Dog agility was conceived by John Varley as entertainment at the Crufts dog show in 1978. How could he know then what the sport might become, 40 years later? Those of us who were in the sport back in the day are surely counted as pioneers and innovators. [Of course, in the next breath we might be dismissed as clumsy barbarians.]

Clinging to the notion of innovator: I believed that small dogs and their handlers were in no way challenged in the same way that big dogs and their handlers are challenged by our sport. It’s not only jump height. How tightly a dog turns and how many strides the dog takes between obstacles differentiate the challenges.

Let me put it another way: The handler of the small fast dog has absolutely no concept of the skill and timing precision required of the big fast dog handler when that small dog is being run on big dog courses.

And so, we created an organization that would require the small dog handler to develop and hone those skills… The Teacup Dogs Agility Association (TDAA).

Lessons Learned


The Teacup Dogs Agility Association has been a laboratory for discovery and learning about 20 years now. Aside from my original vision of “comparable challenge” we’ve learned a variety of other interesting bits:

Inspiring the Lackluster Dog

We have discovered that some dogs that approach dog agility in the “big dog” venues with low enthusiasm will light up and catch afire when doing TDAA. While this phenomenon hasn’t been subjected to a scientific study, I’ve personally concluded that the pace of the action is invigorating to a type of dog.

I’d suggest that even if you can’t/won’t travel to compete in the TDAA, that training sequences can be set up to emulate what we do in the TDAA to find inspiration for the erstwhile lackluster dog.

Sharpening the Handler

The first thing a handler new to the TDAA will say when seeing the nearly miniature field of agility equipment is… “Oh! How cute!”  Catch them coming off their first agility course and they are saying “That was really hard!”

Without question the handler of the small dog, aspiring to master the job of handler in dog agility will learn the necessary skills when the course demands those skills to succeed.

Diminished YPS

The equipment used by the TDAA is diminutive. Small A-frame, teeter and dogwalk. And, I was delighted to discover years ago that they make 16″ pipe tunnels, which are perfect for our purposes.

A dog’s rate of travel might have a lower YPS (yards per second) in the TDAA than in big dog agility; although the dog is actually working at the same speed. Sounds like a contradiction, eh?

There is a good scientific explanation for this. The technical obstacles, contacts and weave poles tend to degrade the dog’s rate of travel. In big dog agility the dog has ample room to make up for lost speed in the vast intervals between obstacles. In the TDAA, where obstacles are spaced in intervals of 8′ to 12′, there simply is not running room to recoup the rate of travel.


TDAA enthusiasts feel that their dogs are safer when playing in the TDAA, than when playing with the big dogs.

Without completely editorializing the topic, let’s just say that many (American) handlers are unconscious of the menace exhibited by their big dogs. The small dog handler must be constantly aware of both threat and danger when in the big dog agility world, and be proactive to guard and protect their small charges.

When playing in the TDAA guarding the safety of the small dog is a more relaxed duty.

Teeter Fear

If there is an obstacle that we use in the TDAA that can create problems for a dog, it might be the teeter. If a dog becomes fearful on the TDAA teeter, that fear will be generalized into the big dog venues.

The teacup teeter should be considered a “new” obstacle to the dog. It doesn’t really matter if the dog has been trained to a big 12’ plank with a heavy fulcrum. This obstacle should be introduced to even the veteran agility dog with caution and in small stages. It’s a short plank, and it drops quick. When introducing the teacup teeter to a dog the fulcrum might be lowered, and someone should control the tip speed of the board, much as you would for a completely novice dog when introducing the big dog teeter.

Post Script

Forgive me if my rhetoric sounded as though I disrespect big dogs and their handlers in agility. To the contrary! I greatly admire big fast dogs and their handlers. Clearly, small dog handlers deserve the same thrill when they run their own small agility dogs.




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