You've probably seen agility trials on TV: dogs weaving through poles like world-class slalom skiers, leaping through hoops, jumping over hurdles, zipping through tunnels, and scaling massive A-frames. If you found yourself thinking, "I bet my pit bull would be great at that," you'd be right.
The Rules of the Game
Originally modeled on equestrian show jumping events, canine agility has evolved from its beginnings as an intermission demonstration at the 1979 Crufts Dog Show to become the fastest-growing canine sport in North America and Western Europe. In the US and Canada, agility trials are held by local dog training clubs and sanctioned by several national organizations, each with their own rules, performance ideals, agility titles, and scoring systems.
Dogs and their human handlers work together as a team to complete an obstacle course consisting of weave poles, tunnels, various types of jumps, and contact obstacles in a race for time and accuracy. Since the course configuration is always different--ranging from simple and straightforward at the entry level to increasingly complex configurations requiring sharp turns and split-second timing at the more advanced levels--it's up to the handler to direct her dog through the obstacles in the correct sequence. Handlers may use voice commands and hand signals, but are not allowed to touch their dogs or the obstacles.
Dogs are divided into groups based on height, so your pit bull will compete only against dogs of similar size. Points are typically deducted for taking obstacles out of sequence or from the wrong direction, running past or refusing obstacles, displacing or knocking down jump bars, skipping weave poles, not touching the contact zones of the A-Frame, Dog Walk, or Teeter Totter, and jumping off the pause table too soon.
The two of you will also lose points for exceeding the maximum course time. To earn an agility title, your pit bull must achieve a certain number of qualifying scores in the competition class.
Pit Bulls as Natural Agility Stars
Medium-sized herding breeds from working lines have traditionally been the champs on agility courses, but with their breathtaking speed, amazing athletic ability, and keen intelligence, Pit Bulls are giving Border Collies and Aussies a run for their money.
Not only is your pit bull exceptionally well suited for the sport of agility, but he will thrive on the attention and camaraderie while the two of you are training and competing together as a team. Agility work offers the perfect combination of exercise and bonding for you and your pit bull.
In order to compete in agility trials, your pit bull must be safe around other dogs off-lead. Dog aggression can be a problem in terrier and working breeds, and pit bulls are no exception. If you are considering adopting a pit bull to compete in agility, your best bet is a dog-friendly young adult over the age of two.
Dog-friendly puppies can become considerably less tolerant of strange dogs as they mature, but a 2-3 year-old who's still great around other dogs is likely to remain that way.
If you have a pit bull you don't trust around strange dogs without a leash, but you'd love to give agility a shot, set up a course in your backyard and start training. Sure, you'll miss out on the ribbons and titles, but there's no reason you and your pit bull shouldn't enjoy the many benefits of this exciting activity!