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Digging and Popping since 2000



As the sport of agility grows this question comes up not only in conversations between enthusiasts of the sport.  Recently, at various conformation shows, different breeders independently asked me for pointers in choosing an agility prospect among their litters of puppies.


Far from being an expert, I will share what I learned from articles written by top agility handlers and add to that what I have observed with my own puppies and adults.  To put simply, dogs that are asked to compete in canine sports, especially agility, need to exemplify physical and mental soundness, accompanied by good health.


For our short-legged terriers,  the impact of jumping and descending contact obstacles at top speed, calls for a strong front assembly.  Weak elbows, wide fronts, or straight shoulders are a huge disadvantage. Similarly, the proper rear angulation will aid the dog in powering up contact obstacles.  Just like an ideal conformation prospect, the ideal agility dog would have the balanced front and rear, proper angulation and length of bones, and therefore well coordinated movement.



The breed standards of both Norwich and Norfolk terriers call for fearless temperament.  Other wording worth contemplation is “adaptable and sporting”, “game and hardy”, all coined to describe a dog ready to “bolt a fox and tackle or dispatch other small vermin”.  Even though there are no vermin involved in agility, the eagerness to work with what I call “controlled abandon” still applies here.  Ideally agility prospect should not be shy, overly cautious or sensitive to noise.  They will be asked to work in noisy, busy environments.  They will be expected to take risks and make fast choices, all requiring great degree of confidence. They will have to ride teeters down and still not bolt when an occasional loud teeter hits the floor right under their paws.


In addition, most agility handlers value drive as one of the most important mental attributes of agility prospects.  And although I know of at least one trainer who believes that drive is overrated and great agility dogs are made, not born, I’d venture a guess that even she would agree that drive is an asset, even if she does not believe it is a requirement. You see a drive in a puppy pouncing wildly after a toy and persistently trying  to wrestle it out of your grip.  That pup would not give up, even if you bang something loud around him, or try to pinch his sides lightly.  You know the type.


At the beginning I introduced ideal agility prospect as having physical and mental soundness, accompanied by good health. By good health I mean the absence of any obvious health problems plus the best chances of being free from known genetic defects in our breeds.  We have surprising numbers of dysplastic dogs in both our breeds, and although our small dogs can lead a relatively normal life with hip dysplasia on the couch, they would not be ideal agility prospects.  Same is true of luxating patellas.  A puppy whose parents were screened for hip dysplasia, and luxating elbows and patellas, statistically have the best chances of being free from those defects.  In the ideal world the Norwich pup’s parents would have been screened for UAS (Upper Airway Syndrome) and the Norfolk pup’s for MVD (Mitral Valve Disease).


Having painted the picture of that ideal agility prospect let me add that there is nothing more fun for me than training the dogs I have, with all their mental quirks and physical imperfections. 

Originally published in The News, a publication of The  Norwich and Norfolk Terrier Club