{img:35966}The dogs jumped through tires, zipped through tunnels and weaved between poles. Guided by their human handlers, they scurried in and out of chutes, climbed ramps and raced to the finish line.

This wasn’t simply a casual exhibition. This was an elite dog agility competition in February in New York that was organized by the Westminster Kennel Club for the first time in its 138-year history.

The addition of the event, which preceded the club’s famed annual dog show, was another sign that canine agility has become an increasingly popular pursuit among dog enthusiasts.

Just ask the Columbia Agility Team.

An area nonprofit organization that offers training as well as recreational and competitive opportunities, CAT has grown from 15 participants in 1993 to more than 200 active members today. The group, which has practice facilities in Clackamas and Washington counties, recently celebrated its 20th anniversary.

“We’ve been gaining a lot of new members — it seems like about 25 members in the last year,” CAT president Gary Hartman said. “The number of trials in the Northwest and the number of people in the trials is going up. In the last six or seven years, it's started to explode quite a bit. More and more people know about it.”

Dog agility has been around for decades — CAT traces it back to the United Kingdom in the late 1970s — but the hobby has spread around the globe in recent years. Several different organizations sanction agility events in the United States, including the American Kennel Club, the United States Dog Agility Association and the North American Dog Agility Council.

According to the Associated Press, the number of dogs competing in agility trials sanctioned by the AKC has grown by nearly 50 percent over the last five years.

The Columbia Agility Team, which is not affiliated with AKC, puts on eight trials each year and welcomes all kinds of dogs. There are several different levels of competition, and runs are scored on speed and accuracy.

Agility aficionados say the activity promotes physical fitness for humans and animals alike and strengthens the bonds between dogs and their owners.

“It’s something active they can do with their dogs,” Hartman said. “But when people start doing agility, they create this connection with their dog. I think that’s really the biggest draw. They create that really strong connection with the dog — verbally, emotionally.

“It’s not a passive sport where you sit in the middle of an agility ring. You have to run. You have to move. It’s almost like dance movement out there. It’s a symbiotic relationship.”

Hartman’s foray into the world of agility began with a search for exercise opportunities for his border collie. And even after following through on a suggestion to try it, he never thought he would do it competitively.

“People encouraged me to go to a trial, so I went,” he said. “Now, I do 10 or 12 a year. And I got another dog so I could continue doing it.

“{img:35967}A lot of people start off recreationally, but they get encouraged to go to a competition and they find out it’s not really that competitive — they’re just out there, being with their dog. So most people migrate to doing the competitions.”

The sport is founded on its participants’ love of dogs, and Hartman said it’s not unusual for people to compete with animals they’ve acquired from shelters.   

Like in many other canine disciplines, dogs are trained in agility with positive reinforcement. Handlers often reward them with treats or toys.

Hartman said some owners might train their dogs to weave through a row of poles, for example, by starting with just two poles and adding more as their animals succeed. Others might separate the poles into two rows and bring them closer and closer together as their dogs pick up on the activity.

“Eventually,” Hartman said, “the dog is leading.”


For more information about the Columbia Agility Team, visit its website at www. or send an email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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