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30 Years of Dog Agility Part 2

USDAA President Ken Tatsch continues to describe his recent experiences in England celebrating agility's 30th anniversary - and investigating the history of agility.


See the first part of this article here.

Understanding the U.K. Working Trials helps to understand the mindset of the day. The "WT" as they call it, was developed for police dog training, and includes phases in obedience, tracking, attack work, and yes, "agility".  This agility includes three exercises for demonstrating a dog's physical agility - a six-foot vertical wall, a thirty-inch hurdle, and nine-foot long jump. It wasn't a course as we know it, but with each obstacle being a separate exercise or "test," much as we might view the "power" phase of the "Power & Speed" course in dog agility today.

A number of clubs performed exhibitions of their working trial skills, along with some additional drills developed to show off the ability of their dogs. Some of these drills and exercises, of course, could also be seen in police and military canine corps demonstrations during the time - weave poles, dog walk, fire hoops, and retrieving flaming dumbbells. It is most significant to note that many of these obstacles were included in RAF K-9 corps exhibitions, which were also held at Crufts. But they also included variations on jumps, such as barrels stacked in the shape of an A-frame for the dogs to scale up and down, and just whatever ideas popped to mind. So one can see that the key elements that would lead these early pioneers to develop what we now know as dog agility were clearly in play. But it would not seem fair to call these exhibitions "dog agility" as we know the sport today, or even as was demonstrated in that first event in 1978.

An old brush jump.

There are some points in history that are a little cloudy. After all, Peter Meanwell did not wake up one day and say the sport would include one A-frame, a dog walk, see-saw, tire jump, weave poles, and so on.  Who all may have been involved in discussions may always be in question, but it is logical to assume that members of Peter Meanwell's club in Lincolnshire would be on that list. 

In visiting with members of the 1978 Crufts teams, it became apparent that there was some discussion and debate about what obstacles should be included in that first competition. The dog walk, tire jump, tunnels, and weave poles from the RAF exhibitions, the long jump and hurdles from the working trials, and the layout of a course with multiple hurdles perhaps derived from equestrian events, since many of the prior exhibitions were performed at agricultural fairs along with equestrian jumpers events. The A-frame and collapsed tunnel were claimed by one of the Yorkshire team members as his own invention, but others challenged that claim, indicating other foggy recollections.  Could the A-frame instead have been inspired by the RAF open ladder which required that the dog scale up and down this twenty-five-foot tall A-shaped structure? Or was it an adaptation of the pyramid of barrels that had been scaled in the earlier Lincolnshire exhibitions? Perhaps it simply identified and brought in from Schutzhund sport, which would make the most sense.  Since the neighboring Yorkshire obedience club competed against the Lincolnshire club in the 1978 Crufts show, most likely some members of that club played a part in formulating ideas too. 

The first course used at Crufts in 1978


Performance of the first agility course, showing a bending pole, which is no longer used.

Check back tomorrow for the conclusion of this series.


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