An exhilarating test of speed, accuracy, and strength of partnership—dog agility is the most popular canine sport.
Fun and exciting for both dog and pet parents, agility appeals to dogs of all shapes and sizes. Open to anyone, dogs of any breed can hit the agility field for fun, mental stimulation, and to keep fit. But head to a local agility competition, or switch on Crufts, and you might notice a theme—more of one type of dog than any other, especially as you head up the competition levels.
So which are the best agility dog breeds, and which dogs are there just to have fun?
What to look for in an agility dog
Agility requires a dog to be fast, controlled, and accurate, but they also need to be driven, excitable, and super trainable. So in competitive agility, some breeds stand out more than others.
You need a dog that is confident and eager to please. They need to be able to recover from surprising noises, not be easily distracted, and be super motivated by food, toys, or praise.
A confident, happy, fit and healthy dog will enjoy agility, and you'll be guaranteed to have fun together.
Which breeds don't make good agility dogs
It's not so much about the breed as the dog's temperament and what you hope to achieve.
If you want to win, win, win, then a rottweiler or a great dane might not be your best choice. They're not the speediest, and their motivation to win just isn't there.
Dogs who aren't sociable and confident or who struggle in noisy places will find the environment at agility competitions difficult, but if you just want to have fun then any breed can enjoy agility.
Top 10 dog breeds for agility
1. Border Collie
Top of the leader board and dominating the field at agility competitions is the Border Collie. Fast, enthusiastic, super trainable, and desperate to please—border collies have been bred for off-lead obedience for decades. Their agility skills are second to none.
They can be tricky off the agility field though, and aren't recommended for new pet parents. They don't like being alone, can be pushy with toys, and have a really strong drive to keep their flock in check—even if that flock is their family, a group of kids, garden chickens, or the occasional sheep.
2. Australian Kelpie
Super fast, these speedy athletes can turn on a sixpence and take all the obstacles in their stride. They're easily trainable with a high play drive and intense focus when they're in the zone.
Like the Border Collie, however, they struggle on their own and are incredibly loyal, so they can be overprotective.
3. Jack Russell Terrier
Fast and furious, these little personality-packed pooches are bursting with enthusiasm. They dominate the field and are super keen to train.
They can be easily distracted, and their sociable nature means they sometimes lack focus. Fabulous family dogs, Jack Russell Terriers aren't suited to small apartments as they need to burn off that excess energy.
4. Shetland Sheepdog
Another little speed machine, the Shetland Sheepdog or "Sheltie" is a herding breed, with the trainability of a Border Collie, and the energy and speed of the Jack Russel Terrier. They're more focused on their pet parent and less easily distracted than some other small breeds, so you'll be on the podium in no time.
They are a bit "shouty." If you're looking for a quiet, meek, and mild dog, the Sheltie isn't for you. Their excitement is best expressed with a lot of barking on the agility field, but they can also be anxious little dogs so you may find they bring that barking energy home.
In the battle of the brains, the poodle and the border collie compete for the top dog spot. These fashion-conscious style icons can be pigeon-holed as show-off city dogs, but they are incredibly intelligent, fast, and highly trainable—super-suited to agility training.
At home, they tend to be relaxed and keen to cuddle, but their coat needs regular grooming to keep them comfortable.
If it's speed you need Whippets cover the ground like a cheetah! One of the sighthound breeds, whippets were originally used as hunting dogs. They are more handler-focused than some other sighthounds, which makes them easier to keep on task.
They have less energy to burn than other agility breeds and are happy to chill out in front of the tv in the evening. Their sighthound breeding does result in a super high prey drive, so they're not suitable for life with small pets and can be tricky on off-lead walks.
7. Cocker Spaniels
These beautiful floppy-eared bundles are incredibly eager to please. Usually very toy motivated, they'll do pretty much anything for a tennis ball! They're fast and confident, and bark their way around an agility course!
They're fabulous family dogs and one of the easiest breeds to live with. However, if you're purchasing your dog from a breeder (rather than adopting a shelter dog), make sure they have had all of their health checks. Bad breeding practices mean they are prone to genetic problems, including with their eyes and the potential for "Cocker rage-syndrome".
Small, fluffy, and super cute, there's nothing not to love about these gorgeous little dogs. They're fast, athletic, and smart. Great at learning tricks, they’re quick to catch on to training.
They love company and struggle on their own although they're also not the most tolerant of dog breeds, so life with small children isn't ideal.
9. German Shepherd
Incredibly intelligent, both in terms of training and emotionally. German Shepherds are wonderfully loyal companions as well as super agility dogs. Despite their size, they’re fast and agile and are successful in large breed agility competitions. (Although they often find pole weaving difficult.)
They do have a few health issues and often struggle with joint problems, particularly in their hips and back, so you'll need to be mindful of their weight and support them with a joint supplement.
10. Your dog
Yes, any dog can be successful at agility if your partnership is strong and they are keen and excited to get going. From the most expensive purebred to a mixed-up rescue mutt—if your relationship is strong and you understand each other, you'll be able to tap into their motivations and have the best time speeding around your local agility class. Have fun, make friends and enjoy life together...no matter what breed.
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