How Tall Is Your Dog, Actually?

In the sport of agility, dogs are measured and then run in a height category, which is determined by their height and structure (e.g., Regular or Select/Selected/Specials) and age (e.g., Veterans). The handler is the one who gets to decide if the dog will run in Regular, Select/Specials or Veterans.

For example, a dog who measures 19.5″ at the shoulder is eligible to run in 20″ Regular (or 22″ or 24″ Regular), or 16″ Select/Selected/Specials, or possibly 12″ in Double-Drop Veterans (only available in some organizations). Whereas, a dog who measures 10″ is eligible to run in 8″ Regular (or 12″ Regular) or 4″ Select/Selected/Specials/Veteran. (See the tables below for an illustration of the measurements and jump heights for the different organizations. Please refer to current rule books for exact cutoffs.)

Some dogs fall into different height categories across the different organizations. In these situations, the handler may opt to run their dog at a single height across organizations or they may opt to run the dog at different heights. If they opt to keep the height consistent, then they need to decide if they are “jumping up” (going up one height category) or using the Select/Selected/Specials options.

I have done both with Jenga as he has always been a height that is in different categories (14.5″ so he’s been in 12″ and 16″ across UKI, CKC, AAC). Initially, I put him in 16″ for all three as AAC was the only one with him at 12″, and I didn’t like how he jumped at 12″. Then as he became more skilled and older, and when UKI changed their cutoffs, I moved him to 12″ for all (Selected for CKC). Doing this required redoing our grid work training, but also to retrain our timing as the different height created a different tempo on course.

Jenga (IAC, CSS) measures 14.75″ and competes in 12″ Regular at UKI. Photo from June 2022 Trial, where he earned Masters Series Bye to 2022 Canada Open and the Most Qs Prize at the one day trial with Judge Andre Landry.

In some organizations, the handler provides the measurement, but the judge reserves the right to double-check the dog’s height (e.g., CKC). In other organizations, the dog needs to be measured once by a judge (e.g., UKI), and in others, the dog needs to be measured by different judges and the “best 2 of 3″ wins, unless the dog is clearly over 23” tall (then it is one measure) (e.g., AAC).

In addition, some organizations require exact measures (e.g., CKC, UKI), and others use either exact measures or “cut-off” wickets and the dog’s height is recorded as an “over/under” relative to cut-off heights (e.g., AAC).

So all of this sounds very simple: measure the dog’s height, and train the dog to perform the obstacles in their height division.

However, it isn’t that simple. Dogs need to learn how to be measured. As a judge, I have had my share of handlers saying, “Oh, we’ve never done this before… how do we do this?” or of dogs who are quite concerned about strangers touching their back, putting arms over them, and standing close to them. On the same dog, I could get a variance of readings of half an inch, even up to a full inch, depending on what the dog is doing. I’ve also had my share of dogs who are well trained on measuring and being handled by strangers. On these dogs, I get precisely or very nearly the same measure every single time.

So the purpose of this blog is to help you understand what your dog needs to do for a good measure. First, I’m going to describe the process and then tricks you can do to help your dog be more comfortable with it.

Measurement Process

Measuring usually takes place on a low agility table, or indoors on flat, hard floor surface. If it is on the agility table, it will have good traction, but for large dogs, it will be ‘tight’ space for the measuring device and the dog unless U-shaped wickets and cut-offs are used.

The judge will be standing or kneeling beside the table and gets to determine who stands where. They need to be at your dog’s side and be able to access the dog’s shoulders (withers) and the measuring unit. The judge might be wearing a mask due to close proximity of handler and the judge. The judge might also be wearing a hat.

There will also be another person standing nearby with a clipboard and paperwork. They are scribing the results from the judge and helping out. They may also be wearing a mask and/or a hat, and maybe sunglasses if outdoors and sunny. Thus, your dog will need to be comfortable with two strangers nearby (one of whom will be very close), with variability in appearances, masks, hats, gender, etc.

Your dog will be invited onto the table (either by you or the judge), and you will need to get your dog to stand still (no harnesses or coats permitted as these impact measures). You may feed your dog during this process (and it’s encouraged usually).

For a proper measure, the dog must stand square (front feet under the shoulders – not out forward, wide apart or in a split stance), and the back legs square (not outstretched behind but also not in tight, which may arc the back). The head needs to be in neutral position (not up like you see in conformation – but also not down out and low, like a herding dog in stalking mode or fear avoidance stance).

The judge will then navigate the measuring wicket (either the arm of the wicket or the U-shaped wicket) over the dog, feel for the dog’s shoulders and check the dog’s stance. Some judges may invite the dog onto the table and under the arm/wicket already to remove the “swing over the body” step. The judge may request changes in the dog’s stance if it isn’t standing square with a neutral head. The measuring device is brought down to touch the pointy part of the shoulders (this is the cranial angle of the scapula). Then they note the measurement (or cut-off category), and the dog is released from the table.

The judge and the person scribing results will do some paperwork and may hand you a card (depending on the organization).

Things to consider in preparation

The first thing I start working on with my dogs is to get comfortable standing square. This means front legs are perpendicular to the ground. For some dogs, they may also splay their legs out away from their mid-line (think Bambi on ice). Or they may stagger their legs (one forward, one backward). This tends to alter the measurement. as it changes the geometry of their front end. Their front feet should be situated neatly under their shoulders. The back legs should also be square (ideally hocks perpendicular to the ground, but for some breeds that will be too far out). We don’t want them stretching out behind them, or squishing up and arcing their back.

To train this, I use blocks and I shape for nicer stacking. I also train them to be comfortable with me picking up their feet and placing them into a better position so that I may be able to help them at the time of measure.

Another thing I do is get them used to holding their head in a neutral position. I usually do this alongside with square stand. Again a head held really high or a head stalking forward or bending downwards can alter the measurement (quite a bit in some cases). This happens either with the upper thoracic vertebrae (T1, T2) becoming more prominent than the scapula’s cranial angle (the pointy part of their “shoulders”) with the head up high, or because the lowering of the head or jutting it forward or backwards (low) alters the angle of the scapula and the relation of the cranial angle to the ground (lowering it).

Some folks train their dog to rest their chin in the handler’s hand. I like this for dogs who may be more nervous or really fidgety. However, it is important you don’t alter their body’s posture while holding their chin for a proper read (no pulling forward or pushing backward).

They need to be comfortable doing these behaviours on top of an agility table, and also on a solid floor.

Dogs also need to be comfortable with the measuring apparatuses that they will experience during their trialing careers. I start this off early during puppy exposures, but for most folks, they might not have these at home like I do. You may fashion devices at home with PVC or use training time at a facility with the device. Take this at the dog’s pace. Forcing them in exposures will likely backfire down the road. So, lots of awesome treats and force-free exposure at their pace.

Puppy JuniB is getting lots of treats and gentle exposure to the wicket with another person. No measuring was done to keep it simple and friendly.

Dogs also need to become comfortable with strangers being near them, touching their backs, and reaching over them. This is something you want to work away from the agility table and measuring wickets first. When the dog is very comfortable with this, then introduce the table. Then when happy with that, introduce the wicket away from the table. When the dog is happy with that, wicket plus table! When the dog is happy with that, alter the people, masks, hats, and additional scribe person.

My current two dogs are measured regularly (weekly as Maximus is growing). My cocker is the most consistent measurement I’ve ever had on a dog. There are only two times he measured taller, each time was associated with tight shoulders and needing a massage. The variance there was 0.2″, and it would revert back to 14.75″ after treatment. My youngest is still learning, and so I am still getting quite a bit of variance on his measures, but the variance is getting smaller. He also really loves being measured, barely able to wait for his turn.

If you are thinking of trialing next summer, now is the time to start the training process to have a happy, relaxed and still dog for measurement. Stress, frenetic activity, and poor stances all lead to inaccurate measures (if one at all). Happy training and measuring!

Puppy Maximus (5.5 months) putting pieces together. Notice the splayed back legs – not an ideal stand, but I am more concerned about his front legs, head and comfort with a new person operating the wicket.

Cover photo: Brooke (All Canadian) measured 24″ at the shoulder, competed at 30″ Regular, retired from competitive agility at 20″ Specials in 2002, and retired from agility at 16″ DDV in 2003 – photo from Calgary Agility Association trial, September 1997.

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