Dog Agility IS Dangerous!

Recently we’ve proposed a change in the upper cut-off jump height for the 16″ division of the TDAA. We want to invite dogs as tall as 20″ to compete. It’s actually a simple practical matter that gives that jump height balance with the other jump heights in the TDAA.

What has emerged from this single change in the rules is a nearly hysterical discussion of safety. This has prompted me to share with everybody an uncomfortable truth:


I have facts to back up this claim. Several examples: a small poodle and former AKC National Champion fell off the dogwalk and died from a broken neck; a young sheltie broke her jaw because she turned abruptly and slammed her face into the side of a dogwalk ramp; several dogs have received debilitating injuries from bad collisions with the tire; a multitude of dogs have ruined their shoulders by slamming against the A‑frame; a dog was suffocated by being bound in an unattended collapsed tunnel in the back yard. These are just things I know about… I’m certain the list is considerably longer.

Please note that none of these things happened in TDAA competition.

If dog agility is dangerous why do we risk our dogs playing this game? Do we have no compassion and sympathy for what might happen?

All of that being said, to quote Bilbo Baggins: “It’s a dangerous business going out of your door. You step into the Road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to.”

We Need a Balanced and Objective Discussion

I can think of no sport that is without danger and risk. People who compete in the equestrian sports face danger to both rider and mount! But, consider only dog sports… disc dog is dangerous, herding is dangerous, go to ground is dangerous, lure coursing is dangerous. [I’m having a hard time putting Rally-O on that list; so there ya go.]

Someone took the liberty to poll handlers of dogs marginally taller than 17″ (at an AKC trial, I believe) whether they would do TDAA with their dogs. The answer was resoundingly “No! It would be too dangerous!”


I’ve had three fast little Shelties who’ve earned championships in multiple venues and have aggregated something like 7 or 8 national championship titles in the TDAA. How could I possibly have survived with fast little Shelties in the TDAA? And why didn’t they get killed playing this dangerous game?

It is a discredit to all of our TDAA national champions over the years to imply that speed is unsafe. These are wickedly fast little canine athletes. Dog agility requires a superb dog trainer and a skillful technical handler to thrive in the sport. Anybody can handle a small dog in the big dog venues because you can commit multiple errors between obstacles and still correct to survive. That is not likely to happen in the TDAA.

Stride of Dog

The argument will continue that the “stride of the dog” is what makes the TDAA unsafe for even the marginally taller dog. It will probably appall you to hear that I doodle around on TDAA courses with my 21+” BC Kory. He does 16″ tunnels (almost as fast as he does 24″ tunnels); he does the 16″ tire, almost as though he had a brain and figures out how to measure his own stride and collect himself.

For many years I’ve lurked in the conversation of the NADAC-style enthusiast explaining how the USDAA and the AKC are unsafe venues for dogs. And now we endure similar opinion-without-warrant from USDAA and AKC competitors in their consideration of the TDAA.

It’s all good. Everyone will do what they feel comfortable doing and what they have the skill to do.

Make No Mistake About It

The TDAA has no intention of changing the central course design philosophy. The venue will feature course design for the small dog; exactly as every other venue in the world features courses designed for the big dog. If dog’s measuring more than 16” can prosper in the TDAA it will be wicked good fun to watch.

Aggressive Dogs

For years I’ve been sensitive to the problem that dog clubs will not support their smallest canine athletes in a venue designed for them, although the small dog people have supported the big dog venues for many years. Now we see this puzzling turn-around in sentiment in which small dog people will discriminate against big dogs simply because they are big.

As we all know, every dog over 17″ is a murderous incident waiting to happen. [If you quote me, please try to convey the entire context.]

Indeed one of the things that people have reported to me over the years is that they feel safer bringing out their small dogs in the TDAA than in the big dog venues. That sentiment is probably warranted.

The way the TDAA is approaching this problem is instituting a clear and severe policy regarding aggressive dogs. It’s not just a matter of a dog attacking another dog… we will not allow dogs that threaten or intimidate other dogs to participate in this venue. It’s not just a matter of putting tall “snow fencing” to keep dogs separate, safe and segregated. We will not allow aggressive dogs to play, at all.

By the way… this goes for small dogs as well as big dogs. Most big dogs will tell you that the “incident” is often caused by the snarky little dog. This too, will not be allowed in the TDAA.

I should end this segment by saying that I know a large number of wonderful lovely dogs measuring more than 17″ with whom I would feel completely safe allowing even my little girl Hazard to be in off-leash company. And I would love to share a weekend of relaxed agility competition with any of them.


Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston The Country Dream web store is up and running. You know… I have five volumes (over 100 pp each) of The Joker’s Notebook available on my web-store at an embarrassingly inexpensive price. These are lesson plans suitable for individual or group classes for teaching dog to work at a distance.

9 Responses to “Dog Agility IS Dangerous!”

  1. MarshaHouston Says:

    Amen! I’m getting exhausted with being told that the sport I love with my dogs is unsafe — someone’s opinion based on someone else’s opinion. Hazard’s been nearer injury through her insistence on getting through the yard gate in the same second as two 40-pound border collies. Yet she persists. Even after being rolled ass-over-apple-cart she battles her way up to the next gate, and the next gate, forever. ~ Marsha

  2. Karissa Says:

    While I don’t think it would be a good idea to do TDAA with the “majority” of dogs measuring upwards of 20″, I do feel there are likely a good number who would do just fine. It comes down to the personal responsibility of the dog’s owner, and I don’t feel it’s going to be a problem or that we are going to see unsafe performances due to size of the dog.

    The overwhelming vibe I got from the entire discussion was more or less, “OMG, we cannot have large dogs at our trials because we worry for the safety and mental well being of our little dogs!” But when I mentioned that my large (80 pound, 26″ tall) dog always accompanied me to trials with my small dog, they said that was okay. That makes no sense. If a large dog is allowed to attend as a “spectator,” what difference is there if a larger [than 17″] dog competes on the same courses?

    The “spirit” of TDAA will not change. The dogs in the lower height classes will not be affected at all. Considering that many of these dogs that measure up to 20″ are likely jumping 16″ at other trials, they probably won’t even be noticed!

    Now would I, personally, choose to enter TDAA trials with a dog that measured 18 or 19 inches? Probably not. I feel that I am adequately challenged on average-sized courses with a dog of that stature. But that is not to say that other handlers who own dogs in that height class wouldn’t wish to give it a try. The uproar over the entire subject just boggled my mind.

    FWIW, I stopped doing TDAA with my dog that measures 14″ because the course styles did not suit his way of running. Perhaps we will revisit it in the future now that he is a bit more “polished,” but being under 17″ does not automatically make a dog well suited for TDAA agility. No matter the size of the dog, it does take some special training — both for dog & handler!

  3. Margaret Hendershot Says:

    Luigi’s two most severe injuries (a broken leg and a torn cruciate ligament) both happened while chasing a basketball in the back yard. Yet my friend’s persist in trying to get me to play Treiball…

    I suspect that as a whole agility dogs are actually less prone to injury than their pet companions since they are generally well conditioned, at a proper weight and given enough mental and physical activity to keep them sane.

    I will try TDAA with Josie, my 19.5 inch BC. What’s the worst that can happen? She gives me death glares? I am fairly certain that she has enough regard for her own safety to let me know if this is not going to work out.

  4. Barbara Mars Says:

    My personal experience with aggressive dogs at TDAA trials has occurred with people who know their dogs are “territorial” or protective of their owners yet fail to crate then between runs. I see no reason for reactive dogs to be hanging out on their owner’s laps or in their own chair. There have also been incidents of crate doors left unsecured and dogs charging out and attacking a dog for simply walking by. A stringent “Aggressive Dog” policy and reporting system will be a welcomed change.

    • budhouston Says:

      What you say is true. I don’t even like to see the crate of a “territorial” dog parked where there is bound to be exhibitor traffic where they will aggress at dogs walking by (on leash) for the entire weekend.

      The flip side of this coin however, and where we need to exercise caution, is in a dog in his own space being negligently approached by another dog, spawning an altercation. I’d be reluctant to label this dog aggressive, when it is the negligence of the other handler that allowed it to happen in the first place.

      For each incident report we will weigh all of the details before we act on the report.


      • Barbara Mars Says:

        If I am able, I crate my dogs in another room or area away from foot traffic. Their crates are also covered. That way they get to relax and so do I. Fortunately, they have learned that their crate is a “safe” place.

        I agree about the responsibility of of all of us to be aware of where we and our dogs are in relation to others. Carrying on conversations while our dogs are on loose leashes in and around other dogs is an invitation for an altercation. I’ve learned through experience that picking them up or saying, “coming through” before I pass saves everyone involved.


  5. Kelly Says:

    I am glad to hear that the central course design will not be affected with the change ion heights. Just adding on to what Karissa mentioned above — it may take special training to succeed in TDAA just as it does to succeed in other venues. From my own experience which involves playing in several organizations with my dogs including AAC, AKC, ASCA, CKC, CPE, NADAC, TDAA, UKI and USDAA … I have found that each one brings a different flavor and unique challenges – my Pugs had a more difficult time with the longer courses and large distances required in NADAC while my larger-strided dog needs to collect more on some TDAA & UKI courses…but even with the very limited training we do, we are able to communicate pretty well through each style of course. I find the variety of people at each trial and the different kinds of courses presented are what keep me playing this game!

    Some of the different organizations require certain skill sets on the part of both handler and dog. I have always said that TDAA appeals to gamers — people who like the idea of playing different – often brand new -games at each trial…someone who is reliant on numbered courses would not feel as comfy when faced with some of the TDAA games. In turn, some dogs will not find TDAA a good match and it is hoped that the human part of the team will consider this before subjecting them to anything “unsafe”. I do believe that having the 20″ max was better than leaving it open-ended.

    I would not be opposed to ditching the tire altogether or making it optional in Standard courses since that seems to be the obstacle of most concern… being a smaller obstacle to begin with, the aperture can be pretty nonexistent from many angles and I can understand how it can be mishandled and misjudged. The tire seems to be the star of a few TDAA games so I am not sure it can be removed completely.

    I still think most of the uproar was due to people worrying about making changes with such short notice…people like to ease into change from what I have witnessed…

  6. Diana Says:

    I won’t be entering TDAA with my 18 inch dog, even with an increased height range, but that has more to do with the fact that she’d hate the constant collection than a political statement about discrimination against big dogs. I would have enjoyed TDAA with my old man (20 inch) were he still alive since many of his best friends were papillons and it was the one venue we didn’t go to together.

    Good luck with the experiment. Maybe my next dog will tolerate short courses better.

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