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Jumping into Height Changes for All Dogs in Agility?

Posted on 08/01/13 95 Comments
Small but mighty - 9 1/2" Shelby winning in the 12" class in 1998 at the age of 10 years old.

When I think back on to my first years in agility with my Jack Russell Terrier “Shelby,”  it makes me happy to see where agility has come. Shelby competed almost exclusively in USDAA where at only 9 1/2″ tall she had to climb a 6′ 3″ A Frame, maneuver over contacts with 1″ slats (including the seesaw) which made them almost seem like cavalettis to a dog her size and she had to jump 12″ jumps . . . but wait here in 2013 she would still have to jump 12″ in USDAA (not in AAC, or CKC, or AKC or I am sure many other venues).

I applaud USDAA for taking the initiative for changing their jump heights but, why not add a Championship 8 or 10″ class for those little dogs?

The new jump heights in USDAA are now:

12″ for those dogs 12″ tall and under

14″ for those dogs 14″ tall and under

16″ for those dogs 16″ tall and under

18″ for those dogs 17 1/2″ and under

22″ for those dogs 21″ and under

and 26″ for all dogs over 21″ tall.

So that leaves us with the little dogs like Shelby still having to jump 12″ or be regulated to the “performance” classes because they are not really “Championship quality” dogs. Ouch.

Even though I haven’t been in the 12″ class for a while, I will always feel like a “small dog handler” at heart and am disappointed in USDAA for not standing up for the little guys. Yes there are less “paying customers” in this tiny little jump class but fair and equal treatment should be available to all dogs of all sizes.

I hope USDAA will take another look at this in their efforts to keep pace with the needs of all agility enthusiasts out there. I would love to hear your opinion about the new USDAA height classes but be sure when leaving your comments to be respectful to the effort USDAA has made; as the late coach John Wooden used to say,  “we don’t have to be disagreeable just because we disagree.”  So please lets have some constructive positive comments that can help USDAA understand our views in a way that inspires them to keep wanting to make changes in the best interest of the dogs.

Today I am grateful to USDAA for being open to feedback and willing to make changes for the needs of their customers . . . lets hope this is one more!


  1. Laura says:
    Wednesday, November 11, 2015 at 12:02pm

    I play in USDAA in performance for a few different reasons. I like the lower jump heights, less pounding on my big dogs. Can they do the taller height in championship and the spreads?

    Sure, all day long, should they have to? No.
    The courses are the same and extra time has never been an issue. We Q, have multiple titles and have fun no matter what.
    After seeing folks have injuries and surgeries for their dogs, dropped bars and near crashes in the taller heights, I hope to compete with my dogs for a very long time and if that means running in the performance forever, that’s what we’ll do.


  2. Kendra says:
    Friday, May 16, 2014 at 12:31pm

    Hey! I have a quick question about your blog. Could you please shoot me an email when you get a chance? Thanks!!


  3. Karin says:
    Sunday, May 11, 2014 at 2:42pm

    I have “played” some USDAA with my standard dachshunds who jump 8″ in AKC. I enter the performance class so they don’t have to jump 12″. When the performance class first came about, it did seem to me to be sort of the second class section, but I feel that that attitude has changed over the years in USDAA and in my perception and I enjoy the venue with my 8″ performance dogs. Does the P-ADCH mean less to me just because of the “p”? Absolutely not,
    My youngest dog is a golden. 21 3/4″ who jumps 20″ in AKC, but would need to jump 26″ in the USDAA championship class. Although many lighter boned dogs of his height can easily jump 26″, they do not weigh nearly as much as my golden. He weighs 65 lbs and just can’t negotiate 26″ jumps same as ,say a 40 lb border collie. So I will be happy to run him in performance at 20″. This issue of height versus weight is a present in all venues. I think that it is clear that my 20 lb long. backed dachshund could never compete, speed-wise with the 6 lb papillon she runs against whatever the venue. I don’t expect her too though, and again, happily run her, not to win classes, but to have fun. After all, if you think performance or preferred or whatever the lower height categories are second class, then in your mind, they always will be.


  4. Betty says:
    Monday, September 9, 2013 at 9:39pm

    I would like to run in USDAA , but will not jump my dog at 26″, that is a lot of pounding on the front. I don’t like the higher A frame either, This a fun sport and should not be so hard on the dog. Look at all the injuries in Agility. I will stick with AKC for agility.


  5. Laurie says:
    Wednesday, September 4, 2013 at 5:35pm

    And why is AAC in Canada not doing the same?

    It only makes sense.


  6. Angie says:
    Tuesday, August 20, 2013 at 1:38am

    Thanks so much for this post Susan. I also think the public finds the small dogs entertaining to watch.


  7. Melanie says:
    Wednesday, August 14, 2013 at 11:57am

    I have a 24″ dog that would jump 26″ in championship. I don’t understand the logic that it is OK to make these big dogs jump higher than shoulder height anymore than the min jump height requiring little dogs to jump way above their should height. Physics of the jump would suggest jumping gets harder on the body as the dog get larger (more weight, more force, etc).

    But I would suggest that people not “look down on” performance track as an option. I have been noticing many of the top-level handlers running dogs in performance. For the performance “large dogs” (dogs jumping 26/22), in my area there are more dogs (and faster dogs) entered in performance and there is MORE competition in performance. There is nothing wrong with the “quality” of my champion. I choose to jump performance because 1) it is easier on his body (less sore shoulders for my guy now, less accumulative stress) and 2) he honestly just has more fun. I encourage everyone to just see performance as an “alternative track” and not “less” of an accomplishment.


  8. Jane says:
    Friday, August 9, 2013 at 10:34am

    USDAA should realize this jump height issue is pushing people away and into AKC. In my part of the country (MidAtlantic U.S.), 8″ AKC entries have grown to be almost as large as 12″ and 16″.


  9. Jenny K says:
    Thursday, August 8, 2013 at 7:39pm

    I am pleased that they have changed the performance drop to 20″ for the 26″ championship dogs. For a dog that measured 21 1/4 they really had no were to go as they aged.

    What confuses me is that there are 3 jump heights for one span of 3 1/2 inches of dogs then only 1 jump height for the next 3 1/2 inches of dogs. So they have added more jump heights for only the select medium sized dogs and made no change at all for the large and small ones! They clearly state the concern to close the 4″ gap between jump heights but missed out on the last one from 22″ to 26″ and the unwritten one of 8″ in other venues to 12″ in USDAA.


    • Melanie says:
      Wednesday, August 14, 2013 at 12:01pm

      Completely agree!


  10. Elsina says:
    Monday, August 5, 2013 at 9:27am

    Thanks for raising this Susan. It’s great that USDAA are at least looking at jump heights. I’m in Australia where the IFCS affiliate is ADAA. We have a kinder lowest “championship” (“international” here) jump height of 250mm (about 9.84 inches), while our lowest “performance” (“regular” here) height is 150mm (6 inches). When I came back from the IFCS WAC in Texas last year, my 7-year-old Belgian (a 650mm [26-inch] dog) was mysteriously injured and has retired, so I was suddenly out of the sport. I’ve been helping to run trials, though, and am observing that the 26-inch class has virtually dried up in our area. Most people are defecting to the Regular (performance) program. This is no doubt partly because people prefer to have dogs jump something closer to their AAC-equivalent (ANKC) jump heights, but it’s also because our cut off here for jumping 26 inches is 500mm (19.7 inches). This means that dogs at the bottom of the range are expected to jump more than 6 inches over their shoulder height. That seems completely uneccessary. It’s good to see USDAA moving on this, and I hope they remain open to further improvements. I also hope that USDAA’s action encourages affiliates in other countries take another look at this question.


  11. Kelly says:
    Friday, August 2, 2013 at 10:29pm

    Great to see them making changes, but the small dogs were definitely left out on this one. 12″, 14″, 16″, 18″…2″ increments, yet nothing below 12″ to accommodate the incredible toy dogs that should be competing in Championship?
    Why not add an 8″ Championship? 3″ to a 9″ dog means jumping 33% above their height…the smaller the dog, the large the impact (as a percentage of height) every inch has. It’s not fair to ask these dogs to jump up so much – not mentally nor physically. The ‘toy’ class is growing by the day and becoming more and more competitive….they definitely deserve the opportunity to jump a height a little more friendly to them then 12″!


  12. Judy says:
    Friday, August 2, 2013 at 10:22pm

    Well, I have just started entering in AKC trials this last year and was checking out USDAA, but I don’t think so. My dog measures at 17.88″ so she jumps at 16 in AKC but would have to jump at 22 in USDAA??? NOPE! Too hard on her body and I value my dog way too much.


    • Caroline says:
      Sunday, August 4, 2013 at 9:47am

      The height changes do not help my dog. My girl is 17.75″ I see no reason for her to jump 22″ (4+ inches over her shoulder height). I, like others have mentioned here, want her to continue competing for as long as possible. So we compete in Performance. I know that the more “competitive” people compete in Championship. Fine. We often beat their times and Q. I think that not having the double or triple in Performance is silly, but, OK. I originally went into Performance with my BIG dog because I did not like the A frame height. Of course, then we had 18″ weave poles and I strongly suspect they had something to do with the back end problems he had later in life.


  13. Dee Yates says:
    Friday, August 2, 2013 at 10:16pm

    I run Maltese and the standard for Maltese is 3 to 7 lbs. that makes for some pretty short dogs. Both of mine are 7 1/2 in. at the withers. When I was just starting in agility I wondered why USDAA seemed to not cater much to little dogs. So I called the organization to ask if height changes were maybe in the works. I was told point blank that they would not be adding lower heights, that they were a big dog organization, and that was that. They were actually quite rude. So I will stick with AKC, NADAC, and TDAA. I think it is their loss. There are a lot of us out here with little dogs that are great at agility. But I would not risk my dogs health in an organization that doesn’t seem to want them anyway.


  14. Shelley says:
    Friday, August 2, 2013 at 4:07pm

    I know this idea won’t be popular with folks who only do USDAA, but I think they should use AKC height cutoffs. There are relatively fewer complaints on those heights. Seriously, USDAA is very different from AKC and the others, and has no need to differentiate themselves using jump heights. It would be so much easier for clubs and trainers, and yes, also for dogs who are playing in both formats. They can still have their own speed requirements, games, challenges, etc., and avoid all the other controversy, in addition to bringing in smaller dogs that can meet the yps criteria. Why make things more complicated?


    • Ann says:
      Wednesday, November 6, 2013 at 11:50pm

      I love how people are like… they need to change to match AKC… USDAA was here first. ( I actually had a ‘discussion’ with a man who tried to tell me AKC started agility…Really? I was running USDAA and there was NO AKC agility… so… reallly??)

      I’ve run dogs in both AKC and USDAA… I prefer USDAA… when I started my dogs jumped 24 and 30″ … Now my new dog is 18″ at the shoulder… he jumps 22″ (and can jump 26″ like it’s nothing)

      I don’t get the people who say Performance isn’t as challanging… or it’s not competitive. Really? It’s the same course! They took out the spreads <for those dogs that have longer backs and don't need to be jumping as high as often, etc) People say the little dogs would come if they could jump lower in championship… why? Not putting anyone down (I run little dogs too.) but many of the dogs in AKC's lowest heights wouldn't make time. So I honestly don't think jump heights have a thing to do with little dogs not competing in USDAA.

      I've seen little dogs that can beat big dog times (Susan's Shelby I seem to remember in her younger years keeping time with the big dogs) but at many of the akc shows I've gone to, they sooo wouldn't. You can't be over time in any level of USDAA (unlike AKC where you can at some levels)

      I start all my dogs in performance. I have several dogs that stay in performance all their lives… one is a corgi mix… she probably could handle 12" but I never moved her and now she's older with health issues so when she competes it's in performance or Veterans.

      for those who think Performance isn't competitive come to one of my shows…. those P dogs will show you what competitive is!


  15. Sharon Normandin says:
    Friday, August 2, 2013 at 1:16pm

    “So that leaves us with the little dogs like Shelby still having to jump 12″ or be regulated to the “performance” classes because they are not really “Championship quality” dogs. Ouch.”

    Ouch indeed, Susan! I am so disappointed and surprised that you seem to be a perpetrator of the stigma on the Performance division!


  16. Jeanette Swartzentruber says:
    Friday, August 2, 2013 at 9:45am

    I compete with a 9 pound Miniature Pinscher. She jumps 8 inches in Performance. She can jump 12 inches but it would be really hard for her and not much fun for her and I would never do that to her. Even the wording Performance or Championship makes it seem as if she is not good enough. She competes in CPE at 8 inches and that is the perfect jump height for her.


  17. Susan says:
    Friday, August 2, 2013 at 9:41am

    Not too long ago there was a large discussion here in TX about the dwindling numbers of entrants in our USDAA shows. Meanwhile, our AKC shows are huge and there is a very large number of small dogs, very few of whom I see at USDAA shows. I doubt if any of them want to put their multiple MACH dogs into a performance class just to run USDAA. If USDAA is concerned about revenue, they might reconsider their decisions, but they obviously aren’t too concerned.


  18. Ronna says:
    Friday, August 2, 2013 at 8:50am

    It is unfortunate that because we are a minority us small dog owners are being overlooked. We are every bit as concerned with the safety of our dogs as those who own ‘more poopular’ agility breeds. Perhaps they should consider their entries might go up if they would offer as much consideration to the small but mighty who are every bit as desireous, AND ABLE, of being ‘in the ribbons’.


  19. Kory says:
    Friday, August 2, 2013 at 3:20am

    There are less “paying customers” in the small dog classes, because they have not made it small dog friendly. It then starts to become a “which came first, chicken or egg” phenomenon. Either way, this is not likely to improve it for the small dog.

    I also found it interesting that even though they dropped the bar height, the broad jump length did not change. Very surprising to me. 36″ seems long for a 12+” dog and the 16+ gets it similar AND gets a high AF. Odd, very odd. I think the concept was ok, but so far, it is an implementation fail.

    I guess we’ll see what comes of it all.


    • Lynnda L in Mpls says:
      Thursday, August 15, 2013 at 12:17pm

      I too want to draw attention to the Broad/Long Jump specs for USDAA. Really, lengths *more* than twice the dog’s jump height?! Remember, the Long Jump is not really dispaceable — if the dog mis-calculates its trajecory, the dog *lands* on the boards. Ouch. And keep in mind that small dogs, being lower to the ground, can *not* even see the other side of many Long Jumps. So how are they supposed to know where they are aiming to land. Try getting your eyes 13″ from the ground and look at a Long Jump.


  20. Meghan Jordan says:
    Friday, August 2, 2013 at 2:44am

    I am both a small dog handler and a large dog handler. I started out with Jaxie My jack Russell she is small but mighty!! lol I too would like to see more small dog heights because I believe in equality. jaxie now jumps 12 in most venues to keep her at the same height across the board. But I have another JRT that is 9.5 inches tall and I would never jump her at 12 its too much on her. Like I say she has knekles (knee and ankles in one because she is soo short). she has never jumped higher than 8 and I will never make her so in my humble opinion I think that if USDAA wants to make their venue more little dog friendly like my team than we would love to have them do so! Little dogs have a ball too! My “little dogs” have no idea they are little tho shhhh don’t tell them!!!!

    My dog is an aussie and I am glad he would no longer have to jump at 24 inches but I am still not too happy with 22. All other venues we compete in he is at 20 inches. I dont want him to struggle in anyway agility should be fun for him and not painful and I could see my 21 inch rescued aussie having some trouble. Since dropping him from 24 to 20 huge improvement in his jumping and his joints. Agility should be fun and safe. I get that we want it competiitive. I am a super competitive person but it will never come at the cost of my dogs well being. My dogs are a gift and the time I get to play with them on and off the agility field is priceless and the time I am granted to be with them is a gift and a blessing.

    That being said I also think that USDAA needs to reconsider their equipment measurements too. Make it safe on the dog. Make it fun. Than make it competitive. At this time I will not compete in USDAA until there are changes. We will stick to AKC, ASCA, TDAA, and CPE. As I mentioned above each and every minute with our dogs is a gift, treasure it and treasure them.
    thanks for allowing my two cents!
    Meghan Jordan, Jordan’s jumpn Jax, Marlie Jax Jordan, and Racing hearts skip a beat


  21. Tamar says:
    Friday, August 2, 2013 at 1:43am

    My little mutt is 8.75″ at the withers and long backed (likely a doxie mix). He jumps 8″ in AKC and CPE. We’ve only entered a couple of USDAA trials and for those we’ve done P8″. To me it’s not worth risking a back injury or shortening his career otherwise. And like another commenter noted, he doesn’t know if he’s performance or championship. The only thing I dislike about performance is the lack of spread jumps, but he gets to see them in the other venues.

    However, many of my 8″ compadres won’t enter USDAA because they don’t want to only have the performance option. At the trials that I have attended, there seems to be a fairly even split between performance and championship dogs. Nonetheless, those who have yet to attend a USDAA trial because of the “P only” option don’t realize that this is the case. And ultimately many people don’t want to be in performance, which may go back to that feeling of being a second class citizen from before I even had a dog, let alone entered this crazy agility world.

    Several other small dog owners have noted that their dog is in the 10-12″ range. Even if a 10″ class was offered, a 10.5″ dog would still be in the 12″ champ height. The USDAA announcement noted that a principle of the championship program is that all dogs jump at or above their shoulder height. For that same reason, an 8″ championship height in USDAA wouldn’t make sense as the breed standards for pretty much all small breeds are above 8″ at the withers. The only breeds I could find that I’ve seen in agility and that have a breed standard that starts below 8″ are chihuahuas and mini dachshunds; however at many of the local AKC trials, the handlers of these breeds tend to run their dogs at 4″ preferred because they’re so small. In reality, a 10″ class would be the only one to really accommodate the small dogs (papillons, havanese, toy fox terriers, maltese and toy poodles all have breed standards within that category) while also maintaining the USDAA jump height principle. A 10″ jump height would also be more equitable when you look at the chart that USDAA posted along with the change. The chart starts at 10″. Based on their math, my dog would be jumping at 137% of his jump height if I entered him in 12″ championship (which is greater than the ratio that many of the dogs that will now be benefiting from 14 and 18″ heights used to have to do). If there were a 10″ class offered, and we opted to go the championship route, he would have to jump at 114% of his height, which is more in line with the ratio for medium and large dogs displayed on the new chart.

    While “having” to jump performance will not play a major role as to whether or not we continue to compete in USDAA, it would be nice to have other little dogs around to trial with. There is definitely a latent demand for a smaller dog jump height so why not test it out?


  22. Josh says:
    Friday, August 2, 2013 at 12:41am

    I haven’t been training in agility for very long personally but this is something I’ve always thought about. I don’t understand what jump height really has to do with anything in regards to challenge or the sport in general.Or who has the authority to assign them without the use of research on impact on joints, trends in performace and general safety?

    From my short time in agility i’ve noticed that poles generally come down due to ineffective handling, jumping in overarousal, poor understanding of jumping, not collecting, etc. Generally all classified under ineffective training in some foundation skill. The other flip to this coin is dogs with structural issues, injury or general aging.
    On my travels to train in the UK it was such an eye opener to see veteran dogs at 12-14 years of age that are expected to compete at the same performance standards and much younger dogs (With a large portion of dogs jumping 26″).

    I know that competing in anything carries some general risk and that is a gamble we take everyday in anything we do. However, dog sports can be competitive, fun, and more height friendly to all dogs if those in authority would think more along the lines of dog wellbeing backed with research.
    I work in healthcare and with all age groups and there are certainly changes associated with aging we all know that and I’m sure it is not exclusive to humans but all animals. Just as we wouldn’t expect our 80-90 year old grandmother to perform at the caliber of someone in their twenties then we shouldn’t be forced to expect the same out of our dogs. I know that some would say “well just don’t compete” or “retire the dog”. However, giving up something you’ve trained in, competed in and love cannot be just simply dropped that easily.


  23. Bud Houston says:
    Thursday, August 1, 2013 at 11:25pm

    My first agility dog was a little 13″ Sheltie named Winston. Back in the day he had to jump 18″ and do a 6’3″ A-frame. No worries… he earned his ADCh at those specs.

    In retrospect I believe he would have thrived to a greater extent under a system that was more small dog friendly.

    To be fair about it, I think that the USDAA is very thoughtful about jump height revisions and they’re really trying to be as fair as possible to as many dogs as possible. But you have to admit that the smallest dogs have never much been on their radar (that’s why there is a TDAA in the U.S.)

    At any rate, good to see you blogging on the topic. We’ll all be watching to see if “they” are listening.

    Bud Houston


  24. Marylin says:
    Thursday, August 1, 2013 at 10:46pm

    There are LOTS of POTENTIAL paying customers at the smaller heights. USDAA and their people keep repeating that there just aren’t very many little dogs in hopes of making it true. In our area we will have 40-50 twelve inch dogs at AKC shows. It is normally about the same as the 20 inch class. At USDAA we might have 3 or 4 in twelve. My long backed 12.5 inch Corgi that is supposed to jump 16 and my 16.25 inch Sheltie that is supposed to jump 22 want to play as long as we can. We opt for safer jump heights which do exist in every other venue.


    • Croswynd Crew says:
      Friday, August 2, 2013 at 12:31am

      I’d like to chime in here too. I won’t run in a venue that is not interested in the longevity of my dense long-backed breed in the sport. There are smarter places for me to spend money that are safer. I was hoping for an 8″ championship class. There are plenty of 8″ in solid competition – the numbers from AKC national and invitational surely don’t lie. My last trial there were more in 8″ than 12 and 16 combined. I’ve seen lots of small dog breeds emulate the word agile as well or better than 20-26″ counterparts. My dogs love to run, and would welcome another venue- so they are not aware they don’t belong or need a different division…


  25. Donna says:
    Thursday, August 1, 2013 at 10:32pm

    My older dog will benefit from these changes, going from 22″ to 20″ in the Performance category (she is 23.5″ at the withers but she is nearly 9 years old). The funny thing is my other dog, the young one, just getting ready to start her career, will be jumping 22″ Championship (she is 19″ at the withers). It’s just funny that my smaller dog will now be jumping higher than my big dog. I do appreciate the addition of the 18″ jump height as it has always seemed like a huge leap to go from 16″ to 22″.


  26. Ronda says:
    Thursday, August 1, 2013 at 10:26pm

    I’m hoping that there are additional changes coming to the obstacle dimensions. My senior corgi has gone from the 12 inch Championship class, thru the 8 inch Performance class, and now to the 4 inch Veterans class. Do you know that the table stays at 12 inches for all divisions? She enjoys her 4 inch jumps, but stopped dead at the 12 inch table the few times we tried to do Standard. If it is added to the games, she won’t be able to play in them, either.


  27. Erica says:
    Thursday, August 1, 2013 at 9:45pm

    I’m disappointed they didn’t lower their top jump height as well. There’s no way I’m jumping my 21 1/2″ dog 22″ (and that’s in performance) when she jumps 20 (or 16 in the performance level equivalents) in other venues, and will be able to jump even lower once she reaches the veteran age of 6 or 7 (depending on venue). She’s a good jumper, but even so, I want my dog to be able to compete for as long as possible. Seems like these changes differentiated between the smaller medium sizes but didn’t do much for the smallest and largest dogs, which are the sizes of dog most people I know who don’t do USDAA because of jump height issues have.


    • Lisa says:
      Thursday, August 8, 2013 at 8:05pm

      I agree. My 21-1/2″ dog has to jump 26″ if she is in the championship category. That is a huge difference, when she measures into the 20″ jump height for every other venue. Not a problem having her jump 22″, but 26″ is 4-1/2″ more than her height. If she was only 1/2″ smaller she would be able to jump 22″ — which is still 1/2″ over her height.

      Please USDAA — look at the “small” big dogs as well!!!


    • Amee says:
      Wednesday, August 14, 2013 at 12:51pm

      My thoughts exactly, Erica. I too was disappointed that my 23 1/2 inch dog would still be expected to jump 26″–no way do I want her to take that kind of pounding. So, I play other venues with her. I do like that her Performance jump height has come down to 20″


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