Agility Lingo

by Melissa R. on September 5, 2009

Mocca at agility practice

Mocca at agility practice

Here are a few terms to remember that you might hear quite often at an agility trial.

Q: Qualified: Qualifying is what is most important when competing. In order to get up to the next level of competition, you have to Qualify a certain amount of times. We had to Qualify in three different courses, under two different judges in order to Qualify out of Novice. The same is true for the next level.

Refusal: This is a term used in the judging when your dog does not go into the obstacle it was supposed to. More often than not this is actually YOUR fault for not directing your dog properly, so I would prefer a term like “miscommunication”, but I guess we’ll have to live with Refusal! Points are deducted for this, and if you have too many Refusals, you do not qualify (depending on what level you are competing at).

Off-Course: This is when your dog goes off-course during a competition and points are taken off.

Contact: Different types of obstacles, such as the A-Frame, have a “contact zone” at the start and end of them where the dog must touch. This encourages control on the handler’s part and safety, so dogs don’t jump off tall obstacles too quickly.

Trap: A trap is typically two obstacles set up near each other to try to “trap” the dog to going into the wrong one. It helps establish if your dog knows their commands and if you are directing them properly.


  • Novice: The beginner level, where you start out with a new dog. Courses are the easiest here; more straightforward with less twists, turns and traps. You also only have six weave poles to do, and more leeway with refusals and off-courses.
  • Open: This is the middle level. Courses get harder, and you have less chances to mess up your course. Less refusals allowed, less off-course allowed, faster times.
  • Excellence: This is the top level. Courses are most difficult, with many twists and turns and traps set up. Times are the fastest as well.

Course Types (a sampling of more popular courses):

  • Standard Agility Course: This contains all the different types of agility obstacles.
  • Jumpers With Weaves Course: This contains only jumps, a set of weave poles and sometimes a tunnel or chute.
  • Gamblers: Gamblers is a timed event where you have 30 seconds to run whatever course you want – each obstacle is worth a certain amount of points, so you try to do the obstacles that are worth the most points. You can only do each obstacle twice. After the 30 seconds, you have 15 seconds to run the “Gamble” where you send your dog through a set course of maybe three obstacles, but have to stay a distance away from your pet – which is what makes it a Gamble whether your dog will do your commands with you so far away. Easier done with some dogs than others! If you get the Gamble, you get a bunch of extra points.
  • Snookers: You can run your own course, but have to hit three specific red jumps in order. You do red jump, obstacle, red jump, obstacle, red jump, obstacle – once you have completed this then you run your 2nd half of Snookers which is a set course. Again, obstacles during the first part have certain point values to them. This one is tricky because you have to plan a smooth course while hitting the red jumps, and trying to accumulate points with difficult obstacles. And then being near the start of the 2nd portion when you finish the last red jump – obstacle!

I’m sure there are tons more terms I can’t think of, or simply don’t know of. When I learn some new ones, I’ll be sure to share.

About the author: Melissa is a devoted pet owner with several cats: Kai, Cirrhi & Ritter; and the newest addition, Emme a Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever. Melissa is an avid dog agility enthusiast, and hopes her new pup will someday be an agility champion! She is a Graphic Designer and Project Coordinator for the and websites. She holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Graphic Design from Michigan State University and is a lifelong pet lover and owner. See more articles by Melissa R.

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