Saturday, September 11, 2010

Feline Agility: a Fun New Sport for Cats

By Julia Williams

Nearly everyone is aware of dog agility, an exciting sport where sure-footed canines race through an obstacle course comprised of tunnels, weave poles, hoops, hurdles, teeter totters and more. It’s entertaining to watch as they maneuver up, over, through and around the obstacles with lightning fast speed and “dogged” determination. Can you imagine cats being trained to run such a course?

Many people can’t, because they think cats are haughty creatures who would never do anything on command, let along jump through hoops or over barriers. I can picture it though, because I’ve seen entire troupes of cats perform all sorts of tricks at cat shows, on television and in youtube videos. I’ve also looked into training cats and have written about it for this blog. Knowing what I know, that cats are definitely trainable, feline agility competitions are not nearly as farfetched as they might seem.

The History of Cat Agility

When dog agility was first introduced more than 30 years ago, as a spectator event at the Crufts Dog Show in London, it was loosely modeled on equestrian stadium jumpers.  Since then, agility has become one of the most popular dog sports, with competitions held worldwide. 

Much like dog agility, a cat agility course is designed to display a feline’s speed, coordination, physical prowess and intelligence. It also showcases the trust and depth of the relationship between cats and their owners (handlers) who train them and guide them through the obstacle course.

The first feline agility competition was held in Portland, Oregon in February 2005 as part of a CFA cat show. “Let the Cats Entertain You” had 45 competing felines, both pedigreed and non-pedigreed, from kittens to adults. The novel event was a big hit with exhibitors, participants and spectators alike, and everyone enjoyed cheering on their favorite cat. Because agility events are open to any cat, the household pets compete alongside the grand championship show cats, and often upstage them. When it comes to cat agility, a pedigree is no guarantee of a win.

How Cat Agility Differs from Dog Agility

The obstacles used for cat agility courses are similar to those used for dog agility, but they’re smaller, for obvious reasons. Another difference is that while dogs are expected to navigate an unpredictable obstacle course by following the commands of their handler, cats are led around a circular course by handlers using a toy on a stick or a laser pointer.

Some cats run the course quickly and confidently, while others take their time and thoroughly inspect each obstacle before tackling it. Depending on the curiosity level of a particular cat, they can complete the agility course in just a couple of minutes, to 15 minutes or more.  

How to Get Started in Cat Agility

Training cats for agility requires patience, practice, determination, respect and affection, along with a supply of cat treats. The most successful agility cats love to play, have an outgoing personality, and are in tip-top physical condition. You don’t need any special equipment to begin training your cat for agility – you can practice in your home by leading them over the bed and around the table legs, or having them jump from one chair to another.

Take the time to understand the body language of cats, develop good communication with your cat and form a strong bond with them. Most of all, make the agility course fun, like a giant kitty playground. I’ve seen pictures of agility cats in action, and it does look like they are enjoying themselves.

If you’re interested in entering or watching a cat agility event, the CFA show schedule has information on which cat shows will have agility (look for the logo of the three jumping cats). The website for the International Cat Agility Tournament (ICAT) also has information on this cool new sport for felines who are unfazed by crowds, loud cheering and unfamiliar settings. I already know my shy kitties would not put up with any of that, so I guess I’ll have to get my cat agility fix on youtube.

Read more articles by Julia Williams

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