Agility 101
What Do All Those Letters Mean?

Written by Cortney Oliver
Edited by Denise Gormish


Ch. MACh. Springhill Silver Belle MX MXJ

    In AKC Agility there are four different classes, each with their own titles. These classes are the following

  • "Standard"
  • "Jumpers with Weaves"
  • "Preferred Standard"
  • "Preferred Jumpers with Weaves"

There are three different levels in all classes - Novice, Open and Excellent. The titles for the Standard classes are NA (Novice Agility), OA (Open Agility) and AX (Agility Excellent.) The MX (Master Agility) title is achieved by qualifying ten more times after your dog gets its AX title. The titles for Jumpers classes are identical, with the addition of the J (NAJ, OAJ, AXJ and MXJ.) Preferred classes will be discussed below.
    The differences between the Standard class and the Jumpers is the type of obstacles. As the name suggests, the Jumpers class has jumps - and lots of them! The amount and type of jumps depends on the class level. At the Novice level, in Jumpers, your dog will have a minimum of 13 obstacles and a maximum of 15. Open has a minimum of 16 obstacles and a maximum of 18, while Excellent is 18-20 obstacles. Jumps can be panels, wing, spread or single bar. Tire jumps, tunnels, chutes and weave (poles) are also included. Open and Excellent have a triple bar jump. The Novice class will have six weaves poles; Open has six to twelve while Excellent has twelve poles. Jumper coarses are fast!
    The Standard class has the obstacles most associated with agility. They are the A-frame, dog walk and see-saw. These are the "contact" obstacles. Also in the Standard class is the "pause" table, usually positioned halfway through the course. The dog is required to sit or lie down (the judge with specify which prior to the start of the class) for a total of five seconds. This is a good time to collect your thoughts, regain your dog's focus, re-position yourself for the next sequence of obstacles and, most importantly, to catch your breath!
    Once, in Boston, with - of course - a large crowd of spectators on hand, I was running "Tilly" in Open Standard. She was running completely out of control. I was (and still am) out of shape and was very much out of breath. The table was near the edge of the ring. The onlookers got a good laugh when I said (pleaded) with Tilly, "you, huff-huff, slow, huff-huff, down, huff-huff, and listen, huff-huff, to me!" After what seemed only a second or two the judge said, "Go!". I groaned and motioned Tilly on. She bolted off the table and blitzed around the course - her own course, that is. And, no, we did not qualify.
    The contact obstacles have yellow "contact zones" on the up and the down side. As a safety factor the dog must touch with at least one paw (or part thereof) both the up and down side the contact zone. The only exception is the up contact of the A-frame. Some of the large and/or fast dogs will clear the contact zone completely going up the frame.
    There are twelve mandatory obstacles in Novice Standard: the weave poles, A-frame, dog walk, see-saw, broad jump, bar jump, double bar jump (oxer), tire jump, panel jump, pause table, closed tunnel (chute) and open tunnel. As of September 1, 2002 novice dogs have the addition of weave poles (6) to the standard class. Previously only the jumpers courses had weave poles for the novice classes. Judging for the novice weave poles is the same as in the novice jumpers class in that you do not accrue any faults, other than time faults, at the weaves as long as the dog completes the poles properly. Additional changes includes the following: penalties for jumping off the pause table during the 5-second count have increased from a two point penalty to a five point penalty for each occurrence. As before the count restarts each time the dog gets back on the table. Novice dogs are still allowed two refusals/run-outs and two off courses (all five point penalties) as long as the dog still gets a minimum score of 85 (in other words you can't have two refusals and two off courses to qualify. You can have two of one penalty and one of the other). Furthermore now you are allowed only two table faults.
    In Open standard you are allowed one refusal, as before, but as of September 1, 2002, you can only have one off-course (you were allowed two off-courses). You also can only have one table fault. In Excellent A you are not allowed any faults. Before September 1, 2002 you were allowed one off course. In EX B you weren't allowed any faults, now or then. At all levels in
the jumpers classes any off-course is a disqualification.
    The courses have gotten more technical, requiring more difficult approach angles to obstacles at all levels. The Novice course must have a minimum of 13 and a maximum of 15 obstacles. The Open course must have a minimum of 16 and a maximum of 18 obstacles with the possible addition of the one bar jump, double bar jump and/or triple bar jump. Excellent classes course must have a minimum of 18 and a maximum of 20 obstacles and the single bar jump is required. More weave poles may be added in Open and 9-12 weave poles are required in Excellent.
    The Novice classes (Standard and Jumpers) are divided into "A" and "B". The "A" class is for handlers and dogs that have not acquired an Agility title. The "B" division is for dogs which have acquired a Novice title, for persons who have handled a dog to a Novice title, and for Agility judges. You may continue to compete in Novice; you are not required to move your dog up to Open.
    Open is for all dogs which have a Novice or Open title, but not the Agility Excellent title. Excellent is divided into "A" and "B" also. However Excellent "A" is for all dogs and handlers that have and Open title, but not an Excellent title. Once the dog has earned the Excellent title, it moves up to the "B" class to compete for the Master title. Standard and Jumpers are always separate, so you could be running your dog in Novice in one class and Excellent in another.
    There is one other agility title, MACh. - Master Agility Champion. The title goes in front of the dog's name. Once a dog is in the Excellent "B" class, it can start earning points toward the MACh. title. The dog needs to earn 750 points and 20 "double Q's". This is, twenty trials where your dog qualifies in both the Standard and Jumpers class. The first English Cocker Spaniel with the title was Shirlee O'Neill's Ch. MACh. Springhill Silver Belle MX MXJ. Two  other English Cockers, Julie McGuire's MACh. Prairiefire Blackberry Jam  and Anne Bentley and Mark Ouska's MACh. Blackavar Total Eclipse UD, have earned the title and more are closing in on their own MACh titles.
    The AKC changed some of the agility regulations as of September 1, 2002. They added a "preferred" class. The preferred class is run in conjunction with the standard and jumpers classes. They are open to any  dog that would be eligible for the regular standard and jumpers classes. The difference between the regular and the preferred classes are the preferred classes have four inches lower jump heights and the course times are longer. This opens the sport of agility to more dogs such as older and/or slower dogs. Most English Cockers are in the 16" class. In preferred, they would jump 12". ECS that regularly would be in the 12'' class would be in the eight inch preferred class. Course times are the same as the regular classes (figured by the judge on the yardage of the course) with an additional five seconds allowed. The preferred classes have their own titles, the same as the regular standard titles with the addition of a "P" to the title. For example the standard novice title is NA (Novice Agility); the Novice Preferred title is NAP. In Jumpers the titles are NJP, OJP (open), AJP (excellent) and MJP (master).
    A dog must earn three qualifying scores to earn the title. All dogs, regardless of their previous title level, must start at the novice level when entering the preferred classes. Dogs can compete in both the regular and preferred classes at any trial but must be entered in either regular or preferred at any set of trials. You are allowed to switch back and forth, just not during a set of trials.
    Another big change in scoring/qualifying is the "failure to control" rule. All dogs, after completion of the course and upon leaving the ring, must be under the handler's control. Preferably on leash, but verbal control is acceptable. Dogs should be leashed as soon as possible after completing the course. At the discretion of the judge, failure to control the dog upon exiting shall result in a 5 point penalty up to elimination of the dog. Each 5 point penalty will be assessed as a refusal.