A Glossary of Agility Terms:

What is the sport of Dog Agility? It consists of a dog and handler team negotiating various obstacles with (hopefully) speed and precision. There are different organizations that govern the world of agility events. Depending on the organization sponsoring an event the course options vary, but the core principles are basically unchanging.

Agility is a fast paced sport and is a lot of fun to watch and to participate in. The atmosphere at these events is relaxed (unless you're actually running) and friendly. The action is usually non-stop, with at least two courses being run in separate rings throughout the day.

Most of the organizations that sponsor agility events are open to all breeds of dog, including mixed breeds. The only organization that bars mixed-breed dogs from competing is the American Kennel Club (AKC).


There are four organizations in the United States that govern dog agility. They are the North American Dog Agility Council (NADAC), United States Dog Agility Association (USDAA), AKC, and United Kennel Club (UKC). The UKC hosts very few events in California, so we're not real familiar with them (Woody has never competed in a UKC event). Since we refuse to have anything to do with the AKC it would be difficult for us to give any real insight into their agility events. That leaves NADAC and USDAA. These are the two organizations we work with the most often.

NADAC and USDAA have similar rules, similar obstacles, and similar skill levels. USDAA is the older organization and its courses are often considered to be more challenging than NADAC's due to more stringent rules regarding what is a "clean" run and what is a fault.

USDAA Skill Levels are, in order:

Starters/Novice - Stars is for dogs new to agility with handlers that are also new. Novice is for new dogs with experienced handlers.

Advanced - Basically the level you to when you're done being a beginner.

Masters - At this point you and your dog are pretty much comfortable with the whole Agility Thing and are now working towards accumulating points in the various games to get your National Champions (NatCh) title. Masters and NatCh titles are offered in the following courses; Standard (aka Titling), Jumpers, Snookers, Pairs Relay, and Gamblers.

NADAC Skill Levels are:

Novice - The beginner's level. Novice is split into Novice A and Novice B. These two are roughly equivalent to USDAA's Starts/Novice classes.

Open - Intermediate level.

Elite - Advanced.

The NADAC titles are given for the following courses (for all levels); Standard, Gambler's, and Jumpers.


Since both USDAA and NADAC's courses are fairly similar, we'll just explain them both at the same time.

Standard (aka Titling) - This is your basic, straightforward event. The judge designs a course and calculates the time that each height class will have to run it. Each dog & handler team must negotiate the course in the allotted time without screwing up any of the obstacles in order to have a "clean" run. The winner is determined by finding the team with the fewest faults (no screwed up obstacles) and the best time. Just like the Olympics, this frequently comes down the a fraction of a second between First place and Suck.

NADAC will usually have two standard runs per day at an event, making four possible runs per weekend. If you're really curious about how titling works, visit the NADAC web page for details.

Jumpers - This is a games class. Both USDAA and NADAC offer it. It's a titling event for NADAC at all levels, but is a non-titling event until the higher levels in USDAA. The course consists of only jumps and tunnels and moves very quickly. Most dogs enjoy these courses the most.

Gamblers - Another Games class offered by both USDAA and NADAC. The titling rules are the same as Jumpers'. There are two aspects to the course: the first is an open course with many obstacles, each worth a specific amount of points. The handler can send the dog over any obstacle they like, but they can only to any obstacle twice. The object is get as many points as possible before specific period of time expires. Once the time expires the handler must have the dog negotiate the gamble. This consists of between 3 to 5 obstacles that must be run in order. The hard part is that the handler is not allowed to cross a line on the ground, so must have good distance control over their dog.

Many spectators love watching Gamblers since an excellent run can be completely thrown away at the last second (so to speak). Very suspensfull and loads of fun.

Pairs - USDAA is the only organization that offers this game. It consists of a Standard type course split in two. Two dog/handler teams run the course in a relay fashion (one runs the first half of the course, hands off a baton, and the second handler completes the course).

Snookers- USDAA is the only organization that offers this game. If you're not familiar with, or are new to, the game it can be very confusing. Once you understand the game it's one of the most fun to watch and participate in. Each obstacle is given a color and a point value. The run consists of starting with three red obstacles that have to be completed in the following order: Red - color - Red - color - Red - color ("color" is any obstacle that is not Red). After the beginning (opening) sequence, the final (closing) sequence must be performed in order. To qualify the entire course must be completed.


Jumps (aka Hurdles) - Pretty self explanatory. Horizontal bars that a dog jumps over. The height of the bar is determined by the height of the dog. The taller the dog, the higher the jump height. The AKC's jumps are the lowest, NADAC's are in the middle, and ASDAA has the highest.

Tire Jumps - A suspended tire that the dog must jump through. It's held at the same height as the regular jumps.

Weave Poles - One of the toughest obstacles. These consist of a straight line of upright poles (the poles are in sets of six or twelve) that the dog must "weave" through (the dog must enter the poles by passing the first pole on the left shoulder, then slalom through the rest of the poles). Some dogs are incredibly good at this and are amazing to watch.


Tunnels - A 24" diameter flexible tube between 10' and 25' in length. They are able to be bent into various shapes (curves, 'U's, etc). Dogs generally love the tunnels, so they're frequently used as "traps" beside other obstacles in an attempt to get the dog to take the wrong obstacle.


Collapsible Tunnels - Another style of tunnel. The front end is a barrel approximately 3' long. Attached to this barrel is a 10' (approximately) "sock" that the dog must push through.


Contact Obstacles

This is a group of obstacles that have a yellow "safety area" painted on them. In USDAA the dog must place at least one paw (toes count) into this contact zone on both sides of the obstacle. NADAC only requires both contact on the Teeter, the A-frame, and the dog-walk.

Teeter-Totter - Much like the playground toy. When idle one end is always on the ground. The dog must enter the obstacle on this end, pause just past the center line (causing the other end to drop to the ground), and exit the other end.


A-Frame - The name basically describes it. It's a ramp with two sides that come to an apex, forming an 'A'. Because of the speed on the down-side of the A-frame contacts are frequently missed. USDAA has the A-frame height set higher than does NADAC.


Dog Walk - While not actually a cat-walk, that's what it most closely resembles. It's about 10" wide from beginning to end. It has a middle board about 10' long, and a ramp ascending and a ramp descending.


Table - Technically not a contact obstacle, but what-the-hell. NADAC says that this is a valid obstacle, but we've never seen it used at a NADAC trial. The obstacle is a table approx. 3'x3' and set to the same height as the jumps. Usually the dog must jump onto the table and then lie down while the judge counts to five. If the table is the last obstacle in a gamble then the dog merely has to jump onto the table.

Your intrepid geek-dad can be emailed at dzm@dzm.com