Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Agility Trial Surfaces – What’s your favorite?

Do you like to run on dirt, grass, soccer turf, carpet, or mats?

There are so many agility trials anymore that you can, not only show to the judges you like, you can also choose your surface preference. Isn’t that GREAT!!!

There was a time, not too long ago, when you went to a trial because there ‘was one’. These were held almost exclusively on grass, which limited our trialing season to about 6 months of the year. At times, even that was pushing it. After a few cold and rainy days, you learned what you needed to pack in order to survive. Almost everyone owned some kind of a shade/water shelter, rain coats and a variety of Gore-Tex or rubber footwear.

Then some wise person discovered DIRT! Yes, you horse people move over! Someone let the DOGS OUT! Running on dirt! Wow would have thunk it! We were in HEAVEN!! We were dry, somewhat warm, and okay, a bit dusty. This opened up 6 more months of trialing! If you were willing to take drive in the ice and snow!

Finally, turf was discovered. Probably by some agility enthusiast that realized hauling their kids to soccer tournaments was a total waste of time, when instead they could be using the same surface to run their dogs on! MOVE OVER KIDS! This not only allowed us exhibitors to show 12 months of the year, it was in a heated or cooled environment! It’s kind of hard to beat that! To top it off, many of these sold ALCOHOL! LOL

Back to the original question; which surface is your favorite?

For myself, my favorite surface would have to be dirt. The only down side is…it’s so DUSTY! Clubs seem to really struggle with finding the right balance between too dry and too wet. Thus, often times the crating areas become unbearably dusty. I like the overall traction that dirt provides, along with the cushion, if it’s properly maintained. I’m not saying it’s perfect, but it’s my personal favorite.

My second favorite would be outside on grass. This is probably the result of actually being OUTSIDE, rather than the grass surface itself. On a perfect day, with sunny skies and mild temperatures, nothing can touch it! Not to mention your best agility pictures are taken outside!

When running on grass it’s important to have the grass cut to the correct length or it can become slick. After too many runs, it also has the tendency to get matted down and slippery. Add rain and there’s a new obstacle to overcome. I must admit, some of my greatest runs with our dogs have been during the rain! Crazy, but true. I’m probably one of the few people that don’t mind running in the rain.

Turf would have to be 3rd. I like running on turf, but find it more slippery than the top two choices. Surprisingly, it’s our Portuguese Water Dogs that tend to slip on it the most. I’m not saying that the Border Collies never do, but more often I’ve noticed it in the PWDs. Maybe it’s their more upright running style. The only trial injury we’ve had on one of our dogs was from slipping on soccer turf.

Turf also seems to directional, meaning it has a tendency to favor one direction over the other. This may be why some dogs seem to slip more when turning on turf. I do like the overall consistency of cushion when running. This cushion can sometimes cause dropped bars, in my opinion, as the dog pushes off and actually sinks as it’s taking off. Others might counter that this cushion actually springs them upward and over. I can see both sides of this argument.

I haven’t had enough experience with carpet to have a strong feeling on it either way. Seeker has worked on it a bit and it seems totally fine. I’ve never trialed on it, nor do I know any facilities that have offered this as a surface.

As for mats, well, I’ll just come out and say it, “I don’t care for mats”. Personal choice, and I do not have any bad experiences from running on mats. We use to run on mats a lot in Flyball. Our dogs needed to have their feet taped to avoid burning their pads. I have heard of this occurring in agility as well. Those complaining of burnt pads are generally dogs that have wet feet, either from a recent visit to the pool or from sweaty pads.

We are so lucky to have so many choices when it comes to running our dogs in agility. It seems that the majority of the places we’ve shown have been very open to having the dogs and welcome us back. Okay, there was one incident involving unfortunate warm February weather, mud, and a new soccer complex that didn’t turn out so well. But it wasn’t the dogs! IT WAS THE MUD!! Let’s be sure to look after all these sites so we can continue to participate in a sport we love.


  1. Geez, I remember driving to Minnesota weekend after weekend because that's where the trials were - outdoors on grass in ALL sorts of weather. So many memories and stories!

    Horse arenas are great although everything needs hosed off when we get home. Glad I have a dirt-colored dog. Guess I'm getting older, I really like running indoors on soccer turf, climate controlled and no dirt.

  2. I like being outside, as long as it's not too cold.

  3. Thanks for this blog site. That's all I can express. You most undoubtedly have produced this blog into something that's eyes opening and crucial. You clearly know so much about the matter, you've included so many bases. Good information from this part of the internet.