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Agility for fun and fitness By Stella Coombes

I don’t really consider myself a professional in the dog sport of agility, but I do judge, compete and train the sport, so I see all sides. There is a misconception that we are ‘different’ to the rest of you, worst of all that we only do it to win, there may be a few that are very competitive and just want to win, win, win, but most do it for fun, if you win it’s a bonus, but you may just want to play at it, the most important thing is that you keep it fun, for you and the dog. When you see a handler and dog in unison in the ring it’s like poetry in motion, looks so easy, the dog’s literally smiling.


I have competed with a few Vallhunds, I got Qash to grade 5, unfortunately he picked up an injury, not competing but playing rough at home, that stopping him competing, the first thing I would say is DO NOT DO REPETITIVE TRAINING, Vallhunds will not give you their all if you do, they will either switch off or do it wrong, in their minds ‘I have just done what you asked perhaps twice, then why on earth should I do it again!!’ I know Vallhunds can be a bit vocal, like to think they are very brave, but they are very easily upset, so just beware. No two Vallhunds are the same, you will soon find out how much you can do before you get the V sign, don’t push it, do something else or have a game then go back.
If you are thinking of doing agility with your Vallhund, start from a pup, if they love a toy, you are on a winner, use it to reward any little thing that you ask for, be it a recall, a wait, sending him/her in front of you over a mat or similar on the floor, you can use a toy (if you play tug, very gently with pups and side to side not up and down) at the other end, or a treat, or a friend is good, the Treat n Train machines are marvellous, but don’t let your dog get stuck on it. 

You can start with sending them round a stool or a rubbish bin, (loose turns on grass, carpet or non slip flooring), this will start your turns, there are loads of videos and books to help you get started. I love to do hoopers with my youngsters, it’s great for distance work and independence and it’s very low impact, so great for young old, 4 legs and 2. Also instead of sitting and throwing your dog a toy, get up, run with it, getting pup to chase you for the toy, then play ragga with pup, a long toy is good for this so you keep your fingers.
Never put your pup over jumps until about 6 months of age, then only just off the ground, below their wrist/dew-claw height, no contact equipment until nearing a year old, most Vallhunds are measured into small (this is done when they are over 1 year old) so will only be jumping 300mm high when they are competing, which the youngest is 18 months. So there is no need for them to jump this height until about 17 months of age. The competing jump heights are 300, 400, 500 & 600mm. There are also 4 dog heights.
Find a good trainer to help and guide you, make them aware of Vallhunds big dislike for repeating things, not all trainers will be good for a Valllhund, they are not Collies, don’t rush it, above all keep it fun, remember don’t repeat over & over, all you really need to start with is ‘forward drive’ if you’ve had a bad day or not really feeling like training then ‘don’t’.
I will admit I only really used to show my Vallhunds, we did a bit of gun dog, picking up at shoots in the winter, then found agility, I did both for a long time, but you will soon realise how much more fun agility is, yes you need to train your dog, but that’s fun too. Something I should also add, it’s much cheaper, the rosettes and trophies are fab, also more of them (at least 10% of the class gets a rosette). 

So the main agility season is May to October, we do not use marquees or buildings, we are usually out in the middle of fields, sports fields or equine establishments, so mainly outside on grass, with a few arenas, in the winter you see more of the independent/club shows that are great to get you and your dog ready for the KC shows. Some dogs will act totally different at shows because of the ‘hyper activity’ but you must still keep it fun.
Swedish Vallhunds are a working breed, so need to do something, to work their brains and bodies, it keeps them fit and you.
If you have not competed before you will start at the lowest grade which is grade 1, the more you win the higher up the grades you go.  Grade 7 is the highest, then to championship classes. 

When I competed with Shampers, many called her the lizard, she was a big licker, a few years ago now, she loved the training, but typical Vallhund she also loved other Vallhunds and people, the amount of times we were half or maybe three quarters of the way round a course, (anything from 15-20 obstacles), she would suddenly see someone she knew outside the ring (some rings just have rope on posts round them, some have the roadworks type plastic fencing round) that was it she would have to go see them, if they leave the ring during a course (a run) they are eliminated, she did this on a regular basis, again typical Vallhund she could see no harm in that, “just a minute mum I just need to go say hello” leaving you in the ring looking stupid. If you don’t have a sense of humour then this may hard for you, you just have to laugh it off, Vallhunds just love to do what they want.
It’s great with Agility as we have ‘Independant shows’ in the showing world exemption now called companion shows. So you can have a play if your dog is not quite ready for KC shows, at these you can enter/pay on the day, usually around £5 a class, you can enter 4 classes per dog, usually they have jumping, agility and fun classes like helter-skelter, steeplechase, triple-A, or up&under and many more. Your dog can jump at a lower height if you like. You still get great rosettes and trophies. 
Many years ago they had more fun classes at the KC shows, but these have nearly all gone, I was training in a group with a top handler late last year, we were saying that the fun has all gone, it’s getting too serious, so a friend and myself thought we would try to get some fun classes back again, I volunteered to speak to a show organiser and see if he would allow to us to include some in his KC shows, so at both weekends of the JDA shows at The Ashfields Carriage & Polo Club at Gt Canfield in Essex this June 2024, we have 4 fun classes, Pause Box Challenge, The Silent Class, Power & Speed, Time, Fault & Out. It’s going to be great fun.

Agility is fun, keeps you both fit, you can do as much or as little as you like, the main classes are either jumping or agility, in the jumping classes, you will mainly get jumps, weaves & tunnels, there are some other obstacles but they are the main ones used. In agility classes you get the same including the contact equipment, Dog-Walk, A-Frame, See-Saw, all classes have weaves except the Anysize classes, these are for dogs that cannot do the main classes for some reason, maybe coming back from injury, spaying, castration, young, old or a past injury that’s left them unable to the big stuff, these classes are also run at lower heights (200, 300, 400mm) again this is where hoopers is good. 
If you can find an agility show near you, be it a KC show or an Independent one, go and watch, you will see how much the dogs love it, you will be welcomed, don’t be afraid to ask questions, the agility people are very friendly, believe me you will get hooked. There are just 3 things you need for your dog to be able to compete at a KC agility show: your dog must be KC registered, on the breed or activity register, then be measured before it competes. If you find an independent show, you can enter fun classes if dog is 17 months.
A few rules for agility shows to remember, your dog can only wear one flat collar when competing, no hanging tags, you cannot feed your dog in the ring, you may have treats in your pocket but make sure it cannot fall out, you cannot give the dog treats until you leave the ring. 
When you arrive at the show, you will find the ring/s classes you entered in, you will have the opportunity to walk the course before the class starts, the class is available to walk before each height, but you can walk at another height as well if you want. You may be in 2 or 3 rings, so you need to keep an eye so you don’t miss walking them.
When competing, make sure that the scrime know who you are and that they say it is ok for you to start, the usual setup is, when the dog before you leaves the ring and is back on its lead, you will then be asked to enter the ring, the scrime/scorer in the tent, will check with the judge, confirm your name, and then say ‘ok, when you are ready, you are then ok to go.

From Stella Coombes 


Agility  Written by Sue Hodgkinson 


Agility is fun and the dogs enjoy it. It is something I have always been interested in. In 2004 I started with my 2 Labradors who I never competed with as I was doing it as a hobby. Then in 2006 along came Star and when he was 14 months I started agility with him. He was easy to train, our main obstacle was the weave poles. Then I got flame and started to train her in agility, this has certainly make her more confident in herself.

Agility consists of jumps, pipe tunnel, tyre, collapsible tunnel, long jump, weave poles, spread jump, A frame, dog walk and see-saw. The last three obstacles have a contact point at the start and end which the dog needs to touch with at least one paw, otherwise you will get faults in a show.


We train indoors and outdoors in the summer which gets the dogs used to both environments ready for the  shows. You need to have the dog measured when you go to your first show. You will be given a record book with his permanent jump height in.

When we first started he went over low jumps and the pope tunnel. As he progressed we were introduced to the other equipment with the see-saw being the last, as some dogs are frightened by it to start off with.

The weave poles were the most difficult, but he got there in the end! My dogs like the agility classes better than just jumping classes. Steeplechase which is only jumps and tunnels they love!

Our first show was a 'UK Agility' show. At 16 months you can do the nursery classes (these don't have a tyre, see-saw, weaves or spread jump) and steeple-chase. At 18 months old, he was able to compete in all classes. 'UK Agility' also does agility 'games' – such as gamblers, snooker, time / fault and out, power and speed etc. The only games my dogs have not done is snooker. With 'The Kennel Club' agility competitions your dog has to be 18 months old to compete.


Most of our shows are in the Spring and Summer but there are also some winter shows – very good but early starts in the dark!

Like all competitions, you need to have confidence in your dog as well as yourself.


If you want any more information about competing in dog agility Click Here


Photos courtesy of Sally Rowe.

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