Agility is a popular dog sport, both in the United States and abroad. Different agility venues sponsor different kinds of classes unique to them: the United States Dog Agility Association (USDAA) has Gamblers, the American Kennel Club (AKC) has Time 2 Beat and the North American Dog Agility Council (NADAC) has Hoopers. Unlike other dogs competing in other classes, however, the dogs competing in Hoopers agility run a course consisting of only one type of article: a plastic hoop suspended in a frame.
Unlike most agility courses that are designed to challenge the physical and mental dexterity of both the dog and the handler, Hoopers agility focuses on the teamwork demonstrated by the dog and handler team. The judge prepares sequences of ground-level, no-impact obstacles called "hoops," through which the handler must find the most efficient route. The object of the Hoopers course is to demonstrate the ability of the dog and handler to work smoothly as a team running through the handler's chosen path.
There are two different acceptable styles of hoops used for a Hoopers course: a complete hoop suspended within a frame and an archway made of a frame topped by half of a plastic hoop. When the first kind of hoop is used, the bottom of the hoop is attached to the stabilizing bar of the frame. Even the smallest dog should have no trouble clearing the hoop bottom without resorting to jumping.
The Hoopers course is laid out in several series of "test" and "non-test" sequences. Test sequences consist of certain patterns created by three or more hoops or of numbered obstacles that must be taken in a certain order. Patterns can include serpentine, pinwheel, arcs, boxes and weaves. Non-test sequences consist of a series of four hoops laid out in a straight line. Lower level courses, called "Novice" and "Open," have four test sequences. The highest level "Elite" course has five test sequences. In addition, courses may contain one (Novice, Open) or two (Elite) bonus test sequences.
Handlers select their own path through the sequences that the judge has prepared. Test sequences cannot be completed consecutively; that is, a non-test sequence of hoops must be completed between tests. The dog and handler team has three opportunities to attempt each sequence before being faulted and having to move on to the next series of non-test hoops. An attempt is counted if all four of the dog's paws have passed through the first hoop of the sequence.
To have a "qualifying" (successful) run at the Novice level, the dog and handler team must complete two tests. A qualifying run consists of completing a minimum of three non-test hoops, a test, a minimum of two non-test hoops, a test and then exiting the course "by genuinely attempting the finish hoop," says the North American Dog Agility Council. A qualifying Open run consists of completing any three tests on the course by completing a minimum of three non-test hoops, a test, a minimum of two non-test hoops, a test, a minimum of one non-test hoop and then exiting the course as above. At the Elite level, the team must perform three tests, one of which must be a bonus test, otherwise using the Open requirements for a qualifying run.