Introduction: Dog Agility "A" Frame

About: Scientist, photographer, writer, cyclist, tinkerer.

Recently, I started taking my dog to an agility class. Once per week didn’t seem like enough practice, so I began to build some of the obstacles at home, as seen in my collection of dog agility obstacles. The A frame is an apparatus that is quite expensive to purchase, but not difficult to build. You can buy all the lumber and construct a very pretty regulation-sized version, but I wanted to make it for zero cost. Aesthetics were not important, just function. The result was somewhat crude and smaller than official size, but perfectly adequate for home practice.

Materials: two interior doors, two hinges, pallet wood, screws, screw eyes, chain, snaps, paint, sand

Tools: screwdriver, table saw, paint brush

Step 1: ​Hinge the Doors

I had two interior doors stored in a shed with some lumber and building supplies. These were regular, wooden, hollow-core, closet doors that had been taken out of a house. They were kind of old and dinged up, so I probably was never going to use them for any greater purpose. They happened to be the same width (24”), though one was an inch shorter in height than the other. I pulled two decent hinges out of my bucket of screws, bolts and other hardware. I squared up the doors on my driveway and screwed the hinges onto the ends so that the doors were hinged together at the top and oriented so that the doors could fold completely together. These form the basis of the A frame.

Step 2: ​Make and Attach Cleats

The A frame needs cleats in the form of small boards attached transversely so that the dogs can get traction. I took apart a pallet and ripped some of the one-inch-thick boards down to 2 inches width on the table saw, then cut their length to the width of the doors. I spaced them about a foot apart and attached them with drywall screws. I was lucky in that one of the cleats covered the doorknob hole, otherwise I would have felt compelled to fill it somehow. I sanded some of the areas that might be prone to make splinters, although I left alone areas that were just rough, as that also provides more traction.

Step 3: ​Paint and Texture

I applied a coat of white exterior paint (from an old, partially congealed can in my basement) to the top of the A frame, let it dry, then applied another. This would provide some protection against weather. While the second coat was still wet, I sprinkled sand onto the wet paint. A note about the sand: having access to a set of soil sieves, I removed the larger particles and the fines, leaving only medium-sized sand grains to apply to the surface. The sand didn’t stick as well as I would like, but the amount was adequate for my dog. A smaller dog would need more grip between the cleats because of its shorter stride length. Later I may try mixing the sand directly into the paint.

Step 4: ​Attach Chains

The two sides are normally held together by a pair of chains, which can be adjusted to different lengths to vary the height of the A frame. I had an old, rusty dog chain which I cut in half. While I had some old screw hooks that I could have used to attach the chains, I thought them somewhat unsafe for dogs. I had to buy four screw eyes for attachment points and these comprised my only expense for the project: about $4. I attached them to the sides about halfway up so that the doors would still be able to fold flat. The dog chain already had a snap at each end, so I attached a metal snap to each of the cut ends.

Step 5: ​Final Notes

The height of a regulation AKC frame is 4’ 11” at the midpoint, but it has 8-foot sides. My doors were not even 7 feet long. I used some rusty trigonometry to calculate the height of my A frame to achieve the same angle (128 degrees) as the regulation one and marked the chains at the appropriate link with a piece of jute. Beginning dogs should start at shallower angles, of course. A wedge-shaped board should be used to fill the joint between the panels at the top to keep the dog's toenails from catching in the crack, which actually happened to one of my dogs when I forgot the wedge. The miniature schnauzer Gretchen, shown, had no trouble. I’ve been using the frame for a few weeks, and it has performed well. It’s sometimes a bit wobbly, especially when a dog is at the apex, but then my back yard is not very level. I may screw a longer board across the bottom of one door to improve lateral stability. It is surprisingly convenient for a large apparatus, as I can fold it up and stow it lying down on the back porch when rain, snow, or one of our famous Midwestern windstorms is approaching.

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