively participate as a club member, it’s worth joining just to get access to information. Both of these clubs also stock extensive lending libraries (Free!) of videos and books that you can borrow for the cost of postage. That in itself makes the dues worthwhile.

Bay Team: Very active club centered in the East/South Bay. Conducts two NADAC trials and two USDAA trials in Hayward every year; participates in many local demos. Dues: $20/year.
Contact: Karey Krauter,, tel: (650) 327-2529, fax: (650) 926-3674

Haute Dawgs (pronounced Hot Dogs): Another active club centered in the Sacramento area. Conducts two USDAA trials in Placerville every year, as well as several Fun Matches and classes at various locations in the valley. Dues: $25/year, plus one-time $30 fee.
Contact: Margie Crewson,, (916) 483-DAWG (3294) or 1-800-770-7166

FAQ (remember, these are only my opinions)

  • How do I find out about Trials and Fun Matches? Ask your trainer; talk to folks in your class; read the e-mail announcements that come from the club you joined; check the web pages for the sanctioning organizations; search the Clean Run Event Schedule. Be sure to check this site often - new clubs and trials are posted almost daily, and sometimes get posted here before they make it on the sanctioning club's website.  Once you enter a few events, you’ll begin to get on mailing lists and info should start coming to you on its own.
  • How do I decide that we’re ready to compete? Ask your trainer; enter a Fun Match; go to a Trial without your dog and watch the Novice ring. Make sure you have fairly good control commands, especially Come - many rings are not fenced except with stakes and construction tape, so you need to be able to gather the dog back in if s/he runs out of the ring (don't worry, it happens…).
  • Which organization should I start with? Some people choose to start with either CPE or NADAC - their rules and titling are a little less intimidating for Novices than USDAA. For instance, jump heights are lower (for the tallest dogs - check specifics for your dog), you can get points toward a title even without a clean run, and the courses are more open and flowing, which means handling mistakes aren’t as likely to result in an off course. There are several tables available on-line that compare the rules, including
  • What am I competing for? There are two competitions embedded in each run. In one sense, you are competing against the clock for Qualifying Runs. If you complete the course under the required course time with no faults (or 5 faults in NADAC), you have earned a Leg that accumulates toward your Title. Additionally, you are competing against all of the other dogs in your class at your height level for placement ribbons. So you can still get a placement ribbon even if you don’t earn a Qualifying Run. The two are unrelated.
  • How do I keep track of my Qs and Titles? There are several good resources on the web for tracking your performance. One of the best is the Agility Record Book, which you can buy from Clean Run Productions.   I have also prepared Titles At A Glance, a simple Excel spreadsheet that you can use to track your progress visually. It is designed specifically for USDAA, and automatically tracks your titles by turning the cells GREEN when you've earned - a title. It even accounts for the change in titling requirements that happened on 1/1/04.
  • What about the "games"? I started out being intimidated by the games and didnít enter. Once I saw them in action and got a clue how they worked, I realized how silly that was. A brief description follows Ė read the rule book and ask questions for a more thorough understanding.

Jumpers: Course consists of only jumps and tunnels (and sometimes weaves in AKC). There is no reason not to enter this class early on in your competitive career.

Gamblers: Requires a little bit of distance handling, but in Novice, the distance obstacles will not include weaves or the teeter – usually tunnels, jumps, and maybe the A-frame.

Snooker: This is the most complex format, and I would suggest you observe a time or two before you run. And get someone to explain to you what’s going on.  After you read Katie's description, it might help if you think of it as the "Mother May I" of Agility.

Pairs/Relay: This is run as a relay – the first dog/handler run half of the course, pass a baton to the second team, who finish the second half of the course. You can enter with someone you know or get matched up by draw. At the Novice level, everybody is in it for fun and nobody really cares if something goes wrong in your half of the run, so don’t hesitate to enter.


  • Buy Cindy Buckholt's book, Competing In Agility. This book is a great place to start, with all kinds of good information on how to get started, what it's like to be a Novice, Titling Requirements, etc.

  • Get the rules for each organization and read them: It’s unfortunate to get called off the course because you didn’t know you couldn’t put your leash in your pocket. It’s really bad form to argue with the judge and ask for a re-run because you didn’t know the rule (I’ve seen it happen…).

  • Send your Premium in early: Pay particular attention to the closing date (they really mean it); send it in as early as you can – USDAA has no entry limits, but NADAC and AKC do and some events fill very quickly. The entry forms can be somewhat confusing - if you need help filling them out, ask your trainer or someone with experience.

  • Create a checklist and use it for each event: Without this, you’re inevitably going to forget something – I recently showed up at a training seminar without the "dog bag" – no treats or toys. Oops! There are excellent "things to bring to trials" lists in the Novice trial and training tips links at the end of this section.

  • Be prepared for any weather (unless the trial is indoors): You probably don’t need to invest in a canopy or tent for your first trial, especially if you know someone that has one ;-). But you should at least get a cover or shade cloth for the x-pen/crate, bring plenty of sunscreen for yourself, and bring lots of water (and a water bowl) for both you and the dog.  When the time comes to buy a canopy, check out my features summary and comparison at

  • Work on your dog’s ‘show behavior’ in advance: The days are long (8 to 12 hours), and your dog is actually performing for less than 4 minutes on a typical day. That means lots and lots of down time for you and the dog. Ideally, your dog should be comfortable and settled in his/her crate or x-pen, even if you’re not around (for instance, during the course walk-throughs). And you’ll definitely want to bring a folding chair for yourself.

  • Plan to be there the whole day: Even if you know you can’t possibly run until 11:00am (because they are starting with 8" dogs and yours is 26" tall), get there in time for check-in and the morning briefing, especially if your dog has to be measured. Your dog will have a chance to get acclimated, and you will be able to get your crating area sorted out without any stress. If you find yourself sitting around and your dog is settled in a crate or x-pen, go to a ring and offer to help out.

  • Show respect for the judge: Attend the preliminary ring briefings, pay attention, and ask questions if you need clarification. Go on to the next obstacle if s/he tells you to (4-paw rule). Thank him/her if your run goes awry and you decide (or are asked) to leave the ring.

  • Volunteer to work: Working ringside (as a pole setter) is an excellent way to get exposed to the flow and timing of the trial, the rules and strategies of the more complicated games (snooker, gamblers), and various handling techniques. And you may even get a free lunch for doing so. The Bay Team has a nice description of available trial jobs.

  • Don’t forget about your dog: I have found that I get self-absorbed at trials – there are a lot of things to focus on: keeping track of the rings and our run schedules, chatting with people, watching other teams run, videotaping my friends’ runs, etc. It’s too easy to fall into the routine of pulling the dog out of her crate, expecting her to perform, and stuffing her back in her crate. That may work for some dogs, but not mine. I have to remind myself that she has other objectives – so I make time for her to play with other dogs, have a game of frisbee, wander around the grounds with me to check out the excitement. The sniffing around is particularly important when you first arrive to get her comfortable – another reason to get there early.

  • Remember why you’re there: This is closely related to the previous item – Trials should be FUN, for both you and your dog. If you get so wrapped up in the competition that you forget to have fun, your dog will ultimately shut down. And there is something to be learned on EVERY run, not just the clean ones. I've come home from more then one trial with no ribbons, but I was still thrilled by moments of brilliance or success on something that had been an issue until then. To me, that was just as satisfying as if we had run clean all weekend.

  • Record your runs: Call me compulsive, but I like to keep a record of each run, with notes on what happened (good or bad). This way I can review my notes and check for trends or developing problems and nip them in the bud. Itís nice to think that youíll remember every run, but thatís not likely. I record the following information: CST, our time, faults, points (for Snooker and Gamblers), and whether or not it was a Qualifying run. If she placed, I make a note of how many dogs were in the class. If she faulted or we had a handling problem, I note what happened and what I think might have caused it (of course, itís always handler errorÖ). If Iím really inspired and there was no printed course map, I sketch the course layout to jog my memory. All of this information can be useful down the road for training and sorting out your titles. You can buy a great one from Clean Run.

  • Get your hands on a camcorder: If you’re going to get serious at all, this is a good investment. It doesn’t have to be fancy and expensive – I found a used setup with extra batteries and a case on E-Bay for $325. Find someone to tape your runs at trials – you’ll be amazed what you see that you didn’t even know you were doing (or not doing). It’s also helpful to tape your runs in practice if possible, so you can see what you are doing differently from practice to competition – trust me, there’s bound to be something, even if it’s just a different energy/stress level.

More Novice trial and training tips are available at,,, and


Catalog = published list of Exhibitors for a given Trial

Crating Area = where you set up your stuff

CST (or SCT) = Course Standard Time. This is calculated by measuring the course in yards, and dividing the result by the yards-per-second requirement for the class (which is specified in the rules). In other words, this is the "time to beat" for any given run.

Dog Show = any form of canine competition - conformation, agility trial, etc.

Exhibitor = Competitor

Four-Paw Rule = in some trials, if your dog puts all four paws on a contact obstacle and then jumps off, you will be asked to go on to the next obstacle. The intent is safety – at that moment in time, your dog is deemed not ready to do that obstacle.

Fun Match = a low-key practice event run by a local agility club – formatted the same as a trial, but without timers or judges.

Games = courses that are NOT Standard Agility; e.g., Jumpers, Snooker, Gamblers, Pairs. Some don’t use all of the obstacles, and the rules and strategy are quite different from Standard.

Leg = Q, but in NADAC you can get half-legs or half-Qs (5 points toward a title).

Performance Class = a category in USDAA that allows dogs to compete at lower jump heights

Performance Event = any non-conformation (agility, herding, lure-coursing, tracking, etc.)

Placement = finishing position relative to the other dogs in your class for a given event

Premium = the packet that includes the Entry Form, Event-Specific Information, and a Summary of the Rules/Classes for the Trial.

Q = Qualifying Run. USDAA requires a clean run for a Q, NADAC gives Ĺ-Qs for 5 faults or less. Qs accumulate toward Titles – the number required varies from organization to organization.

Show Dog = any pooch that exhibits in Dog Shows.  My mouth still trips over calling my Generic Brown Dog a "show dog", but it can help at motels that are iffy about pets.

Show n' Go = the AKC name for a Fun Match. Many are open non-registered and mixed-breed dogs, in contrast to most AKC events.

Standard or Regular Agility = traditional agility course, incorporating all obstacles the organization uses.

Title = the reward for accumulating Qs. Standard Agility Titles are awarded in all organizations at all levels; Games Titles are awarded at all levels in NADAC, but in Masters only in USDAA.

Trial = a competitive event sanctioned by one of the established agility organizations (see Organizations above)


If you have more questions about competing in agility trials, ask your trainer or contact me. If you have comments, corrections, or ideas for improving this document, send e-mail to

Thanks again to The Dogpatch for the Agility clip-art.

Last updated 11/07/2010

© Holly Newman 2000-2016. All rights reserved.
Photos for owner's use only. Reproduction or commercial use allowed only with permission of both owner and photographer.

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