Agility courses have long been the stomping ground of large dogs, and the idea easily inspires visions of dogs taking on hurdles and racing through obstacle courses, long limbs stretched gracefully as they reach top speeds. But the agility course has not traditionally been a place for smaller dogs, whose tiny legs can’t begin to tackle a full-sized hurdle or take on a steep incline or long course without getting winded.
Now there is the Petit Prix, an agility contest designed with diminutive dogs in mind. Everything is crafted to suit the size of petite pups, from teacup Chihuahuas to dachshunds, whose short, stubby legs make full-size agility courses an impossible challenge.
The History Behind Agility Courses for Petit Dogs
The event is the largest of any event designed for small dogs, and is the highlight of the season for the Teacup Dogs Agility Association, founded by Marietta, Ohio, dog trainer Bud Houston, who has a special affinity for lap-sized dogs. It is molded after the annual Grand Prix of Dog Agility, a full-size course that is the culminated event of the year for the U.S. Dog Agility Association, a group that features more than 40,000 registered members.
The Teacup Dogs Agility Association has more than 2,000 members. It is growing as more dog owners become aware of the opportunities for equality in dog agility as the needs of little dogs are being more successfully met.
Houston is the author of “Book of Agility Games,” a top dog trainer and an expert in courses sized specifically for smaller dogs, designed for their small legs and offering the appropriate distance between obstacles. That’s not to say the course is not without its challenges, of course, because that is the key component to agility courses.
How It All Works
Dogs who participate in the Petit Prix can be entered in categories ranging from 4 inches at the smallest category to the largest, at 16 inches. Participation is limited to dogs of no taller than 17 inches, with no regard to breed or pedigree. But even though the agility courses are designed with small-dog features in mind, the sport is not without risks. Dogs can experience strained muscles, ACL tears as well as small fractures, broken bones, broken teeth or other injures from collisions, falls and more. Injuries suffered on the agility course can require surgery, followed by a range of therapeutic treatments to help dogs regain their full strength.
In fact, dogs have died participating in agility courses, a fact Houston admits on his blog site, Agility for Small Dogs. But he is quick to remind us that there are few athletic activities that are not without risks, but that the rewards generally tend to outweigh the risks themselves.
The key to successful – and safe – results on the small dog agility course lie almost exclusively with the trainers and handlers, and trainers and handlers with the skills needed to safely guide a dog through such a course can help a dog master it with less risk of injury.
And despite the risks, the rewards are huge for both dog (a win at an agility course is like a gold medal in the Olympics, followed up by massages and gourmet meals) and owner, who will be the one to show off the blue ribbon with pride. And according to dog expert Cesar Milan, agility training can be extremely beneficial for dogs and their owners. Not only will it help both you and your dog get much-needed exercise, agility training fulfills a dog’s natural instinct to run and chase. It also can help more fully develop the bond of trust between pet and owner, essential for good behavior outside the course.