Safe Agility: Learning To Understand The Lines

As the sport of agility develops, and the speed of the dogs increases, safety issues become more and more important. We asked the OneMind Dogs Coaches around the world, what in their opinion is the number 1 safety issue in agility that they would like to have fixed.

One of the safety issues that OneMind Dogs Coaches mentioned most often, was the lack of understanding of the dog's lines when it comes to designing courses. The coaches agreed that making the line safe for the dog should not be the handlers' responsibility but rather the judge’s or coach’s. Approaches to chute, tire and contact obstacles were mentioned several times as the most important issue when it comes to safety on an agility course.

"The approaches to chutes and contacts need to be addressed. I think judges need to understand that the dog will take the correct line if cued correctly, but the problems arise when handlers are late with the cue. In turn, that sometimes causes injury to the dog. I think judges set up the course for the perfect dog and handler and that, of course, is never going to happen."

“When asked about obstacle placement I have heard judges reply that the position of these obstacles is safe as long as the handler handles them correctly. Unfortunately handlers will always make errors and with this logic the dog may end up paying the price for a handling error on these obstacles. Course design should never be unsafe because of handling errors.

"I teach the judging qualification for the UK KC. When we teach course design I tell everyone that if they are designing a course that is "safe if the handler cues correctly", I tell them it is an unsafe course and needs a rethink. Handlers are late with their cues either through bad handling or slips and spills."

The picture below demonstrates an example of a real life situation, where a sequence on a competition course ended up being dangerous for the dogs. The person who had designed the course had assumed the dogs would approach the chute from a different angle than they actually did.

Picture 1. 
Some course designers assume the dogs' running line to be what is shown on the left. On the right, you can see what actually happened in the competition in this sequence. Many dogs hit the chute entrance because their handlers either couldn't make it there in time to correct the dog's line of approach, or didn't know how to do it.

Do you want to learn more about how the dogs see the agility courses? Take a look at the article called "Agility From Dog’s Point Of View" which is now available for FREE for all our Free and Premium members. Remember to log in if you have an existing membership.

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