For those of us who are unfamiliar with the inner-workings of an Agility competition, it is easy to be taken in by the spectacular displays of athleticism performed by Agility dogs, without a second thought to what goes on behind-the-scenes. While watching dogs perform gravity-defying leaps and dizzying weaves is what draws crowds to this spectator sport, the most important consideration throughout the day is dog safety. There are various restrictions set-up along the course, unknown to the spectators, which each dog and handler must also navigate while running their Trial. One such regulation is the “cone of approach.”
The United States Dog Agility Association (USDAA) defines cone of approach as the imaginary “cone” shaped area in front of an obstacle. The cone acts as a guideline to determine that the obstacle can safely be performed by a fast-approaching dog. This guideline must not only be considered by the dog and handler, but also by the committee which designs the Agility courses. Failure to allow a safe cone of approach along the course’s trajectory would be considered unsafe. The cone of approach safety zone accounts for factors such as the average handler’s ability to position him or herself at the obstacle, the dog’s speed, and the expected direction of approach. Obstacles with a defined cone of approach include the A-frame, See-saw, Dog Walk, Long Jump and Collapsed Tunnel.
For the A-frame (two wide boards held together in the shape of an “A” which the dog must walk up and over) and the See-saw (a narrow board which moves in a see-saw action as the dog traverses across), a fast approach at high angles is not permitted. For these obstacles, the dog must approach the contact zone from a boundary zone consisting of 45o angles propagating at least 6 ft from the front plane of the obstacle. The Dog Walk (raised board the dog walks across), Long Jump (series of slanted boards for dogs to leap over), and Collapsed Tunnel (cylindrical, fabric covered tunnel) have an even stricter cone of approach. The boundary zone for these obstacles is two 25o angles propagating at least 6 ft from the obstacle’s front plane. Failure of the dog to approach the obstacle in a manner which is considered safe will result in a fault. If a dog is unable to approach an obstacle within these USDAA guidelines, then the Agility course is considered unsafe. For a better visualization of the “cone of approach” see the figure below (taken from the USDAA’s Statement of Course Design).
While Agility may look like it is all fun and games, there are many factors which go into making a day or weekend of exciting competition safe. Knowing the additional regulations behind the spectacular displays of athleticism can make the dog’s feats appear even more impressive!