If you’ve been inspired by Crufts, what are the chances that your perfect pooch could win a competition?
Known as the “greatest dog event in the world”, there are a whopping 20,000 dogs participating in its 131st year.
From dog agility, obedience, and flyball to heelwork to music, handlers and their dogs are going head to head to become Best in Show.
When it comes to dog agility training and competitions, how important is a dog’s breed and could it reveal how successful you’ll be?
Anthony Clarke, a professional dog trainer and agility ambassador for Crufts sponsor YuMOVE, often receives an influx of inquiries around the competition as people look into what breeds and traits make for a good agility dog.
Anthony said: “Agility isn’t just about speed – otherwise greyhounds would win everything! Likewise, breed isn’t always important either – sure, some qualities that make a good agility dog are passed down through genetics, but there are also plenty of mixed-breeds that do great at it too.”
According to Anthony, the key to success on the agility course lies in each dog’s intelligence, traceability, trainer focus, emotional shareability and connection, drive and body structure.
“It takes practice and dedication to compete at this level,” I explained.
“That doesn’t mean it can’t be enjoyed by everyone though – agility is just another way of staying active for life and that applies to any dog. But there does seem to be a list of traits that the champions all seem to share .”
Based on Anthony’s experience in dog agility and training, these are the top 10 dog breeds that tend to make for a good agility dog are:
Anthony said: “Collie’s are bred for off-leash obedience and learning complicated patterns to herd sheep as working dogs, so naturally, agility courses lend themselves perfectly to their tendencies. They are the complete package: speed, intelligence, drive, trainability. While they make a loyal and loving companion, they need a lot of mental and physical stimulation. They’re always a go, so be prepared if you’re inspired to get one that you’ll need to invest in them but if you do, you’ll get a lot back.”
Anthony explains: “The Malinois is a hero, let’s agree? From Police to military support, these solid canine companions will always be right by your side and so deserve a spot on this list of top active dog breeds. It’s an amazingly athletic breed that responds extremely well to training.Due to their size, power, and structure they are as fast as lightweight breeds, if you’re looking for an all-around agility superstar that balances brains and brawn, the Malinois is a grade-A breed that will shine both on and off the course. This breed is not suitable for someone who can’t dedicate time to training and exercise.”
Anthony said: “Shetland Sheepdogs are one of the smartest and most trainable small breeds out there. They’re excellent agility companions for people who are happy to compete in smaller height classes. They tend to be handler-focused, which makes them excellent to train for agility, however, they can also display nervous tendencies which can be amplified if they don’t get enough exercise and mental stimulation. For this reason, potential new owners need to be prepared to invest time in them to get the best out of the breed.” They can also be rather vocal in all aspects of life.”
Anthony said: “All sizes of the Poodle are athletic, intelligent, and trainable. A lot of people don’t necessarily know that Poodles were originally hunting dogs, so they can really hold their own against other working breeds when it comes to intelligence and initiative. They are very attached to their handlers, which make them fun and easier to train. Just be prepared for some extra grooming. Even poodle mixes tend to have their fair share of hair!”
“Despite being small, Papillons are astonishingly smart and fast,” Anthony said.
“Some trainers swear that their Papillons are just as smart, trainable, and driven as any Border Collie and the past winners at Crufts certainly do put this theory to the test. Off the course, this breed is the perfect companion. They love human contact and affection, not to mention a good brush to keep their long coats tangle-free.”
Anthony said: “Spunky and athletic, the Jack Russell Terrier always makes a strong contender in the small-dog class of agility. While JRTs can be a little mischievous at times, they love to work and do very well with motivational training methods – not least because they are super smart. A low-slung body and innate musculature make the Jack Russell a natural fit for fast and furious agility competition. They’re headstrong though, and don’t always take too kindly to other dogs, so they need a skilled trainer to really hone their social skills off course.
Anthony said: “Cocker Spaniels can be shy yet smart and fast on the agility course. They’re also super cute, which makes them the perfect little showboats on the podium and ideal to snuggle up to at the end of the day. Cocker Spaniels do have a tendency to put on weight, so owners will need to watch their diet to keep them in peak health, but if you regularly train or exercise with your dog it shouldn’t be a problem.”
Anthony said: “They love curling up on your lap at the end of the day just as much as they do learning new things and being active. These smart canine companions are surprisingly agile despite their size and they adore training, however not all are bred for agility we commonly see more ‘show type’ meaning they are heavier set and more square compared to the working type who tend to be leaner and taller. on athleticism and sport, however regardless of whether you get a rescue or a pedigree, you’re likely to have a smart cookie on your hands.”
Anthony said: “These are bigger and generally, goofier than Collies but they make excellent agility dogs for similar reasons to their sleeker pals. They’re similarly bred for learning complex herding behaviors, listening to their owners in distracting scenarios, and working all day on the farm. They’re intelligent, easy-going and can be a bit more outgoing with people and other dogs compared to the Border Collie. They’re also big and boisterous so, although friendly, can be a struggle to manage sometimes. If you’re thinking of getting one, make sure you can match their weight and energy.
Anthony said: “Whippets are built for speed but are not always the best at turning at speed. They are bred for racing and lure coursing, running is what whippets do best. They tend to be more handler-oriented (and can be quite shy) more so than some other sighthound breeds, but still can be a bit trickier to train than your average herding dog. Though fast on course, Whippets are also really lazy when they’re at home, which is a pleasant change compared to some of the other dogs in this list that are on the go 24-7.”
Are mixed breed dogs good at agility?
Throwing in a bonus dog, Anthony suggested the mixed breed “can really excel” in competitions like Crufts.
Explaining the reasons why, he said: “Dependent on the type of mix breed you have some crosses can really excel in the world of agility – if specific attributes are present within your dog such as a good working brain, good structure and ability to move freely, a cross-breed can well and truly out do some of the pure-bred dogs!”