While all dogs are individuals and athleticism can be found in every AKC breed, as well as in non-recognized and mixed breeds, certain breeds are consistently winners in agility competitions. The same is true for competitors in obedience titles, where athletic ability is not as important as intelligence and willingness to please.
Agility competitions occur all over the world and teams compete on local, regional and international levels. Border collies are consistent winners in agility among the large breeds. Border collies are known for their strong work drive and are happiest when they have a job to do. They are energetic, intelligent and responsive, all traits that make for a winning agility competitor. Tops in both agility and advanced obedience competitions, the border collie is a member of the AKC sporting group.
Shetland sheepdogs, or "Shelties" as they are affectionately called by fanciers of the breed, are almost always ranked among the top 10 breeds in both agility and obedience. The Sheltie is a consistent winner in the small breed category in agility, and placed sixth in Dr. Stanley Coran's list of 10 most intelligent breeds, as noted in his highly acclaimed book "The Intelligence of Dogs." Ninety-five percent of the Shelties tested were able to carry out a command after being told what to do just once. Along with their extraordinary intelligence, they are athletic and have an enthusiastic willingness to please—a winning combination for both agility and obedience competitions.
While golden retrievers may not be found at every agility show, they do compete and win often, according to the Golden Retriever Club of America. Not only do goldens compete in agility, but they can be found taking part in all sorts of other competitions that highlight their hunting, retrieving and companionship capabilities. In obedience, the golden retriever is a high achiever. Thirty-two goldens earned high obedience titles in the 2013 AKC National Obedience Championship, more than any other breed taking part in the event.
Standard and miniature poodles are also big winners in both agility and obedience trials. Known to be both highly intelligent and athletically inclined, poodles are smart and eager to please, and catch on to what they are being asked to do very quickly. Poodles are among the top 10 most popular breeds, according to 2012 AKC registration statistics, and ranked number two in Dr. Stanley Coran's list of the 10 most intelligent breeds.
Michelle A. Rivera is the author of many books and articles. She attended the University of Missouri Animal Cruelty School and is certified with the Florida Animal Control Association. She is the executive director of her own nonprofit, Animals 101, Inc. Rivera is an animal-assisted therapist, humane educator, former shelter manager, rescue volunteer coordinator, dog trainer and veterinary technician.