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Is Agility set to attain sporting status?

Greg Derrett and Deisel together jumping a clear round and going into 3rd place in the
Large Dog agility championships at Crufts 2006 under the watchful eye of the judge David Jolly

Asks OUR DOGS’ own armchair sportsman, Nick Mays

COULD DOG Agility become recognised as a true sport? Well, if synchronised swimming, snooker and darts can, why not? That’s the view of a great many Agility competitors and now the Kennel Club are said to be pushing to get Canine Agility up there in the pantheon of pectoral pumping. After all, it’s a lot more energetic than snooker or darts!

The issue was raised recently by Sue Mott of the Daily Telegraph, who penned a rather amusing and insightful article in the issue of March 10th (during Crufts) entitled: ‘Barking...Or Is This Really A Sport?’ In her article Mott investigates the growing popularity of Agility and considers its wider implications as a bona fide sport.

Mott writes: "Here is a truism. What cannot be accomplished by a pocketful of frankfurter and chopped lumps of cheese? I was about to find out. There are 6.5 million dogs in this country and most of them, from an Affenpinscher to a Shipperke, can be persuaded to hop over a hurdle for the price of a morsel of sausage. Obviously, do not try it with your St Bernard. You would need a pound of fillet steak. Anyway, big lumpy dogs are no good at all."


Unwittingly, Mott is heading for deep water. Saying that big dogs, lumpy or otherwise can’t do Agility won’t endear her to Jill Gibson and the Harlequin Great Dane Club who have proved that with the right sized equipment, big dogs can bound about with the best of them.

Mott continues: "But smaller ones, sheepdogs, poodles, they are the business. This partially explains why I was standing in a puddle of wet sand in a downpour in Hinkley trying to coax a poodle called Coco over a set of fences with only my trusty frankfurter and a few minutes of coaching to help me. Coco looked at me, as both our hairdos became flattened and matted with rainwater, and walked sorrowfully back to her owner. There must be more to it than that. Sure enough, there is.

"There are a lot of people - and their dogs - doing Dog Agility. There are 5,500 registered handlers and 9,200 participating dogs at Kennel Club shows. All of them charging around courses of hurdles, tunnels, A frames, see-saws and knee-high close-together weaving sticks that the dogs slalom through like Chemmy Alcott whipping down a mountain.

"It is a craze out there. They are doing it at Crufts as we speak and the final will be televised live on Sunday. Altogether 431 clubs cater for this eclectic taste…As a result, the Kennel Club want recognition for their performers. They do not want to call it an activity any more. They want to call it a sport. Playing Cluedo is an activity. Scratching in front of the television is an activity. It is not enough to be in such unhallowed company. The Kennel Club think Dog Agility has come of age and it is time to be dignified by the grander label 'Sport'.

"They don't want money. They don't want Sport England to cough up for better coaches, bigger hurdles or premium sausages. They want to rank alongside golf, tennis and show jumping as sportsmen, women and canines. It is a difficult campaign to deny."


Mott points out that the chief campaigner is Steve Croxford, the team manager of the British Kennel Club World Agility Team. Croxford is positive that Agility is a real sport and is quoted as saying: "Like most sports you've got to have a strategy. You've got to guide your dog around the course with verbal and visual commands; you need to have rapport with your dog, very similar to horse riding. Except you can't actually sit on the animal and steer it. You've got to do it from a distance. It requires visual and spatial awareness. Because you've got to watch where you're going, watch the dog and try not to fall over any equipment. And it's against the clock." This is compelling evidence as far at Mott is concerned.

Mott adds: "If sport is an activity you have to change your shoes for (a recent definition), it qualifies. You need trainers. Walking shoes are no good. The human has to sprint in bursts, anticipate and quell canine rebellion and all but get in the tunnel too. The dog just has to run like hell but, crucially, in the right direction…Like all the best sports, it has drama and uncertainty built in.

"But is it really sport? If show jumping is, why isn't Agility? Both feature man and beast going over jumps. In this case, man is just slightly more detached. It is not in the knees, but the voice. Greyhound racing is sport, and that is just whippets chasing a mechanised ball of fluff.

"Meanwhile, Coco keeps going in the wrong end of the tunnel. This, apparently, has something to do with my instructions. Shouting ‘Oh, over to the left a bit, Coco,’ is not readily translatable into dog.

"I must say I am not feeling particularly like a sportswoman at this moment, unless it be a swimmer just coming out of the pool, given the volume of rain."

Despite her discomfort at the rain, our Sue’s a game gal and she obviously is on the side of the Agility As A Sport campaign. She concludes: "But there is no doubt that dogs trained by Croxford are far more obedient than your average chase-a-stick brigade. They make lovely pets, which is more than you could say about sportsmen.

"It would be a hard heart that forbade these nice, if slightly bonkers, people the ascension to sport they so desire. Let them have their sporting status and then brace yourself for their campaign for entry into the 2012 Olympics."

Phil Buckley, the KC’s External Affairs Manager said that the KC is very much behind Agility now and would like to see it given greater coverage. Well, who are we to say otherwise?

You never know, with all the football and rugby games ending up on satellite TV, Agility would possibly even save Grandstand. One thing’s for sure, much as I like snooker, Agility’s a lot more exciting to watch!

Go to Champ Shows for more photos from the Agility at Crufts 2006