Throughout the United States, Canada, Great Britain and many other parts of the world, dog agility is a popular and exciting spectator sport. Incredible canines and their skillful handlers compete in a wide range of activities, such as hurdling, weaving and jumping. One of the most challenging events featured in dog agility competitions is the steeplechase.
Dog agility regulatory organizations, such as the U.S. Dog Agility Association and the Agility Association of Canada, have created specific rules and structures for all dog agility events, including steeplechase. Canine competitors who qualify as "top jumpers" are permitted to participate in steeplechase. The top jumpers, accordingly, are divided into four distinct height categories, allowing them to compete in the steeplechase event against similarly sized dogs. These height categories are 12, 16, 22 and 26 inches.
As the All Dog Sports Club and the United Kennel Club make very clear, steeplechase is all about speed and agility. A complicated obstacle course is presented to each canine competitor, and dogs must get through this course as quickly and cleanly as possible. There are tires to maneuver, tunnels and chutes to run through, A-frames to climb and weave poles to traverse.
Steeplechase demands speed, but points are deducted for "faults," such as knocking down a hurdle pole or bypassing an A-frame. All faults are added to the overall performance time, meaning a dog who gets through the course the fastest may still wind up behind a dog who is slightly slower but completed the course more cleanly. Still, the speedier the dog, the more likely the chance of success.
Any dog owner or handler interested in steeplechase needs to be familiar with the rules and regulations established by the organization supervising the competition. In addition to national all-breed organizations such as the USDAA, AAC and UKA, there are organizations that supervise competitions for specific canine groups, such as the United Kennel Club of Kalamazoo, Mich., which oversees licensed terrier races and publishes specific guidelines regarding eligible breeds, judging procedures and race content.