The history of dog agility can be traced to a demonstration in the late 1970s in the United Kingdom. It has since spread rapidly around the world, with major competitions held worldwide.
The first widely documented appearance of dog agility was as entertainment at the Crufts dog show in 1978. John Varley, a committee member from the 1977 show, was tasked with coming up with entertainment for the audience between the obedience and conformation competitions in the main ring. Varley asked dog trainer Peter Meanwell for assistance, and they presented a largely jumping-style course resembling something from the equestrian world to demonstrate dogs’ natural speed and agility. Many obstacles recognisable to modern handlers were already present at that demonstration, including the ‘Over & Under’ (A-frame/tunnel combination), ‘Tyre Hoop’ (tire), ‘Weaving Flags’ (weave poles), ‘Canvas Tunnel’ (collapsed tunnel) and ‘Cat Walk’ (dogwalk).
It was reported in Our Dogs newspaper that in 1974 Meanwell had either been a witness to or participated in such a competition at an agricultural fair, thus predating more widely published accounts for the start of dog agility. By some oral accounts, there was an earlier demo with similar intent using playground articles such as a seesaw (or teeter totter) and a tunnel, although this has not been documented. Another account attributes the obstacles used in displays by the Royal Air Force Police Dog Demonstration Team as seen at various country wide exhibitions of the time as obstacles were used in the day to day training of RAF Police Dogs.
At the 1978 Crufts, the demonstration immediately intrigued dog owners because of its speed and challenge and the dexterity displayed by the dogs. People wanted to see more, and indeed wanted their own dogs to be able to participate. The demonstration was so popular that it went on to grow into local, then national, and eventually international, competitions with standardized equipment. By 1979, several British dog training clubs were offering training in the new sport of dog agility, and that December the first Agility Stakes competition was held at the International Horse Show at Olympia in London.
In 1980, The Kennel Club became the first organization to recognize agility as an official sport with a sanctioned set of rules, and the first agility test to be held under the new regulations was the team event at Crufts that year. The event was judged by Peter Meanwell, with Peter Lewis as his scribe. Peter Lewis and John Gilbert (one of the few original 1978 competitors who continues to participate in agility competition, training, and judging) went on to play a major part in spreading the sport of dog agility across Europe and around the world. 1983 saw the founding of the Agility Club, the first national agility club in the UK publishing the Agility Voice, the first agility magazine.
During the early years, smaller dogs were not well catered for in the UK, with all having to compete over the same 30″ jump height with the large dogs. This started to change during the early eighties with classes being introduced for Mini dogs (up to 15″ at the shoulder, jumping 15″). The first Mini Agility Dog of the Year competition took place at Olympia in December 1987. Classes for Midi dogs (15-17″ at the shoulder, jumping 20″) were introduced in the Nineties, though it was not until 2005 that they too had their own competition at Olympia.
In 1992, the first weeklong agility show (Dogs in Need, in aid of dog charities) was held at Malvern in England, with a total of 885 dogs entered and 5,879 class entries. Dogs in Need is now one of several weeklong Kennel Club agility shows to take place each year, part of a busy calendar of day and weekend shows. Dog agility has grown in the UK to the point where the most popular Kennel Club shows regularly run ten or more rings a day, with up to 450 runs in each ring (or more if two judges are used in each ring).
Throughout the Nineties, dog agility in the United Kingdom was dominated by the Kennel Club, with KC shows the only ones that were widely publicised. This situation finally started to change in 2003 with the appearance of shows run by East Midlands Dog Agility Club (EMDAC). The Kennel Club initially attempted to defend its monopoly, before finally accepting that clubs and organisations outside its jurisdiction should also have the right to put on agility shows without any fear of disciplinary action against members or competitors from the Kennel Club.
This decision led to an explosion in the number of non-KC agility shows from late 2003 onwards. Many of these were (and still are) held by independent clubs as one-off events, but a small number of distinct agility organisations have also started to emerge. These include UK Agility, Agility Addicts and It Barks, all of which were founded in 2004. In 2006, EMDAC launched the British Agility Association (BAA). In addition to providing agility competitors with a wider range of choices in the type of show they wish to attend, these shows have acted as a catalyst in encouraging the Kennel Club to review its own agility rules and attitude towards the sport.
History in Canada
In Canada dog agility was introduced in 1988 by Art Newman from North Gower, Ontario when the Agility Dog Association of Canada (ADAC) was formed. The ADAC is now known as the Agility Association of Canada (AAC), which is currently a major trial sanctioning body across Canada. The first agility club was also founded in North Gower, Ontario, Canada; the All Dog Sports Club.
To participate in any Paws Squad AAC sanctioned trial, your dog must have an AAC dog identification number. You can apply for your dog’s AAC # here.