Hoopers , Fun, free running, and fascinating…

When Grant Smith explains Hoopers to a non-dog owner, the response was ‘Oh, its about having super fun with your dog. Basically a fun agility course.” Grant Smith explains why he likes the new dog sport which is taking the agility community by storm.

A hooper is a item made of plastic which looks like a large croquet hoop or half a hula hoop. It’s large enough to allow an Irish wolfhound run underneath without stooping. That was part of the initial attraction of Hoopers as a dog sport for me. It truly allows all dogs, whatever breed, to enjoy an activity.

Starting out
One of the things which really appeals to me about Hoopers is it’s simplicity which makes it accessible to many owners with limited cash, space and/or both. For a small budget and a little understanding of DIY, you can put together four Hoopers to start teaching your dog. The hoopers can fold up into your car. They are cheap to repair or replace if they break. And most importantly, they can’t hurt your dog.

Using just three easy to source items you can create fun to run rounds of Hoopers. It doesn’t matter the size or age of the dog. I have seen them all come into the ring with an uncertain handler, knowing nothing. Within five minutes, they are capable of completing a round of Hoopers. The smiles on the faces of the handlers, the wagging tails and happy eyes of the dog speak volumes to the trainer. That is the fun and fascination of Hoopers.

There are only three main items you need:-

  1. Hoopers
  2. An 80cm diameter 1 metre tunnel
  3. Something rounded like a barrel

Why rounded items? This is because it’s kinder to ask your dog to bend slightly than to twist itself double. A dog can maintain it’s balance better and regulate itself if turns are an arc. Imagine my delight when I saw gentle turns around a cone or bucket were taught as the beginning of Hoopers. I had been teaching this to my dogs for over 10 years!

The challenge of working your dog from a distance is another draw. . When I found that Hooper competitions tested your ability to work your dog from a central spot – or from behind a line – that suited me to the ground. i enjoy good obedience skills in training.

But to me, the icing on the cake is Hoopers really  is accessible to the vast majority of dog breeds and ages. You can use a Hooper to introduce a puppy to shaping methods, a bucket to introduce or improve turns with no jumping strain, and the golden oldies love the bigger tunnels and the smoothness of Hooper courses.

Frequently Asked Questions

There seems to be three main questions.

  1. My dog doesn’t do distance work. Can I run with my dog?

Yes, you can. Hooper courses start with 15 obstacles, set between 3 or 4 metres apart. Higher levels will have larger gaps. This encourages distance handling for the totally new team in hoopers. But I have also seen dog who have not worked away from their handler, demonstrate confidence using Hoopers, by speeding up! Hooper competitions in the UK allow you to choose how to run your dog.

  1. My agility dog is used to bigger gaps. Can they do Hoopers?

There is speculation fast dogs find the turns in starter Hooper levels difficult. Most dogs, taught from the beginning, learn to moderate and develop a regular consistent gait around Hooper courses. It enables them to make corner turns without turning sharply. So, I would say, yes. Even with an experienced agility dog, it would do no harm to start with basic hooper training exercises to allow your dog to adjust. Learning about course designs and using the barrels and gates to align your dog assists. There are plenty of people in Europe and now the UK able to do both agility and hoopers without detriment to their dog.

  1. Is it only for veteran and injured dogs?

No, Hoopers is for all dogs and all handlers, especially the older ones as they do not have to stoop or slow for tunnels which are short and high. There is no jumping and no wrap round on Hoopers courses. Hoopers gives the fun back to the oldies we love. The emphasis is on the dog able to move freely and at a consistent pace around the course.

During the last year become a  Canine Hoopers World Instructor follwed shortly becoming the First Canine Hoopers World Assessor/Judge in South Africa.

Relationships with more experienced Hooper trainers in Europe are being made, so that Hoopers in the SA can be fun and properly taught.

Progress leagues and award schemes are available, so whatever the standard you want to reach with your dog, the fun and fitness of Hoopers is there for you.

For more information, email

About the author…
Grant Smith
lives in Durban, and has been involved  helping people with their dogs for over 30 years, 

He has always been an active member of clubs in his area and runs his own obedience, agility and Hooper lessons as The Smart Dog and DOg Training Durban .

Grant has been training his own dogs for over 30 years, competed in Obedience, Working Trials, Agility, Rally and now Hoopers. 

Using his knowledge as an Approved Instructor and judge and with the assistance of other enthusiasts, Grant With Lesley O’ Brien of Morningside K9 are setting up Canine Hoopers SA