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Agility Builds Teamwork

The Newfoundland Club of America—responsible for the preservation, protection and welfare of the Newfoundland Dog in America since 1930.

Working through a tunnel

Working through a tunnel

It used to be that when a Newfoundland was listed on the running order sheet outside the agility ring, the snickering and the jokes would begin. Jokes like "are you sure the equipment is strong enough?" or "can your dog really jump that high?" or "can your dog really fit between those weave poles?" were routine. I seldom hear those comments any more, and there are now many competitors and judges who look forward to watching the big dogs run.

Running a Newf in agility is definitely different than running the average size dog. They are a lot bigger and heavier which means that it is important that your dog is in good shape. Regular walks and runs are important, as well as making sure that your dog is in good health and weight. It's not fair (or safe) to ask a dog that is 20 or 30 pounds over their ideal weight, or in poor health, to run and jump a full height agility course. They don't have to have a perfect body to do agility, but you need to know your dog's limitations. It may mean that you only do agility at home and class with less than full height obstacles. If your Newf isn't up to jumping, you may have to limit your agility to just tunnels and weave poles, but you and your Newf can still have fun. It also means that you should be careful about raising the obstacles to full height too soon. There's lots of practicing that can be done on less than full height obstacles.

Full height bar jump

Full height bar jump

How do you know when your dog is ready to compete?

Most important is to realistically look at how your dog is running at home and in class. If it is taking three or four tries to get around the course without mistakes, or if your dog is consistently having problems with a particular obstacle, you need to hold off on that entry. Also, if your dog isn't able to jump the obstacles at full height successfully at home, he's not likely to do it at a trial. Matches are a great way to introduce your dog to agility trials. Often you can enter at a lower height, which will make it easier to get your dog successfully around the course. You also can usually enter more than once so you can get a second and third try to get around the course. At a trial, you only get that one chance.
The three major dog agility organizations have begun to address the issue of lower competition jump heights for heavy-bodied dogs. NADAC (North American Dog Agility Council) offers a height dispensation for breeds like Newfoundlands which allows them to jump 20 inches, while USDAA (United States Dog Agility Association) has a special Performance class, which also has a lower jump height. AKC has a new program with lowered jump heights as well, the “Preferred” class made its debut in the summer of 2002.

Agility Organizations

What do you have to look for once you get to your first trial?

At every trial, the competitors get to walk the course without their dog, in order to learn the course and plan their strategies of how best to get their dog around the course. The first thing I do when walking the course is to walk it with a Newf in mind. That means checking that tunnels aren't held down so tightly that my dog will have a hard time making it through. The manner that they are secured can make a difference of 4-6 inches in height. This really matters when you're tall. I've found if I bring this to the judges' attention, they are very willing to fix it as the intention in securing the tunnels is to keep them from moving, not to make it harder for the big dogs.

I also check any other equipment to be sure it is "big dog" friendly. My dog Flyer knocked over the tire, frame and all, several times before I added that to my checklist. Once I started making sure that it was sandbagged or staked down, the problem went away. Once that is done, I then walk the course with my dog in mind. Newfoundlands can't make the tight turns that the smaller dogs can. I have had dogs who have tried, but when you weigh over 100 pounds, you just can't turn as tightly as if you weighed 35 pounds. With that in mind, I try to plan my course for what my dog is able to do. Dyna and I often ran a very different path than the smaller dogs. It maybe wasn't as fast, but we got the job done, and generally impressed the crowd as well.

There's little that can compare to successfully getting around an agility course with your Newf and sharing their joy at the finish line. Dyna still looks forward to every Friday hoping that we will be off to another trial, even though she is almost 11 and has been retired for close to a year. Agility can be a lot of fun, and great exercise for you and your Newf, whether you just do a few obstacles in the back yard, or decide that you would like to give competition a whirl.

— Joan Greenwald

Why do I do agility with my Newfoundland?

When Quinner and I started going to agility class in 1999, our goal was to learn to work as a team. Admittedly, agility also looked like a lot of fun!
We progressed through learning basic handling maneuvers like front and rear crosses. Quinner learned to work from both my right and left sides. In addition, I began to use my body language to let him know where we were headed next. We then practiced performing each obstacle safely, and finally progressed to linking the obstacles together to form a course. Quinner gained confidence and began to follow my signals to work away from me. We were becoming quite a team!

Over the past two years, agility has been incredibly fun for Quinner and me, while at the same time presenting a never-ending challenge! Agility training gives us a truly enjoyable way to learn how to work together while physically conditioning Quinn, and provided a solid foundation for the CD, WD and WRD titles Quinner earned last summer. Like the many other activities in which our Newfs take part, agility promotes the working ability of these dogs and the partnership that they can develop with their handler.

I cannot leave out one of the most important aspects of agility-the spectator appeal. Nothing draws a crowd at an agility trial like the performance of a large flashy dog. At a recent trial, Quinner had a mishap on course where he failed to get into the first tunnel. Quinner is 29 inches at the shoulder, while the tunnel is a mere 24 inches in diameter. He doesn't see the need to duck and frequently just plows into the tunnel entrance with all he's worth, often quite dramatically causing the tunnel to collapse like an accordion as he goes. As we continued on the course, Quinner successfully made it into the second and third tunnels and by the time we crossed the finish line the crowd was cheering wildly!

Going through Weave Poles

Going through Weave Poles

Most special of all, in the parking lot a woman came up to me as I was putting Quinner back into the car after our run. She said, "I just had to come tell you, your dog brings so much enjoyment to so many people."

— Dejah Petsch