Fox Terriers and … Agility Ability
Fox terriers are agile little dogs. They continually amuse and amaze us with their antics. For example, climbing up onto the table just in time for dinner (ours, not theirs), squeezing into tight nooks and crannies in hot pursuit of vermin and running (away) at lightening speed. If only there was a way to channel all that energy. How about the fun sport of canine agility? Climbing, tunneling, and running are all elements of what is required on an agility course, so any fun loving terrier is a natural for the sport.
The key is to motivate the independent fox terrier to perform on cue. Believe it or not, it can be done; we just have to train our dogs a bit differently than most by tapping into their natural sense of fun and adventure.
Agility was created as an entertainment event in between classes for the world renowned Crufts Dog Show in England in 1977. The idea came from equine show jumping and eventing, both popular sports in Europe. In fact, the creators used a mixture of horse jumps along with a few newly created obstacles for the first dog agility event. Since then, agility has migrated across the ocean to become an increasingly popular dog sport.
Agility: A Dog’s Ability to Overcome Handler Error
The object of agility is to display the bond between handler and dog by completing obstacles on the course under standard course time with no faults or as few as possible, depending upon the venue and level the dog/handler team is competing at. The judge measures the course and calculates how much time the team has to complete it. How high the dog must jump is determined by the height of the dog. A bigger, longer strided dog is allowed less time to run the course than a tiny, short strided dog. The dog’s height is measured at the withers, or the top of the shoulder. Jump heights vary according to agility organizations, but most fox terriers are required to jump between twelve and sixteen inches.
The team earns faults for any incorrectly performed obstacle such as a wrong course or dropped jump bar. The last one third of the down ramps on the contact obstacles such as the teeter, A Frame, and dog- walk are painted yellow. This is so the handler can ensure her dog has at least one paw within the yellow area before dismounting. Vaulting from the top of the A frame could cause some serious damage to our little friends and earn them an NQ or non-qualifying score.
Teams compete at various levels and start at the novice or beginner level. As the team earns enough qualifying scores, they are awarded a “title” and can move up to the next level. The course challenges increase in difficulty as teams move up to the next level. The number of levels offered depends upon the agility organization, with three being the most common. For example, the American Kennel Club (AKC) offers three levels, Novice, Intermediate, and Excellent. The Teacup Dogs Agility Association (TDAA) offers three levels as well, Beginners, Intermediate, and Superior. Most agility organizations bestow a top award that recognizes a team’s superior agility ability. In AKC, the epitome of achievement is the Master Agility Champion (MACH). In TDAA it is the Teacup Agility Champion (TACh). Other venues have established similar titles for top dogs in the sport.
Introduction to Obstacles
Most agility venues offer variations on obstacles such as jumps, tunnels, chutes, weave poles, the A-frame, teeter or seesaw, pause table and dog walk. Various types of jumps are used such as the broad jump, single, double, and triple bars. The obstacles are placed on the course and are arranged to offer a variety of handling maneuvers, which are part of the handler’s competitive strategy. Here are some photos of Hank the Wire Fox Terrier on the agility abstacles.
So, you’ve decided to give agility a try. Great, it’s a fun, relationship building game you can play with your dog. No need to compete if you’re not the competitive type. A few select pieces of equipment in your backyard can provide hours of fun for you and foxie, not to mention impress your neighbors as well
Agility equipment is readily available for purchase, or you can make it yourself. To purchase agility obstacles online, do a web search for agility equipment. Affordable Agility is one popular site that sells starter equipment. If you’d like to make your own, visit the TDAA site for specifications on making teacup size equipment. It’s great for training and a lot easier to haul around than the standard size equipment.
There are many good agility books and videos available. See the resource section below for some suggestions. There is one book that is well worth mentioning to terrier owners. “When Pigs Fly” by Jane Killion, who trains terriers herself, offers many pointers for those of us who sometimes feel like giving up on training our favorite breed.
Books and videos are great, but nothing beats a good agility class if you’re interested in learning about the sport. Make sure the instructor is willing to work with terriers; not all have the understanding or patience to do so. I was once told to get another dog if I wanted to compete. I did, another wire fox terrier!
Some fox terriers are highly excitable and reactive in class. Don’t give up, these dogs can learn to focus, you just need the right instructor who is willing to work with you. Another good book on that subject is Control Unleashed by Leslie McDevitt. The best training tip I’ve found for foxies is to make training fun! These dogs are smart; they don’t need to drill and drill and drill. They catch on quickly and want to move on to the next agenda item. Reward and play should be the cornerstone of terrier training. After all, life is one big game for a terrier!
Ready to Trial?
So, you’ve trained over obstacles and worked through distractions to improve your terrier’s focus. You’re ready to take the plunge and enter your first trial. If you haven’t done so already, try entering a fun match, mock trial or even an agility run through. These are all great ways to get your feet wet and expose your dog to running in different places. Consider entering an indoor trial first because most dogs (especially terriers) are easily distracted outdoors. It took my wire fox terrier, Hank, three years of trialing indoors before he was ready to trial outdoors. You never know what you may encounter at a trial, so be prepared for the unexpected. At our first outdoor trial, the first thing Hank saw as he got out of his crate was a chicken coop filled with noisy fowl. To top it off, the ring was next to a wood pile teeming with chipmunks. I realized then that one has to have a sense of humor to run a terrier.
Try to arrive early at your first trial to acclimate yourself, collect your arm band, check the running order and have your dog measured.
Pick up a course map and study it before you walk the course. This will help you plan your strategy. Attend the judge’s briefing and don’t hesitate to ask questions. Most judges try their best to make newcomers feel welcome. You will finalize your strategy as you walk the course and observe other handlers walk too. You can gain valuable insight as how to handle specific course challenges. Watch other teams run to determine which handling maneuvers are working and which aren’t.
As you run your course, remember what fun it is to play with your friend. Foxies are full of surprises and you never know what kind of run you’ll get. But that’s why we love this breed, isn’t it? At our last TDAA trial, my Superior level wire fox, Hank, came out of the tunnel, spotted a bar setter’s water bottle, grabbed it, and ran around the ring playing keep away. Needless to say, we didn’t qualify in that run, but Hank didn’t know it and he sure had a grand old time – along with everyone who was watching.
I’ll leave you with a quote from Jane Killion. In the March, 2011 issue of Clear Run magazine, she states “It’s easy for handlers of a Pigs Fly dog to get really lost and discouraged. But you can do it. You can run agility with your dog, and you don’t have to make any excuses for not getting a different breed of dog. If you stand by your dog and put in the work, you will be rewarded with a lifelong gift of becoming a masterful dog trainer.”
Have fun and May the Course Be with You.
Canova, A., Canova, J., Goodspeed, D. (2008). Agility training for you and your dog. Guilford, CT:
The Lyons Press.
Garrett, Susan. (2005). Shaping success: the education of an unlikely champion. Chicopee, MA: Clean
Killion, Jane. (2007). When pigs fly: training success with impossible dogs. Wenatchee, WA: Dogwise
Parsons, Emma. (2005), Click to calm. Waltham, MA: Sunshine books, Inc.
McDevitt, Leslie. (2007). Control unleashed. South Hadley, MA. Clean Run Productions LLC.
Agility Equipment and Gear
Clean Run Productions
The American Kennel Club
Teacup Dog Agility Association
United States Dog Agility Association
North American Dog Agility Council
Canine Performance Events
|Report Date: 2012-03-26|
|THE AMERICAN KENNEL CLUB|
AKC TopDogssm in Agility PACH Competition for Fox Terriers (Wire)
|1||Dolan’s Rowdy Isaac AX AXJ MXP3 MJP4 NFP||D||481||17||651|
|2||Scanwyre Vicki’s Choice OA NAJ MXP MJP OFP||D||253||6||313|
|3||Halcar Keepsake VCD2 UD RE MXP2 MJP2 NFP||B||233||0||233|
|4||Many Prize Cranberry AX MXJ AXP MJP||B||159||0||159|
|5||Sqwires Hot To Trot RN OA OAJ AXP AJP NFP JE||D||82||1||92|
|6||MACH Skye Doggie Bristle CD AXP MJP||D||78||0||78|
|7||MACH2 Aljamar Bahr-Nichter’s Cosmo CDX AXP AJP JE||D||33||0||33|