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(Part 2)

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My name is Diane Eatherton and I acquired my first Cairn November of 1994 and determined that even though I had always had dogs, I was going do something with this one. As a result McKenzie River's Ted E. Bear aka Teddy, has had the opportunity to wear many hats, one of which has been agility. BTW, I am not and do not claim to be an expert.

There are at least three titling organizations in the U.S. - (AKC), North American Dog Agility Council (NADAC) and United States Dog Agility Association, Inc. (USDAA). An interesting statistic from USDAA is that out of 2370 titles earned since 1990 - There have been 2 Agility dog (AD) titles earned by Cairns - None in Advanced Agility Dog (AAD) or Master Agility Dog (MAD). I know there are many Cairns who would enjoy this sport, but possibly their owners are pretty busy with other pursuits.

Here is a little information on the American Kennel Club's form of agility. There are four titles that can be obtain through AKC, Novice Agility (NA) Open Agility (OA) Agility Excellent (AX) and Masters Agility Excellent (MX) Most Cairns would probably jump in the 12 inch division for dogs 14 inches and under at the withers. In the novice classes, handlers may walk dogs through the contact obstacles only, prior to the start of the class. In Novice there will be a minimum of 12, maximum of 13 obstacles. There are no weave poles in novice.

The cost of a Novice event is at the shows I've attended is $20.00 for one run. The contact zones are wider and one of the peculiarities of AKC is that a knocked down bar on a jump is an elimination. It is best for you to read the official rules if you plan on playing in this game. There are deductions for any faults that you may commit on the course. The a-frame is 5'6" in AKC also. To earn a title you must have three qualifying runs under at least two different judges.

North American Dog Agility Council (NADAC) is a little different there are three different titles you can acquire Novice, Open and Elite levels. The Novice level is the first entry level for every class.

Usually a show will feature two runs in titling, one in a Gamblers class and one in a jumpers class at each level at all jump heights plus Veterans for dogs age seven or older. Novice level uses 14-16 obstacles and there will be weave poles. The cost for titling in our area is about $15.00 for the two runs and the games Gamblers and Jumpers usually run $7.50 per game with a show package if you want to do everything at a show. The A-frame height is 5'6" in this organization and you need to be a member or have sent for a membership to be eligible to compete. You can get titles in Gambler and Jumpers as well as titling in this group. You may get 5 faults and still qualify for a leg in this group. The top title in this group is a

NADAC Agility Trial Champion (Natch). This organization also requires three qualifying runs to obtain a title. However, you can stay at the Novice level as long as you like and acquire extra points.

United States Dog Agility Association (USDAA) has the tightest, trappiest type of courses of all of the organizations. Starters classes are for any dog that has not earn the Agility Dog title and are handled by a person who has not previously earned the Agility Dog title with another dog. Novice Classes are for dogs that have not earned the Agility Dog title with a handler with experience. The Advanced classes shall be for dogs that have earn the Agility Dog title and not have earned the Advanced Agility Dog title. So, you need 3 clean runs to get an Agility dog title in this group. After you move into Advanced Agility the game rounds of Gamblers, Pairs or Team Relay, Snooker and Jumpers begin to count for titles. In the Agility dog class these are just for fun and experience. The cost of classes in the organization is comparable to NADAC; one difference is there is only one titling run a day. A novice class usually will have at least 14 obstacles. The a-frame will be 6'2" in this organization and there will be twelve weave poles. You must be a member to compete. Each organization will have a Standard Course Time (SCT) for each run; the judge measures the course and sets the time limit of how many yards per second each dog must run. The judge will inform contestants of how much time will be allowed for each run. This organization requires you to move to the next level of competition once you have three clean runs under at least two different judges.

Teddy started with Puppy Kindergarten early in 1995 and has pretty much been in some form of class ever since. We are working on obedience and maybe some day will try for our CD. At this time, it works nicely because; it helps him focus a bit better. We have used operant conditioning or clicker training, as most of you are probably familiar with these methods of training. Cairns work better with motivation. Agility in all but AKC in which a buckle collar can be used is a sport where the dog runs naked -- no collar at all. I'm sure most of you will agree jerk and pull doesn't produce a Cairn that is eager to work.

Teddy began his first agility class the summer of 1995 a puppy and quite wild. The jumps were very low, as was the A-frame and Dog walk; much emphasis is placed on safe execution of all equipment. The dogs are worked very slowly and on leash, especially with the teeter-totter, as something that moves is quite scary for them. Teddy didn't much care for the teeter, so my husband built him a small one for the back yard out of a 2 X 10 with roofing on it so he would not slip. Now he is fine. We also had a problem with the A-frame in USDAA, which as I mentioned earlier is 6' 3" at the apex. The first USDAA show we went to he couldn't quite handle it, so my husband again built me one for the back yard and now it is fine. However, he does like to get to the top and survey the surroundings, especially at shows.

The contact zones are at the bottom of the A-frame, dog-walk and teeter-totter. The obstacle will be painted one color and the contact zone approximately two and a half feet long at the bottom of each side will be painted yellow and the dog must touch that contact zone before leaving the obstacle. This is somewhat easier with a small dog, but they can and do jump off occasionally.

People must find out what works with their particular dog. Some folks in training use the clicker to teach contact zones and when the dog gets in the yellow they have them lay down and click and treat.

Rules from the United States Dog Agility Association (USDAA).

The Table: The dog must jump onto the table and assume the down position for a period of five (5) seconds. The judge will count aloud when the dog is fully down. If the dog should leave the table or not remain in the down position for the full count which is 5-4-3-2-1 and go. The handler must reposition the dog and start over. The dog cannot leave the table until the judge has said the final "O" in go out. In AKC the judge has the option of using a sit or a down for this command.
Weave Poles: The dog must weave in and out in a continuous motion down the complete line of poles, beginning with the dog passing on the right side of the first pole, crossing the line of poles between pole #1 and pole #2 toward the left side of the second pole, then crossing the line of poles between pole #2 and pole #3 toward the right side of the third pole and continuing in sequence down the complete line of poles. This is the most difficult to teach, but is really fun.

At home Teddy is really quick on this, but away he's a little hesitant, so I use a toy he loves and a wonderful execution gets big time play time, plus treats since he is a food hound.

Collapsed tunnel: The dog must enter the rigid opening to the tunnel and burrow through the collapsed portion of the tunnel. Jumping over any elevated portion of the tunnel or back out of or exiting the tunnel entrance shall constitute a refusal. I've learned if the dog ever gets tangled in the tunnel; you do not make a big deal out of it and scare them. It is better to tell him he's a good dog and "Wasn't that fun?" and go on about your business as if it had never happened.
Pipe tunnel: The dog must enter the opening to the tunnel in the direction designated by the judge and exit the other end of the tunnel. Entering the tunnel from the wrong end shall constitute running the wrong course. Jumping over any portion of the tunnel or backing out of or exiting the tunnel entrance shall constitute a refusal. Tire jump: The dog must jump through the tire in the direction designated by the judge. Jumping through the tire or passing through the perimeter of the tire frame in the wrong direction shall constitute running the wrong course. Jumping between the tire and the frame, or jumping over or running under the tire in the proper direction shall constitute a refusal.
Hurdles: The dog must jump over the hurdle in the direction designated by the judge. Spread Hurdles: A spread hurdle must be performed under the same standards as the single hurdle. Entering or exiting the side of a spread hurdle, or failure to jump the front and back elements together as a single hurdle in the proper direction shall constitute a refusal.

We've been really fortunate to live in an area where there is an active agility group. Willamette Agility Group (WAG) has many generous trainers and has classes for all levels of dogs. This group has a very giving membership. Teddy has been in two beginner classes and several intermediate classes. We actively train some equipment just about every day, if not at a friend's arena, here at home. We live on a city lot 75' by 150 and quite a bit is taken up by house and shop. But we do have 6 jumps an A-frame, weave poles, a Cairn size chute, a tire and a 15' tunnel on the way. There are so many variations that even with this small amount of equipment it can be a lot of fun and challenging. If I don't remember to train, Teddy will often come and get me and look at me as if to say "Lets Play", I really feel honored that Gerrianne has allowed me to use this article.

The following is a reprint by permission of Gerrianne Darnell from "Clean Run - April 1997 issue":

Although the small dog normally runs a shorter path and gets a few more seconds in which to run, he runs the same course as the big guys do. Small dogs bring a different physical perception to the agility course.

One analogy would be to compare a dog's height to a person's height. A man that is six feet tall has an advantage in perception and movement over a three-foot child. He can see better where his is going and is not constantly "looking up" to see what is hovering above him.

Look at the agility equipment. The A-frame, dogwalk and teeter are the same height for the Papillon as they are for the Border Collie. The 6'3" tall A-frame can be a real physical challenge for some small dogs. A very small dog can spend valuable seconds waiting for the teeter to come down. Weave poles that are twenty-two inches apart can seem like a might big gap for a dog that stands nine or ten inches at the shoulder. In addition to the weave poles themselves, the base of some weave poles can be an obstacle in itself to the small dog. And in addition to all this, a wet chute can be virtually impossible for a small dog to push through on a rainy day!

Crossing behind is often more difficult for the handler of a smaller dog. Because the small dog gets closer to the jump before he actually commits to jumping, he may be more aware of what the person behind him is doing. If the handler crosses before the dog is committed to the jump, the dog may consider the cross as a signal to pull off the jump at the last second; this is in contrast to the larger dog who commits to the jump from farther away, thus giving his handler more room to make the rear cross.

It is sad to say that small dogs are sometimes risking life and limb to compete, not just in agility but in other dog sports as well. If two dogs of equal size have a minor "disagreement", lips are raised and a little fur may fly. However, if a small dog and a big dog do not see eye-to-eye on something, regardless of which one is at fault, a small dog can be seriously injured very easily. Easier!

Are there advantages to training and showing the small dog in agility? Yes! It seems to me that we agility people spend far more time carting our equipment around, setting it up, and arranging it in sequences than we do actually training our dogs. So, many of us want more than one dog to train to justify all that work. It's much easier to have a herd of little dogs in your house than several big dogs. They bring in less mud (and they're easier to clean up when they do!) they shed less hair, they don't slobber, and several of the little ones will fit in a small-to medium -sized car.

There are also some equipment advantages with training smaller dogs. Some very large dogs have a problem controlling their feet on the dog walk, especially the narrower dogwalks. Little dogs can virtually scamper across the dogwalk. Contact zones are comparable larger to a smaller dog than they are to a bigger dog. Although small dogs do miss contacts, it is usually easier for them to consistently hit contacts than it is for larger dogs.

Conditioning may be easier to maintain with a small dog. When the winter winds howl, a small dog can be exercised more easily inside than his larger cousin's. There are usually not as many small dogs entered in the various agility classes, therefore it may be easier to win or place with a nice working small dog than it is a larger dog. An exception to this rule was last year's AKC Agility National Championship where the 12-inch class was the largest division, and a 12-inch dog won the title of overall Agility Champion. Hurrah!!

Smaller dogs may give the handler more options, such as crossing in front, because the small dog is probably not moving at the speed of light as some Border Collies do. Small dogs usually don't have jumping problems and their lighter bone and weight means less impact on the important front ends.

Are small dogs easier or harder to train than big dogs? Obviously, that depends on the dog! However, a small dog's career may last longer than a larger dog's; many small dogs are just hitting their stride at age seven or eight, whereas a larger, heavier bones dog may be looking at retirement.

Training Small Dogs

What can an instructor do to help the students with small dogs? Weave poles can be difficult to teach to a very small dog. It seems to be much harder for the small dog to conceptualize weave poles. One way to combat this is to considerable shorten up the distance between the weave poles when first teaching the exercise, perhaps to 16 inches or so. This can help the small dog understand the weave poles as a set of related objects, versus individual poles that seem to the dog to be several feet apart!

Small dogs may need their own set of weave poles in class, with different wires than the ones the bigger dogs are using. If you are using the commercial weave pole wires that can be purchased from Amigo Enterprises, try using a double set of wire to help the smaller dog conceptualize the idea to stay in the weave pole channel. One thing I have used with a lot of success is the short garden fencing that is about a foot tall. The fencing can be stuck directly in to the ground if training outside, or the wires that stick in the ground can be bent at a 90-degree angle so that the fencing can be used indoors. I keep some of the fencing in my car to take to the club building and other different places when I want to work on weave pole entrances. It folds up and easy to transport, and it comes in white or green. The green fencing is probably more difficult for the dog to see, therefore hi is focusing more on the weave poles themselves. Because the weave pole base itself can be an obstacle, it is most important for the small dogs to get as much experience on different weave pole bases as possible.


A popular way to teach contacts is for the dog to put his front feet on the ground while his rear feet are on the contact and then the handler releases the dog from the contact. While this will work for a small dog on the dogwalk, many of the really small dogs will not be able to physically do this on the A-frame. And, it could actually be dangerous to ask this of a very small dog with some teeters. An instructor must be aware of what the small dogs in class are physically capable of doing when it comes to controlling their body on the contacts. The dogwalk, teeter and A-frame should stay low while these behaviors are being taught; an important thought for all sizes of dogs.

A best case scenario when teaching small dogs to jump would be to use wingless jumps. You often see a small dog handler in the agility ring who runs up to the jump with her dog and then runs around the wing while her dog is jumping; the handler then meets up with her dog on the other side of the jump. It would be easier for the small dog person to learn to put a little distance between herself and her dog without the wings first, and then add the winged jumps when the handler is more comfortable with running at a distance parallel to the dog.


When working on gambles in class, think about the distance that a small dog is being asked to deal with. Shorten up the distance by at least half for the small dogs during beginning gamblers training. Asking a small dog to learn to work away from you at the same distance as the larger dogs is unfair to the small dog; it would be like asking the larger dogs to do a fifty-foot gamble right off the bat! It is better to build on success in all areas of training rather than ask too much of the dog and then have to back up.

Encourage your small dog people to stand up straight when working with their dogs. People with small dogs want to get down on their dog's level and too often we watch people crawl around the ring after their dogs.

Bear in mind that the small dog may tire more easily. Does a young dog of any size really need to be entered in every class that is offered during a trial weekend? Always be thinking of your dog's motivation; it is the key to everything. If he is too tired to concentrate on the task at hand, he will make mistakes and could even injure himself. Be patient with your small dog students. It may take longer for some small dogs to reach the same level of performance and consistency of some of the larger breeds. But the journey is most certainly worth it!!


I'd like to thank Sharon Nelson, Stuart Mah, Linda Mecklenburg and Terry Herman who continue to answer my countless questions about how to better train and handle a small dog." Gerrianne Darnell has been showing dogs in obedience, tracking and conformation for about 20 years. The agility bug bit her hard about three years ago. Gerrianne has put a MX, NAC, AD and U-ACH on one of her OTCH Papillions and is halfway to the MX on a second Pap, with a third waiting in the wings. She reads, writes, talks and breathes AGILITY, and wonders if she'll ever have time to campaign another obedience dog!"

Credit for resource material goes to AKC - Regulations for Agility Trials - can be purchased through AKC for $1.50 at least at the time I obtained mine. Official rules for United States Dog Agility Association, Inc. - comes with a membership. Official rules for North American Dog Agility Council - comes with a membership.


Suggested reading: Agility is Fun by Ruth Hobday - This book has agility exercises and is very helpful.

Agility Training by Jane Simmons-Moake another good book has dimensions for do it your-selfers to build equipment. Such as materials needed and how to assemble.

Jumping from A - Z by Chris Zink - is also excellent - If you ever get a chance to go to a seminar in your area, Chris presents a wealth of material in a very interesting manner.

Don't Shoot the Dog by Karen Pryor - A good starting point for clicker training (aka operant conditioning).

Choose to Heel by Dawn Jecs - Excellent book for terrier owners an easier way to teach obedience.

Agility is fun and a lot of work. Every show I take part in I learn something new, maybe something I should be doing differently or a better way to train.

Cairns and all dogs at times have their own agenda. At an AKC show last June; Teddy and I had one obstacle to go. He ran past it and I called him back, he came and spotted a hole leading to the outside of the arena and just plain left. Of course, I took off to find him, only to have him come back and go up to the judge as if to say "Where did Mom go?" It was a real crowd pleaser so we just went with the flow.

Some times dogs will get the zoomies and just run and play and say equipment what equipment, just having a really good time. Some times dogs will get an agenda and decide they can't possibly do a piece of equipment and it is just a faze they go through and with patience, motivation and treats it can be worked through. The bottom line in agility, is have fun, the titles really don't mean much if you don't have a happy willing dog. As all of you know from being owned by these guys they do like to work, so whatever you do whether its Therapy, Conformation, Go to Ground or Agility.

Diane Eatherton eatherd@PIONEER.NET
Disclaimer: Reader may download one copy for personal use, but any further dissemination of the article needs to be with express permission of the author.

Other links to Agility information:
Dog Agility - An introduction to Dog Agility with some cool photos and links.

The Agility FAQs

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