Competing Greyhounds in Agility

Katie competingWhile many ex-racing greyhounds enjoy second careers as Meet & Greet ambassadogs, therapy dogs, or simply good pets, others enjoy the fast paced sport of agility.  Agility is a great way for greyhounds and their adopters to bond, get some exercise, and to just have fun. 

I began doing agility with greyhounds in 1999.  Initially, my goals were simple.  I wanted my greyhounds, Jessie and Teresa, to be able to negotiate each obstacle and to have fun in the weekly class I was taking.  This led to wanting to be able to do combinations of obstacles in a row, then a whole course, and finally, I wanted to compete and earn an agility title.  I made a lot of mistakes and have learned a lot since then, but the three of us found a lot of joy in the process and eventually did earn a few agility titles.

In early 2001, I began searching for my next agility greyhound.  This would be the first greyhound I would choose specifically for characteristics that I thought would be found in a competitive agility greyhound.  I found Katie, a 2 year old, cute little fawn with a charcoal face.  First and foremost, she is very food motivated, meaning that she will eat just about anything in any situation.  Food can be a powerful motivator and is an easy reward to give for a job well done.  I also like to see a greyhound that enjoys playing with toys since toys can also be used as reinforcement.

Secondly, Katie is very self-assured and has a sassy attitude.  For competition purposes, it is easier to compete with a dog that walks into a new venue immediately feeling at home and needing no adjustment period.  Katie is always eager to check out a new place and get down to business.  However, agility can be a boost for self esteem, so do not be discouraged if your greyhound lacks confidence. 

Katie coming out of chuteLastly, Katie is high energy.  If you have an active greyhound who is always busy doing something (good or bad), agility is a great activity for such a hound.  Not only is it an excellent physical activity, but is also a brain teaser and requires them to use their intelligence to figure out how to negotiate obstacles and to follow your directions.  While being in shape has its advantages, the humans do not have to be in great shape to enjoy agility.  All types of people participate in the sport, so do not let age, athletic ability, or weight be an excuse not to give it a try.

After about eight months of training, I began competing Katie and she exceeded all of my expectations.  She quickly earned the Novice, Open, and Excellent titles in just 6 months, something only a few greyhounds had accomplished in a lifetime.  Titles are earned when you complete a required number of qualifying runs.  Novice is the easiest level to master and allows for the most mistakes.  As you progress through the levels, the courses get more difficult, and finally, you are allowed no errors.  Within another year, Katie became the 2nd greyhound to ever earn the Master Excellent titles.  The first Master Excellent titled greyhound was Kate Crawford’s Mandoid, a small, dark brindle with a super diva personality.  

Katie went on to become the #1 greyhound in AKC agility for lifetime achievement.  However, since the beginning, I had my eye on one particular accomplishment, the Master Agility Champion (MACH).  No greyhound had ever come close, and I was hoping that Katie would be the first.  

The MACH requires 20 “double Qs” and 750 speed points.  “Double Q” is short for double qualifying runs.  These are error free runs in the same day in both the standard class (contains all of the climbing obstacles) and the jumper class (contains jumps, tunnels, and weave poles only).  Speed points are awarded for the number of seconds the course is completed under the maximum course time allowed.  The MACH requires a dog to demonstrate consistency, accuracy, and speed. 

Teresa jumping

Katie had always been a very consistent runner.  She was good about clearing jumps, completing the weave poles quickly, passing through the required contact zones on the climbing obstacles, and always under the maximum course time.  Generally, the spacing of the obstacles did not give her room to really open up her stride and to run like a greyhound.  Instead, her speed came from her sharp, efficient turns and in other areas running the straightest line possible.

Katie had weekends where she was unstoppable and would get several double Qs in a row.  However, when it came down to number 20, I tried too hard to be careful and created more problems for us.  She had more than enough speed points, so it came down to just needing to run clean two times in one day.  Inevitably, I would give her a bad signal with my arm or move too slowly causing us to make a disqualifying error, such as taking an incorrect obstacle or simply skipping one.  Finally, three months later, I got my act together and guided Katie through the 20th double Q.  Traditionally, after your 20th double Q, you run a victory lap and Katie humored me by trotting along, but was mostly wondering when the food reward would be coming.  As a token, you get to keep the top rail on the last jump of the course and all of your fellow competitors sign it.  It was a very proud moment.  The best part about being the first is that no one can ever take it away.  Another greyhound could take the number 1 spot (and in fact, her adopted brother, Travis has), but there can never be another first MACH greyhound.

Agility offers everyone some measure of success, even if your greyhound is not the most food motivated or the most active.  There is much to be learned from every hound, so start by training the one laying on your couch.  If your greyhound is more of a troublemaker than a couch potato then you might have the next agility superstar in your house.  Often the greyhound that actually needs training is the easiest to train.  This type of greyhound is crying for a job and welcomes the challenge. 

Teresa emerging from tunnel

To start, it is a good idea to master some basic obedience with your greyhound first.  Skills such as coming when called are useful.  However, just learning to sit or lie down on cue helps your greyhound learn about this game called training.  I always say that racing greyhounds typically have to “learn to earn”.  At first, they may not realize that they can earn treats responding to your request.  Once they do, the training comes along faster. 

Next, I would recommend taking a beginner agility class.  This will give you the chance to introduce your greyhound to all of the obstacles over a period of time and to make new dog friends.  Most of the obstacles will start out much smaller and less imposing than the obstacles you may have seen.  This promotes safety and builds confidence while the dogs learn where to put their feet, how to slink through a tunnel, and how to climb.  Gradually, the obstacles get taller and longer and before you know it, your greyhound will be mastering traditional sized obstacles.  From there you can evaluate whether this is something you want to continue in a class setting or whether you just want to jump your greyhound over broomsticks placed across two upside down buckets in the backyard. Starting in a beginner class will at least give you the basic skills needed for agility regardless of whether you plan to show or just play in the backyard for fun. 

Katie jumping

Maybe you will have goals of training your greyhound to master all of the obstacles or maybe you would like to compete one day.  Whatever your goal may be, it is a wonderful feeling to be able to guide your greyhound through a sequence of obstacles.  When your plan of action falls into place and the run goes smoothly, the feeling is indescribable. 

The best way to get started is to begin with an obedience class that focuses on positive reinforcement. When you and your greyhound are proficient at sit, down, stay, and come, you are both ready to join a beginner agility class. If you have any questions please feel free to contact Jennifer.

Jessie on A-frame

Copyright © 2007 Never Say Never Greyhounds