A sport for everybody

Agility was brought to Sweden by Marie Hansson in the late Eighties. The sport has developed a great deal over time with higher demands for a clean run at top speed. This growth has been particularly noticeable and quick during the end of the 1990s. Emelie Johnson and Eva Bertilsson explain how the Swedish agility scene is organised.

One thing that makes agility in Sweden special is that it was under the control of the Swedish Youth Dog Club (Sveriges Hundungdom) for a long time, which put an emphasis on the importance of agility as a sport for everybody. Sweden still has a great many children and young people training and competing. A very broad spectrum of breeds can be enjoyed on the agility course since the dogs competing are pets and family dogs, and often not chosen solely for agility. The youngest handler of an agility champion is only twelve years old and the dog in question is a Sheltie.

Sweden is geographically quite a long stretched country, and agility exists all over. However, the concentration of competitions is to the south of the country, making long journeys an issue especially for handlers in the north.

The agility sport is now controlled by something called Svenska Brukshundsklubben, SBK - translated that would be something like The Swedish Working Dog Club - which in turn is an association beneath our Kennel Club, SKK. They handle not only agility but other disciplines such as, for example, Obedience.

We also have a national association for younger people between 7- 25 years of age called Sveriges Hundungdom, (The Swedish Youth Dog Club). These national clubs are then divided into local clubs and since not all of the 'adult' clubs feature agility, we have people of all ages within the youth association.

Here in  Sweden many people find it important that 'everybody should be able to compete on equal terms' which has led to some controversies in both obedience and agility. Should the rules favour the extremely fast and agile shepherds? Or should accuracy and precision pay off, so that a somewhat slower dog has a realistic chance? This discussion goes on and on and on... With the sport starting out within the youth club, and with the high number of young people participating, this is a serious question here.

Kenth Svartberg & Holly
Our rules and class system have just been revised, and have since this revision got closer to both FCI and the other Nordic countries. Since 1 January  2002, we divide the competing dogs in three different height groups:-

  • Small (up to 34,99 cm)
  • Medium (35,00-42,99cm)
  • Large (from 43,00 cm)

There are six official classes: Agility 1, 2 and 3 and Hopp (=Jumpers) 1, 2 and 3, where 1 is the first and easiest level and 3 is the most advanced. All obstacles can occur in the Agility classes, and in Jumpers the A-frame, the dog-walk, the see-saw and the table are excluded.

Agility and Jumpers are treated as different disciplines, and you qualify to the higher levels in Agility and Jumpers separately. Beginners start in Class 1 Agility and Class 1 Jumpers, and to qualify for Class 2 Agility or Jumpers you have to place 1-5 with 0 faults three times. To qualify for class 3 Agility or Jumpers you have to place 1-3 with 0 faults three times. A consequence of this system is, for example, that it is possible for a dog to be in class 3 Agility and class 1 Jumpers.

Yvonne 'No-run' Öster & Lisa
In Class 3 Agility and Jumpers, what we call certificates can be won. To get a certificate you need to place yourself first of all the dogs that are not already champions and also within the first five placed. You have to make an entirely clean run (both obstacles and time). When you have managed to win three certificates in class 3 Agility plus a show merit (or, for border collies, a herding merit), your dog gets the title Swedish Agility Champion. Three certificates in class 3 Jumpers, and the show or herding merit, leads to the title Swedish Agility (Hopp) Champion.

We also have official Team classes, where a team consists of 3 or 4 dogs, and the best three runs count. Until 15 June 2001, the Team classes are divided in the old height groups Mini (up to 40 cm) and Standard (over 40 cm), but from then the Team classes will follow the new height groups of Small, Medium and Large. All dogs in a team have to belong to the same height group, and the dogs in a team are not exchangeable.

Swedes at Dania Cup 2000, a 7-day competition in DenmarkThe Swedish Championships
The Swedish Championships – our 'Nationals' - are held in the end of August every year, hosted by different regional branches of SBK. To qualify for the championships 2002 one needs to earn points in class 3 Agility. This will probably change, so that both class 3 Agility and class 3 Jumpers will count.

The points are distributed through a system of how many dogs entering the class and where you were placed. We have a system of all these points being reported to a list and the 45 best placed Large, the 30 best placed Medium, and the 30 best placed Small dogs qualify for the championships. Also the 15 best placed teams of each height group are qualified.

At the Swedish Championships, the individual dogs start in one Agility class and one Jumpers class the first day. The results from these two runs are added and about half of the dogs (i.e. 20 Large, 15 Medium, 15 Small) are qualified for the finals which take place on the second day of the Championships. In the finals everyone start from scratch and do one Agility and one Jumpers class again. The results (faults + time) from these two runs make the final result list. The teams only start in Jumpers, one class the first day and one class the second. The results are added and the result list is thus construed.

The media interest in agility (and other dog sports) is very limited here, so we envy those of you who can watch your Nationals on TV!! We may get a feature in some local magazine if we are lucky.

milla.jpg (9624 bytes)Breeds
The emphasis of agility as 'a dog sport for everyone' is displayed in the great variety of breeds training and competing. Family dogs of every possible breed can be found in the training classes. On the highest competitive level the most popular breed seen in the group of large dogs here is, as in many countries, the Border Collie. We also have a great many Belgian Shepherds, a few Australian Kelpies, mixed breeds (which are allowed to compete in our domestic championships but not for our national team) and quite a few fast Golden Retrievers. For example, Bengt-Göran Landin and his Golden Rockdove’s Timekeeper of Big Ben who won the Nordic Championships in 1999.

In Small and Medium classes one of the dominating breeds is the Shetland Sheepdog. There are also a great many Border Terriers, Papillons and Poodles of different heights competing successfully. At competitions, there are almost as many dogs competing in Small and Medium classes combined as there are in Large. This is, as far as we know, quite unique for Sweden.

Malin Öster & Annie in the snowTraining opportunities
Due to our climate most competitions have traditionally been held in the period April - October. The last couple of years, however, more and more competitions have been held during the winter. The problem is to find good indoor facilities. A few sport centres allow dogs, but since the matter of allergies is a very big issue here we have to use riding facilities for most of our indoor competitions. Some competitions are held at the larger indoor dog shows but the SKK has still not quite understood agility's potential to attract spectators so they are not always that interested in sharing their space with us.

Training in the autumn and winter is also a problem. Some, but not all, clubs manage to rent some riding facility for a couple of hours a week, but the possibilities to train during this time of the year are limited. Indoor training on carpet hardly exists at all.

sve.gif (18467 bytes)Jenny Damm & LotusWhere do we stand?
Agility in Sweden is fairly advanced; it has been around for quite a long time and we have not been afraid of influences from abroad. Looking at where we stand when competing in for example the World Championships, the current World Champion in standard is the Swedish Border collie Saltsjöborgs Lotus, owned and handled by Jenny Damm. The Swedish mini team won the bronze medal in Porto, so it was quite a successful championship for our country. We do however have to keep working at developing a handling that enables us to work our dogs towards that ever alluring clean run at top speed.

Here in Sweden there is a consensus that successive competition and fair treatment of the dog must and can go hand in hand. Positive training and a friendly atmosphere have been important features of the Swedish agility, and will hopefully continue to be so in the future.

About the authors

About the authors
Both Emelie Johnson and Eva Bertilsson are true agility enthusiasts, who spend most of their spare time training, analysing, competing or teaching agility. They both have substantial experience from other dog sports as well, but as everyone knows: agility is addictive. The authors offer seminars in both general clicker training, clicker training for agility, and competitive agility training.

Emelie Johnson Vegh, who on her 'non-dog-time' is studying to become a upper secondary school teacher, has been competing in agility for ten years. She started with her now twelve-year-old mixed breed Vermas Lilla Nilla, who has competed in the Swedish National Championship many times and would have had the title Swedish Agility Champion if she was not a mixed breed. Nilla has also had a very successful career in Obedience, with all the merits for an Obedience Champion title.

In 1994 Emelie got her first border terrier, Arracs Flox, who has been competing successfully in both Agility (two Certificates, many times at the Swedish National Championship) and Obedience and has also been working as a hunting dog. Both Nilla and Flox have earned medals at the Swedish Championships team event. Both have also competed successfully at the Swedish Junior Championships, then participating in both Agility and Obedience. 1998 it was time for a second Border Terrier: Abullabergas Abies Excelsa – called My. My is today four years old and has recently taken the first step towards an Agility Champion title by earning her first Certificate. As it seems, she will qualify for this year’s Swedish National Championship.

Eva Bertilsson, student of behavioural science, has been competing in agility for eight years. At that time she had two dogs: a Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever called Sickan, and a phalène, Macrodahls Beatrice, called Misty. Sickan earned an Obedience Champion title and competed in agility on an intermediate level, while Misty has earned Champion titles in both Obedience, Agility and Conformation. Misty has been one of Sweden’s most successful Mini Agility dogs the recent years, with one gold medal (1998) and one silver medal (2001) in the Swedish National Championship, and participation in two World Championships and three Nordic Championships. Misty has also had two litters of pups, and her now three-and-a-half years old son Soya has stayed in the family. Soya is on his way towards both Swedish and Norwegian Agility Champion titles, with certificates in both countries, and there is also a good chance that he will qualify to this year’s Swedish National Championship.

Photo credits: Thanks to Anna & Nalle for giving permission to use the photos from their site


From Kirsten Kosinski
esting to learn about our sport in other countries - that is also why I check into Agiltynet from time to time! (27/03/02)


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