Sunday, April 3, 2011

My take on agility

First off, I will start by saying I don't run agility. I have never taken a class, and have watched precious few classes. And, I realize that for some people, it is everything they want in a dog sport, and they love it.

For me, flyball is the sport of choice. I love participating in it, watching it, training it, and just generally being around and helping out with the sport.

I spent the morning at an agility trial, which underlined for me some of the main things that makes me prefer flyball to agility. Now, keep in mind, this is my take on comparing the sports, and is totally based on my limited and admittedly biased experience with the two.

First and foremost, flyball is a team sport, while agility is an individual event. Yes, by individual I mean one dog one handler. Sure, you make a lot of friends, have people you hang out with at trials, people you train with, etc., but at the end of the day in agility, it is you and your dog, alone, who determine the outcome of the day. In flyball, it is the combined work of your four handlers, their four dogs, and your box loader. Often tons of help comes from a team captain, a pass caller, ball shagger, and your backup dogs and handlers. Sure, it is disappointing sometimes when your dog runs great and you lose the heat, or no finish, because of a mistake by someone else. That is something you don't experience in agility. But, in flyball, when you achieve something as a team, be it a new best time for the team, a new title for a dog, initiating a new dog, handler, or box loader, etc, it is something the whole team celebrates and goes through together. You don't just have friends or training buddies at a flyball tournament, you have teammates. And to me, that makes a huge difference.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

At the agility trials I have attended, both with friends competing and just to watch, there is a lot of down time. Lets face it, watching people walk a course or rearrange equipment between classes is not all that exciting. Then, if competing, you spend most of the day sitting around waiting for your next run, generally (and feel free to correct me if I'm wrong) only getting out there and running 2-4 times total in a day, for about 30 second to a minute. At a flyball tournament, sure, we often get started a bit late. But, once the racing for the day begins, it keeps going steadily all day, with the exception of the very occasional conflict and generally a single lunch break. You get to get out there with your team and race normally 5-8 times in a day, and each race takes 5 minutes or longer. In between races, you can always watch the constant action, or else hang out with your team, talk strategy to people who it will effect directly, and eat from the potluck of great food most teams bring along. All in all, flyball days seem to move much faster, and have more packed into them, than agility days. Then again, I've never competed in agility.

The third thing is how much easier flyball is to understand by the casual observer. Break it down, and it is a race. The first team with four dogs to cross the finish line wins. The winner is indicated by the judge after each heat. You don't have to know much about the rules to get excited over who is going to win. Agility, while a lot of fun to watch, is much more precision oriented. Many things can go wrong on a course that someone unfamiliar with the specifics of agility will not understand, or even notice. At the end of a course, they may not have any idea if the dog did good, bad, or just okay. And, since it is individual format, not run head-to-head like flyball, there is nothing for the casual observer to grab onto and cheer for.

This photo, which I am using from Surf City Flyball Club's website (listed below), shows what I mean about a head-to-head race. An obvious winner, and something an audience can clap for even without knowing anything about the sport.
Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Being the sport that I have immersed myself in (as we say, flyball is not just a sport, it's an addiction), there are a ton of other things I love about this sport. These are just the top three that going to the agility trial this morning brought into solid view for me. Those of you who do agility, please feel free to comment, correct, or generally brag about your sport being better. I just wanted to share why I think this sport is best for me, and would love to hear from some people as to why you love the sport you participate in.


  1. Interesting post! Sophie and I compete in flyball. You are right it is a complete addiction. I love it! I love spending time with my dog and working with a team. We cheer each other on and work closely to help our dogs. This past weekend that fact hit home when we staged an impromtu cupcake party for our first Onxy title holder (we are a newly formed team even though many of us have competed for years.) It was fun and you could fill the strength of our friendship.

    That said, I have just recently started agility. Mostly because flyball is so much fun, I wanted to try another sport with Sophie. I thought agility would be interesting because the bond you have with your dog is so important when it is just you handling your dog.

    I am not sure if we will stick with agility, Sophie doesn't seem to love it. But I have found it to be another way to deepen the bond between Sophie and myself which is the whole reason I got into dog sports in the first place. :-)

  2. I do both agility and flyball (and obedience too, which really doesn't typically fit into the agility/flyball mix lol). But like you, I don't like to have down time. I like to be on my feet. At agility trials, if I'm not running, I'm working. I'll scribe or jump set or something to help AKC trials generally only have 2 or 3 runs a day, which can make for a lot of down time. ASCA or USDAA trials have 5-6 runs a day, which is lots more work for dog and handler.

    As for the team aspect... I'm a recluse. :) I've always been a loner and have really loved the ability to do things just my own way in agility. The team aspect of flyball can be fun, but I can also find it super, super stressful. My priority list with dog sports goes agility, obedience, then flyball. Yup, flyball is last. Unfortunately my team knows it, but they live with me anyway. :)

    I find agility more challenging than flyball. And I find obedience even more challenging than agility. Obedience is the most precise, difficult dog sport I've ever done. And I LOVE the challenge! The biggest challenge is keeping your dog happy and excited, while doing extreme precision and repetitive things. Obedience is HARD! I love it. :) Of course I have an amazing trainer, and I would never ear pinch a dog. I use positive training methods.

    Anyway that's my 2cents about the dog sports. :)

  3. Interesting observations. I am just starting flyball, so I can speak about tournaments. I can speak about my feelings with the other sports though.

    I like agility. I would love agility if I were not so fat, but thats another issue. Agility is an individual challenge, you are right, but its so much more. You are competing against differing challenges in each course, and there are performance rules. I think at least so far, it is much harder to teach than any other sport because of the speed and amped up quality of it. There is the unknown factor, you never know what the courses will be until you walk them.

    I love obedience and rally, but am not the best teacher of it. But we are working on getting better. There is really no unknown or expected portion of either of these. yes the order of the courses can change, but you know the limitations of the signs in rally. I love these because of the perfection aspect. You really are trying to acheive perfection in the performance.

    Flyball needs certain skills, but once the dog understands the job, it seems there is not a lot of change to it. (if I am wrong I spologize, we are new at flyball) I think the team aspect will be fun, but yes it will be new for us.

    The other sport I really love is weight pull. Again its a sport that is just you and your dog, but there is so much more mental work to that game than you would think. Its so cool to see your dog break out a wieght they have never done before, and so challenging to find a way to help your dog realize they CAN do it. Locally here the weight pull group is very supportive while being competative-lots of cheering and help when needed. I love weight pull, and I love the local weight pull people. I know you werent comparing WP but I think its really my favorite of all.

  4. Hi! You've won a drawing at All Things Dog Blog which will include a few extra goodies as well. Here's the post with your prize and instructions. I'll need your address:

    Happy tails!

  5. I think all of you have some great points about the various sports everyone is involved in.

    Seems like the sport we love the most probably comes down to what we value the most as a person and what our basic personality makes us enjoy.

    Cynthia loves the individual challenge of agility, with the chance to improve your personal dog-human bond. Dawn likes it for the individual challenges faced every time out on a new course.

    A number of you mentioned agility taking more training, more precision than flyball, giving you more to do after the initial training period. I can't really disagree with that, though I am of the belief that flyball takes as much training as you put into it. Sure, you can train up your dog, then compete for years with very little training happening.

    Or, you can set goals and work towards them through training, improving stride, box turns, passes, starts. Working on boxes of all different designs. Teaching your dog to be versatile in everything they do.

    But again, I have given away that flyball is the sport of my life right now. Maybe, if you guys follow the blog long enough, I might branch into agility in the future, or maybe lure coursing will become the light of the moment.

    Thanks everyone for your well thought out input on this. I think the debate of which sport is better, not just between flyball and agility, but between all dog sports, is something the dog community at large and each of us individually end up thinking about at some point. Often, for people in multiple sports, it will come to a head when you have an awesome flyball tournament the same weekend as agility the same weekend as obedience the same weekend as weight pull, etc, and then you really have to decide.