The A-Frame in Dog AgilityMarch 24, 2021 2021-06-15 12:35
The A-frame is one of the contact obstacles in agility. Depending on your dog’s size and the venue you compete in, the exact height of this obstacle will vary, however as a general rule you can expect the A-frame to be about 5’7” high. In this article we will look at how and when to train the A-frame, as well as what makes this obstacle tricky in agility courses!
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The A-frame in an agility course
The A-frame consists of two wide planks (36” wide and 9’ tall) that are propped up at an angle, creating the characteristic “A” shape. A-frames are typically blue and yellow, with the contact zones (the zones a dog has to touch) at either end being about 42” wide.
A-frames require speed and power to navigate. In order to reduce the risk of slipping the A-frame should have either slats or a rubberized surface (or both).
Wooden slats used to be more popular in the last decades of agility, whereas in the last 10 years rubberized equipment has become the gold standard for obstacles.
On an agility course you will find many challenges related to A-frames. Sometimes a tunnel is put underneath the A-frame to test the dog’s ability to differentiate between the “tunnel” and “frame” cues. The A-frame is often near a change of direction in the course, forcing handlers to perform a cross on it – most commonly a blind cross after or a rear cross before the A-frame.
Training the A-frame
As all contact obstacles, you should not work on the A-frame with young puppies. When a dog is flying over the apex and landing on the other side of the A-frame, a significant amount of momentum is absorbed by his front legs and shoulders. This impact should not be put onto a growing puppy’s body. Only start this training once your dog has finished growing!
Especially if you own a large or giant breed dog, you should be very careful to take your A-frame training slowly and only start it once your dog is finished growing.
The A-frame is best taught by lowering the obstacle as much as possible. Some A-frames can be lowered so much that the apex is just 2-3 feet from the ground – if you are able to do this with yours, perfect! You can use treats, toys or spray cheese (a secret agility treat that many dogs love) to get your dog to walk across it. You need to make sure that as you are making the A-frame higher, you let your dog have some momentum to get over it. Do not start the dog from a sit stay a foot away from the A-frame – he won’t have the momentum needed to clear the apex.
The agility A-frame has two contact zones on either end of the obstacle. The dog is required to touch these contact zones as they come down (and in many organizations also when going up – a notable exception is for example UKI agility, where up contacts are not judged).
If you are teaching this obstacle at home, make sure that your dog touches the down contact. It is really dangerous if a dog flies off the A-frame from higher up – he could seriously get hurt if he crashes down without touching the yellow zone.
There are several ways to work on great contact performance on this obstacle.
You could teach your dog a 2on2off – a behavior in which he stops at the end of the obstacle with two feet in the yellow contact zone and two feet on the ground. Especially for owners who do agility for the first time this can be a bit tricky.
An easier option is to scatter some treats on the ground behind the A-frame. This way, the dog will look down and sniff for treats and in the process slow down enough to touch the contact zone and not get hurt.
Some owners also teach so-called “running contact” during which the dog learns to hit the contact zone even at full-speed. This can be difficult to train for large dogs. Small dogs usually automatically hit the yellow zone without much training involved.
Dogs that are afraid during training
Some dogs are initially scared of the A-frame. This applies especially to dogs that seem to have a general fear of heights (they might also be scared of the agility dogwalk) or that lack confidence on the agility course. If a dog does not approach the A-frame with speed and confidence, he is likely to stall out as he is going up the ramp, which in turn will scare him even more.
For these dogs it is especially useful to lower the A-frame enough that they can navigate it easier. Use extra special treats to entice your dog to go across it. The more you can practice the better.
If you do not have an A-frame at home, you can also buy a board, paint it in blue and yellow and prop it up at a low angle in your yard. Teach your dog to confidently navigate the board – this skill can then transfer to the actual A-frame. Just make sure that it is not-slippery – you can for example use sand as mentioned below to give the surface traction.
Buying an A-frame
If you want to add an A-frame to your home agility course, the price may come as a surprise. A-frames are typically the most expensive obstacle on an agility field. These days, the base is most often made from aluminium and the surface that the dog moves on is rubberized. Ideally your A-frame should also have wheels so that you can easily move it around.
This is not a cheap obstacle to make – expect to pay $1,200 and more for your A-frame. Sometimes you can get a used A-frame from an agility club near you or a competitor who is selling their old obstacle – keep an eye out for potential deals!
Building a DIY A-frame
You can build your own A-frame at home from wood. While you can make a full-sized A-frame, many owners opt for a smaller version that requires less space, while still giving your dog the benefit of exercising and training.
When you are building your own A-frame, make sure that the boards are not slippery. You can use rubber skins (though these are pretty pricey) or put slats on the boards. An inexpensive trick is also to use paint and sand – you can “glue” the sand to the board with the paint and create a lot of traction on the surface that way.