Who could have ever predicted that a “fill in” activity at a dog show years ago in England would eventually become one of the most popular dog sports of all time. Agility’s humble beginnings date back to 1977 where Peter Meanwell, a man with an extensive background in dog training was asked by John Varley, a Crufts show committee member in England to come up with an “event” at Crufts to entertain spectators in between the Obedience and Group judging. Varley had extensive experience with horses but was leaning on Meanwell to help with this new endeavor in dogs. With the assistance of a few other gentleman, Meanwell designed a basic dog jumping course to entertain the crowd. This jumping course resembled many of the obstacles that are seen today in the agility ring; a tire hoop, weaving flags, a "cat" walk and an "over - under" which resembled a combination of the A-frame and the Tunnel. Shortly after this it became apparent that it would be more interesting to spectators to create a competitive event and so the demonstration was moved to a competition between two teams. The quick pace of the event and ability to understand what was going on in the ring was very appealing to spectators. Interest quickly took hold as many people were interested in trying this event with their own dogs
The Kennel Club in the United Kingdom is the oldest recognized Kennel Club in the world and In 1980, it was this organization that first recognized agility as an official sport at dog shows. It wasn't long after that first demonstration in 1977 that some tried to set up their own competitions and then complaints followed due to unsafe jumping practices so Peter Lewis a friend of Meanwell's was tasked to come up with the " rules" to govern this new sport in attempt to avoid injuries. He was also pivital in defining how the sport should be judged.
In 1983, two men in America on different paths were soon to be instrumental in shaping agility as we know it in the United States. They were Ken Tatsch and Charles (Bud) Kramer. The two early adopting organizations in the early 80's were; The NDCA (National Committee for Dog Agility) founded by Kramer and the USDAA (United States Dog Agility Association) founded by Tasch. NDCA eventually merged with the United kingdom KC leaving USDAA as the sole organization for U.S. agility events.
In 1986 the USDAA held their first trial in November in Houston, Texas. The event drew 16 trainers and their dogs. In the late 80's the popularity grew significantly in the US when the USDAA Grand Prix of Dog Agility was televised in the states. Pedigree dog food was also instrumental in sponsoring many agility events.
It was at this time that AKC's interest in agility started to percolate and in 1993, a committee at AKC was formed to decide if this new sport should be added to the other Sanctioned Performance Events. One year later AKC has its first licensed agility trial at the Astrodome in Houston, Texas with an entry of 181 dogs. In the beginning it was the NCDA that had the most influence over AKC agility but in the end AKC created their own set of rules and standards by offering several jump heights and including the addition of Jumpers with Weaves. Two significant changes from Agility in England.
Daydreams Streak Of Sunshine CD "Streak". The first collie to earn an agility title.
In 1994, the very first Collie agility title was earned by Daydreams Streak Of Sunshine CD owned by Susan Crank. This team continued to compete, eventually earning the Master Agility Excellent title in 1998. We reached out to Susan Crank to find out more about Daydreams Streak Of Sunshine. We found out her collie's name was "Streak" -- which was fitting for a collie that would be so good at this competition! We were interested in knowing how Susan heard about agility, how she got started, was this her first collie, first agility dog, what it was like competing in those early days and what qualities made her collie stand out in the agility ring.
"I belonged to a local obedience club that began offering agility classes, so I started taking them in addition to obedience classes. I did a few USDAA trials and then AKC began to offer agility trials. I went to my first AKC agility trial and was hooked! We were lucky to have Linda Mecklenburg, one of the greatest agility teachers and pioneers, teach class at our obedience club and she helped to get things going. In the beginning there was only 1 class -- standard. There was no timed walk through and we would walk for half an hour! There also was course familiarization, well jump and window jump. Everyone handled the same, basically 'heeling' around the ring. Most shows were outside and it was great fun tenting and hanging out with friends. Because there were so few trials, everyone traveled two to four hours and you met lots of people from other places.
"Streak was my third collie. She was bred by a local breeder and I had always loved her dogs. She was only about 19 inches, very compact and built for agility. She was my first agility dog! I believe she was the first collie to earn, NA, OA, and MX. At that time competition was quite different and there weren’t so many border collies, so she did quite well in competitions. Streak learned quickly, was a great jumper and enjoyed agility. She loved running and going fast -- and she excelled at it."
To put this in perspective, the first year of agility for collies, there was one novice title, the following year (1995) there were 17 agility titles. 1996 saw 19 titles and in 1998 there were 34 Novice titles, 15 Open, 6 Excellent and 2 Master Agility Excellent titles. In 1999 agility titles for collies reached 140! The latter statistic has the introduction of Jumper's with Weaves classes to thank for that.
In 1994 Suzanne Schwab and in 1995 Sue Larson both earned agility titles with their collies. We share with you some of their early memories from the agility ring.
Sue Larson: "I don’t remember the individual trials but what I remember most fondly was how my good friend, Kathie and I, would drive all the way to southern California (about a 6-hour drive) to have one run in a one-day trial. Then we’d drive back home again. What a difference from today when there are trials all the time. Those were fun times!"
Suzanne Schwab: "What I remember and enjoyed most about my early experiences with agility was that I could encourage my dog through the course and give multiple commands and signals. That made it feel much more like a team sport for the two of us than the regimentation of obedience which was the only other dog sport available in my area at the time. I also remember that those early trials would last about half a day, then we would play true 'games' that were just for fun and didn't involve working for legs towards titles for a couple hours, then we would let all the dogs run loose on the (securely fenced!) field while we tore down the course and put equipment away, and then we would go out for Mexican food and margaritas. Ah, the joys of a young sport with a small number of participants!"
Jumping, pardon the pun, to 2007, there were 394 agility titles and since 2013 there have been over 550 agility titles earned each year, with 585 titles earned in 2017 and 546 titles earned in 2018. The numbers speak for themselves, demonstrating how much this sport has grown in the collie world since it was sanctioned by AKC in 1993.
Sunara Wily Reilly UD HI NA, owned and handled by Suzanne Schwab, was one of 14 Collies to receive an agility award in 1995. Suzanne first participated in USDAA agility in 1990.
Sue Larson: "My very first agility dog was Ch Tartanside Trailwind TallyHo, UDTX AX HT VX. I had done some agility training with him before AKC stepped into the agility game, but I didn’t want to jump him on whole courses at the high USDAA jump height (which at that point I think was 30"), so I put agility on hold. When AKC came into the game and Tally could jump 24", we started to play. His first title, his NA, was earned on Sept 24, 1995. At that time there were no Jumpers, only Standard, and it took him about a year to earn all three titles (NA, OA and AX). He was only the third collie to earn the AX title.
Ch Tartanside Trailwind TallyHo, UDTX AX HT VX owned by Sue Larson. Their first year for AKC competition was 1995
Suzanne Schwab: "My first agility collie was the above mentioned rough collie, Reilly. I subsequently competed with Diamond Myst Of Conan CDX TD HI NA, San Dee's Silver Banner CD PT NA, Ar-Zoo Iron Maiden UDTX, HX, OA, OAJ, and HC Shadaglen Sweet PrincesPlume CDX TDX HXAds HXBs HSBs NA NAJ. By the early 2000s I'd become so heavily involved in herding and tracking that I had to drop a dog sport and agility was the casualty."
It has become abundantly clear that the early days of agility in collies were filled with long trips, long days, lots of fun, collie camaraderie and always a love for the breed. A winning combination anyway you look at it!