Selecting an Agility Prospect
by Kathy McCoubrey

(This article was written about selecting a Dalmatian for agility but it could apply to most breeds.)

I received a letter from a person who had started agility training with her Dalmatian only to discover that he was unable to jump at full height due to very poor structure. She asked what she should look for in getting a new puppy to train for agility.

If I was going to go out and select a puppy as a performance prospect, I would start by being sure both parents had OFA and CERF clearances and I would be even happier if the grandparents did too. It is unfair to expect a dysplastic dog or a dog with vision problems to work at a competition level. I would also want a pup from parents with outstanding temperament. Your agility dog is going to be around a lot of people and a lot of other dogs. There is no room for aggression. I would also like a pedigree that had some performance titles in there with the championships. You need an intelligent dog with a strong work ethic to be really successful at agility. Then look to the Dalmatian standard which gives a pretty good description of an ideal agility dog.

Look for a nicely arched neck that blends smoothly into the shoulders. The back should be strong. The chest should be deep and capacious with good rib spring. A dog running full out needs enough room for a good set of lungs. Most really nice moving Dalmatians are very slightly longer than they are tall. This extra length should be spread along the entire back and not concentrated in the loin.

A dog's shoulders absorb a great deal of the shock when the dog lands after coming over a jump. A Dalmatian's shoulders should be smoothly muscled and well-laid back. Upright shoulders do not absorb the impact sufficiently and the dog may suffer an injury. The upper arm should be approximately equal to the length of the shoulder blade. A short upper arm restricts the front movement.

I would also want a dog with good bone. The front legs are going to bear all the weight when landing so you want them strong enough to do the job. At the same time you do not want the legs too be so thick that they look like tree trunks. That would detract from the athleticism. There should be a slight angle at the pastern as this acts as another shock absorber. Good feet are a definite plus.

The hindquarters should also be properly angulated. The stifle is well bent and hocks are well let down. The back legs should be straight and parallel. A dog with such structure should have an efficient jumping style and would be capable of handling both tight turns and long flowing sequences.

So where can you compromise? If the dog is not intended to be bred, you can compromise on any of the cosmetic defects such as spotting that is too light, too dark or messy, light eyes, a patch, or missing trim. You can also get by with a less than perfect earset or a bad bite. However, if you expect the dog to be a top performer, make sure he has a body designed for performance.

© 2001-2002 Kathy McCoubrey. All rights reserved.