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AKC Agility League – Compete Nationally, Run Locally

Italian Greyhound named "Tate" jumping over an obstacle while competing at the AKC Agility League


When it comes to resumes, “Tate” has a lot to brag about. The Italian Greyhound (IG) earned a Grand Championship in the breed ring, and his athleticism and smarts led to six AKC Agility championship titles.

After such a long, successful career, 12-year-old Tate had retired to run only at an occasional local Agility trial.

But a new AKC program brought the Italian Greyhound back into the spotlight last year.

Tate won his jump height class and helped his team take a Reserve National Championship as part of the AKC Agility League.

The League offers a team twist on the individual sport of Agility and allows participants to compete on a national level while never leaving their home fields.

His owner, Chicago resident Jennifer Graves, said she was skeptical when she first heard about the new program, but joined the Windy City Weavers at the urging of her instructor.

We have discovered that we are having a great deal of fun—fun with Agility and fun with friends… The Agility League has enabled Tate, my veteran IG, and I to continue to play together and have fun on the Agility field in a low-pressure environment,” Graves said. “We also enjoy participating with our other dogs, some young (great for experience and to practice handling on all sorts of courses), and our seniors (again, great practice, keeps them engaged, low pressure, preferred option). My husband and I agree: The League has renewed our enjoyment of Agility in unexpected, unanticipated ways.

The Agility League was the idea of AKC Executive Secretary Gina DiNardo, who grew up involved in dog shows. DiNardo is also a longtime competitive league tennis player and thought the concept would transition perfectly for Agility.

The League offers a new element to Agility and allows beginners to gain confidence on their own home turf and learn from more advanced competitors,” DiNardo said. “In addition, AKC really doesn’t offer team competition in any other venue, and people love team sports. You see leagues across all sports from soccer to softball to bowling.

Teams of three to eight dogs, located around the country, run the same courses in their backyards or at their local training schools. Judging is on the honor system. Captains submit scores to an online program. AKC calculates the rankings, and the season champions are crowned at the end of each 12-week session.

I think the league offers a fun and competitive opportunity for people to run unique courses on ‘home turf’ without the additional time and expense of travelling to a trial,” said Ashley Deacon who designs the courses for the AKC Agility League’s international division and is a former AKC Agility World Team member. “At the same time, it helps build a local community who have fun doing Agility together.”

Team champions of the fall season, which concluded in early December, were:

  • International Division
    (ISC Style Courses)
    Caption Caitlin Ascher, Colorado
  • Regulation Division
    (AKC Masters Courses)
    WestRover’s Speed Squad
    Captain V. Rosenberger, Alabama
  • Limited Division
    (Shorter Courses for Smaller Spaces)
    Little FASTDoggies
    Captain Kara Mackenzie, Colorado

The goal is to provide recreational fun and practice for all levels, as well as a great way for new dogs and handlers to ease into competition.

AKC Agility League
‘Lex’ and Penny, NADD Champion

My students, especially those newer to the sport and getting into competing, really got confidence in handling their nerves and making good handling choices under a bit more pressure, just like a real trial,” said Kara Mackenzie of FAST Doggie agility school in Colorado Springs, Colorado. “For me as an instructor, as well as my students, it helped show areas of training that may need more growth for each dog and handler combo to make them the best that they can be.

Mackenzie had several teams competing in the fall season’s Limited Division, and Little FASTDoggies emerged as the Season Champion of the division. The team has only three small dogs: a Shetland Sheepdog, a Miniature Schnauzer, and Mackenzie’s All-American Dog.

All three of us are competitive individuals with dogs who really love to run Agility. We had so much fun pushing each other to get the fastest possible times,” Mackenzie said.

Alabama resident Viveka Rosenberger coached WestRover’s Speed Squad into the number one slot and earned the Fall Season’s Regulation Masters Division Championship. Speed Squad’s dogs include a Papillon, Shetland Sheepdog, Miniature Schnauzer, American Eskimo Dog, and Border Collie. A Junior Handler also runs her Australian Shepherd on the top-ranked team.

Each individual handler and dog bring so much in their partnerships, from consistency to speed to just pure joy as they run,” Team Captain Rosenberger said. “As a whole team we were able to support and encourage each other as we ran to push each member to their fullest potential.”

The League was launched as an AKC pilot program on May 30, 2022, with a limited number of groups invited to try it out. The feedback was so positive that the AKC Board of Directors voted in August to continue the program, which completed its fall season in December.

The winter season 2023 opened on January 16, 2023 with more than 200 teams and 1,200 dogs competing. The League seasons last 12 weeks, and the teams run the same six courses with a new course released every two weeks.

The program strives to offer something for everyone, with several divisions and skill levels to choose. Novice dogs get to play in the Freshman class, while intermediate dogs can play on teams in the Sophomore class.

The International Division, known as the Ph.D. class, provides training on challenging courses in the style of the International Sweepstakes Class (ISC). Participants can prep for world team try-outs and other major national Agility events.

Caitlin Ascher served as captain of LookoutAY!, the team that won the International Division Championship in the fall season.

The International League is a fantastic way to bring a progressive style of Agility to all parts of the country,” Ascher said. “ISC has not made its way all over the United States, so the League fills that gap for those of us without much ISC in the area.

Ascher and another handler, Jennifer Martin, combined forces with four Border Collies to win the team championship.

The League promotes camaraderie and an environment that is safe to try courses that might push people outside their comfort zone,” Ascher said. “We can train on parts of the course before running it all together, and this helps create a very positive experience for dogs and handlers. We also push each other to be better, faster, and get the most out of our dogs.

For more information on the AKC Agility League, write [email protected] and click here.

Keep up with all the League action at the AKC Agility League Facebook Group.

The goal is to provide recreational fun and practice for all levels, as well as a great way for new dogs and handlers to ease into competition.



Penny Leigh CPDT-KA is a former newspaper reporter and editor who has worked for the American Kennel Club for 17 years. She directs several programs for AKC, including AKC Canine Partners, the AKC GoodDog Helpline, and the new AKC Agility League.

The North Carolina native began training her family’s dogs as a young child, and her love of dogs and working with them has been her primary passion in life. Penny began competing with dogs in 1988 and has trained several dogs of various breeds to advanced-level titles in multiple sports, including:

  • Master Agility Champion (MACH) in Agility
  • Utility Dog Excellent (UDX) in Obedience
  • Rally Championship (RACH) in AKC Rally

Penny began competing in Agility in 1992 and has made the finals of the AKC National Agility Championship and the Westminster Kennel Club Master Agility Championship.

In addition, Penny and her husband, Dale McElrath, have shown and bred Flat-Coated Retrievers, producing numerous Conformation champions. Penny has breeder/owner-handled several dogs to their championships.

True dog sports junkies, Penny and Dale also compete—or have competed—in these sports with their dogs:
  • Disc
  • Herding
  • Barn Hunt
  • Lure Coursing
  • Fast CAT
  • Scent Work
  • Retriever Hunt Tests
  • Dock Diving
  • Flyball

Penny has worked with many top trainers and attended numerous seminars. She teaches dog training classes, including Rally and Agility, at two schools in the Raleigh, North Carolina, area and as a volunteer for the Durham Kennel Club. She is an AKC Canine Good Citizen evaluator, an AKC Agility Course Test (ACT) evaluator, a mentor for Animal Behavior College, and a former dog daycare manager.

Her current competition dogs include Border Collies, Belgian Malinois, and All-American Dogs.