So a blog post by One Mind Dogs™ creators has been making the rounds of late, with people sharing it and calling it a fascinating comparison. It’s called Competing in the US. I read it, and with all due respect, people seem to have a pretty low bar for fascination.
They offer a lot of opinions and comparisons based on their experiences at a couple of USDAA trials and a UKI trial, and from “observing” an AKC trial or two. Hopefully some of their misstatements/misconceptions have already been corrected by others on the individual shares, but since I am not a member of the One Mind Dogs page I cannot comment directly. And I am mildly annoyed. So I’ve decided to vent with this blog post.
They’ve divided the post into sections, discussing the process of entering and competing in trials in the US vs in Finland. I’m using their headers, and quoting extensively from their post so I can address my minor (and major) annoyances. I believe this is fair use for a public blog post (and I did link to it above) but I am sure someone will LET ME KNOW if they have a problem with it!
The primary point they make here is that in the US, people still send paper forms and checks, while in Finland checks are basically obsolete. Everyone pays in Finland using their online banking.
I know a lot of people would love this, but there are some basic problems doing it in the U.S.
1) Finland has ONE Agility organization. All the entries and payment are done (it appears) through that organization, which then transfers money to the organizing club. In the U.S., most clubs could indeed use PayPal or a similar service, but the club would have to pay a percentage of the money taken in to the service ON TOP OF the money they already pay to the sanctioning organization–making trials that much more expensive for the competitors. Could a large organization such as AKC or USDAA set up a means of online entry and payment? Sure. Is that going to happen any time soon? uhhh…
2) Refunds. I don’t know (because the post didn’t address) if Finnish competitors can get refunds for any reason, what their cutoff times are, etc., but if you are doing online payments, the money comes out of your account and it can be difficult to get it back. Due to the long lead times for Agility entries in the U.S. (particularly AKC trials) people often pull before the trial closes and are never charged for the trial, or pull for cause and get a refund. It’s pretty easy for me, as a Trial Secretary, to keep track of that and either never cash checks or get refunds to people. With a single point of contact, as in Finland (remember, ONE organization) perhaps they have an efficient way of doing this using online payments. It seems likely to me that with myriad organizations and means of payment here, it would be a lot more difficult.
3) Floating checks. You do it–don’t lie!
They say that entry fees are similar in both countries. Nothing controversial here, but I do want to talk about something they mention in this section.
“In Finland, you can usually only compete one day per weekend…”
That’s right–ONE DAY. I think part of the reason this might be acceptable is that Finland is fairly small:
Now, as a Trial Secretary I would personally LOVE it if people were only allowed to compete one day per weekend. In a limited trial, 20% spots wouldn’t be taken up by ONE competitor with 5 dogs who happened to be early in the random draw and I could get more people in! But if that was the rule here, there would be a mutiny.
“Finnish trials have 2-4 courses per day…”
That’s right–2-4 courses PER DAY. Sounds like your average AKC trial, which many competitors complain “isn’t enough.”
“…but in the US you can run up to 10 courses each day.”
At a USDAA trial. Maybe. I haven’t been to a USDAA trial that offered that many courses in a day at my level in a very long time, but I suppose it does happen still. The most we generally offer is 6. UKI trials don’t generally offer that many, and of course AKC trials tend to have, at most, 3 per day.
Not much controversial here except for this:
“In Finland the vaccinations of all dogs are checked in every competition. The rabies vaccination is required also in the US, but no one ever checks if the vaccination is valid.”
Interesting. And that is all I am going to say about that.
“There are three height classes in Finland; small, medium and large.”
OK, so here is a big can of worms, a blog post all on its own. The OMD post does not discuss what the height cutoffs are in Finland, but I assume they are FCI height cutoffs. You all know what that means, AMIRIGHT?
“In the US, the number of height classes depends on the organization. USDAA has six classes, a program with lower jumping heights (called Performance, for those who want their dog to jump lower jumps), and a Veteran program, for dogs aged 8+ years. This means 8 different jump heights. The A-frame and jumps are lower for veterans. In some classes, there were only 1-3 participants, and changing the heights for each class took a lot of time each day.”
True. And changing the heights does at least appear to take a lot of time if you are not used to it. There is an implied diss in “only 1-3 participants”–I would suggest they observe some AKC trials. Only 4″ Preferred and 26″ Regular have that few participants
“In Finland, a dog is measured if it is entered into the small or medium category. The dog is measured once, by one judge, before its first trial.”
Because any dog over 16 7/8″ has to jump 26″. And dogs NEVER shrink, or grow, or are affected by their environment… I don’t know if there is a process in Finland to challenge your measured height, but I am guessing that a lot of people with borderline dogs don’t ever make it to trialing.
“In the US, all dogs are measured, and you get a jump height card for the dog. The dog has to be measured in its first three trial weekends, by three different judges. Even after this, the dog has to be measured again on its second and third birthdays.”
No. They are conflating AKC and USDAA here. For anyone who doesn’t know the process–AKC dogs are measured twice after they turn 2 by two different measurers and that is your height. There IS a process to appeal. If you start competing before the dog turns 2, you are measured once and that is a temporary card.
In USDAA, you get 3 measurements, one of which must be a CMJ (Certified Measuring Judge) UNLESS you are competing in the highest height class (then you only need to be measured once). If the measurements are more than 1/2 inch below the height cutoff, you are done with measuring once you have your 3 measurements. If the measurements are 1/2 or closer to the height cutoff, you have to have the dog measured again by a CMJ after it turns 3.
For the record, I think most USDAA judges are absolutely AWFUL at measuring (AKC VMOs are better, sorryboutit). And I think a whole lot of skulduggery goes one to get the best possible measurement in all venues. But once again–blog post all on its own.
“In Finland, dogs run on one day per weekend, on average. For example, we might have levels 1 and 2 on Saturday, and level 3 on Sunday, or vice versa. There are 2-4 runs per day, agility or jumpers. A typical day at a trial usually takes less than four hours, with each height class within a level running all of its courses back-to-back. For example, small dogs might run three courses in the morning, medium three courses in the afternoon, and large three courses in the evening. The order changes, sometimes your trial day is over at noon, sometimes it starts at 5 p.m. Depending on the number of entries, it is more or less common to have a trial start at 10 a.m. Course walking time is 5-8 minutes for each group.”
It helps to keep in mind something they state later in the blog post, which is that Finland has a “win out” system. You have to have certain placements to win out, and from what I can tell, these runs need not be clean, at least at the lower levels. For my own information, I attempted to look up exactly what the rules are, but it looks like I would have to order a rulebook from the Finnish Agility organization (and find a Finn to read it to me). Anyway, that being the case, getting out of a given level and into the next likely takes far fewer runs than it does in USDAA (though possibly it’s about the same as in AKC).
Also–I am guessing they don’t have games? It appears just Agility (Standard) and Jumpers? (basically an average AKC trial without T2B or FAST?). Some have written approvingly about the shorter day in Finland, and I will note that if you’re only in one jump height in Excellent/Masters at a two-ring AKC trial, and you’re not working at all, YOU probably have about the same length of day. At least I know I do.
“In the US, a trial lasts for three days.”
Well, if it’s a 3-day trial it does! If you enter all 3 days.
“The first course walking starts each day at 7.45 a.m. and the actual trial starts at 8 a.m.”
Unless it doesn’t. Though mostly it does.
“Often all 8 height classes walk the course at the same time. On our first weekend, we missed two course walkings, because we had no idea that Masters classes walk the course together with Performance and Veteran classes.”
In USDAA trials, yes. In AKC trials, no.
“Course walking was divided into two groups when necessary, with each group walking for 8-15 minutes.”
They shouldn’t be walking for 15 minutes.
“The last course may start at 7 p.m. so the days are very long. In the events we entered, one dog could run up to 21 courses per weekend!”
“In Finland, the organizers take care of everything, and competitors are not allowed in the ring, unless it is their turn to run.”
I am wondering if this means that organizers are not allowed to run at their own trials?
“Only the clubs that are members of Finnish Agility Association are allowed to organize competitions….Basically anyone who meets the sanctioning organization’s requirements can set up an agility trial”
Also true in the U.S.–only clubs that are members of the sanctioning organization can hold trials. Thus they are laboring under a misconception above.
“In Finland, the organizers pay 0,7 euros per run to the sanctioning organization. In the US, the USDAA is privately owned, and the owner gets 2 e / run from titling classes, 10 e / run from Grand Prix class, 20% of all income from Steeplechase and 30% of all income from team relay classes. Additionally, the event secretary gets 1 e / run.”
True, sorta. AKC takes overall less money. And the trial secretary gets paid whatever has been agreed on to pay the trial secretary.
“Finnish judges draw 9 courses at the most, per weekend, whereas US judges, for the most part, draw more than 30 courses per weekend.”
That kind of depends on the venue, number of days, number of judges, and number of courses offered.
“Finnish judges are allowed more free play when drawing their courses. They are also quite diligent in checking, that the course has been built the way they planned it. In the US, the judges send their course maps to the area reviewer for approval, so unless the reviewer is open to new ideas, their designs remain more or less traditional.”
“The judges were also quite generous when inspecting the courses, and rarely moved any of the obstacles from where the builders had set them.”
That really depends on the judge. Some are tweakers, some are not.
“On a Finnish agility course, the dog has to take a contact obstacle at least twice, and there has to be at least seven hurdles.”
That would be nice–if we didn’t have to have all contact obstacles on every standard course. I would like that.
“In the US, all obstacles must be present on a standard course; each contact obstacle, weave poles, chute, tunnel, tire, long jump and table.”
Well, not necessarily the long jump.
“This restricts course planning, especially since the judge also has to ensure that approaches to contacts, tire and long jump are safe. For example, there are seldom more than two tunnels on a course in the US, whereas in Finland, the tunnel is often used at least three times per course.”
First half, agreed. Second half is a generalization. They haven’t seen enough US courses to know that.
“In Finland, judges get their expenses paid, plus a daily allowance of 18 e (6-10 hour day) or 40 e (10+ hour day, travel time included). In the US, judges get their expenses paid plus 1 e per run (new judges 80-90 s per run).”
Depends on venue and what the judge’s contract says. Clearly U.S. judges are paid more, though.
“In Finland, you don’t get to see the course map on site, except on a few occasions, when there is on drawing on the wall. In the US, all course plans were printed for each competitor, and you could pick up the maps for all courses in the morning, before the trial started.”
True, although we used to not get course maps back in the day.
“Whether it is a coincidence or not, on several courses the angles of approach to the chute were not safe for all types of dogs. This is something that would have come up during the judge’s briefing, in Finland.”
That’s a matter of opinion, is it not? If they felt that the angle of approach was unsafe, why did THEY not bring it up?
“In the US, the table is used on every standard course, and the dog has to lie down for 5 seconds. There are no electronic countdown timers. In Finland, the table is hardly ever used, and the dog’s position can be selected freely.”
This is only true in USDAA. AKC is the only other venue that regularly uses the table (except UKC and I am not sure what they do anymore) and in AKC you can also select the position.
“Possibly one reason why we don’t often see the table in Finland is that it takes up a lot of time, adding to the duration of the trial day.”
I vote for the table becoming optional here!
“There are some obstacle types in the US, that are not used in Europe. One is a double jump, where both bars are at the same height, and the other is a triple jump, with three ascending bars.”
That IS interesting (the most interesting thing I have read so far, actually).
“In the US, jumps are rarely taken from the backside of the jump. When jumps are mostly taken from the front, jumping angles become more difficult, interfering with the flow of the course.”
That is actually a matter of opinion.
“From a Finnish point of view, the courses are quite monotonous, which is most likely caused by the rules governing the use of obstacles. European courses are highly technical in nature, and you can get through without running a single step.”
Also very interesting. I would like to see a video of a European handler not running a single step!
“These courses, on the other hand, are so straightforward, that it would be very difficult to get through without running, and we have never run as much as we have on these courses.”
“In Finland, we have a prize giving ceremony for each class and the best three (or sometimes 5, if there are a lot of competitors in a class) often get a free run coupon for the next trial, dog food, a rosette, a trophy, and often something extra donated by sponsors (oil, dog toy, bones or treats, towel, mug, etc.).”
That’s nice, and we used to be able to do that, but time, you know…
“In the US, there is no prize giving ceremony. Everyone can pick up their ribbon from a table, after their run. Nobody checks, whether you got the result or not, you just pick up your ribbons.”
Right. Because the ribbon is kind of meaningless if you didn’t actually earn it. It doesn’t GET you anything to have it.
“In every trial, there is a steeplechase course.”
No. That’s USDAA only, and even then, not always offered.
“The course is easy and flowing, there is no dogwalk, seesaw or table, but the A-frame or weaves are performed twice during the run. There are no refusals and each fault adds five seconds to your running time.”
True. Except for off-courses, which eliminate you.
“In Finland, a dog becomes an agility or jumping champion after getting three clean runs with specified placements, in the highest class (class 3). The dog then needs seven clean runs each year (five from agility, two from jumpers, at least two must be from consecutive runs), to be eligible to compete in the Finnish Championships, plus the dog has to win at least once, to be eligible to compete in the Finnish team selection event.”
Finnish Agility Champion seems almost to equate to an AX/AXJ, although I assume that there is no split between dogs that have finished the championship and dogs who have not. When they say “specified placements,” I assume that means that the dog does not have to get 1st place 3 times, but does at least have to place–perhaps as a top percentage of the class? After that, all your running counts for is to get in to the Finnish championships, and/or to get in to the Finnish team selection event.
I am going to respectfully submit that a Finnish championship is, for teams able to achieve it (by which I mean teams with enough speed and accuracy to place, at least on occasion), easier to get than a championship in any U.S. venue–BUT–that a championship in any U.S. venue MAY be more widely achieved. This is a subtle distinction, I realize.
“There are also three levels in the US: Starters, Advance and Masters. When a dog has become a Master (5 clean runs in Masters), and a Champion (10 clean runs in Masters)” (goes on to discuss USDAA LAA awards)
In USDAA, to get your MAD or MPD (Master Agility Dog title) you need 3 clean runs in Standard and one qualifying run each in Masters Jumpers, Gamblers, Pairs, and Snooker. Effectively you need 7 runs to become a master. To become a Champion, you must have Master titles in each class (5 qualifying runs each in Standard, Jumpers, Gamblers, 5 qualifying runs with 5 different partners in Pairs, 5 qualifying runs with 3 being in the top 15% of the class in Snooker, and 5 tournament Qs). Effectively you need 35 runs to become a champion in USDAA. AKC requirements are different.
“Most competitors here are more interested in getting a Q than winning the class or getting the best out of their dogs.”
They are correct in thinking that winning a class doesn’t matter as much here as it does in Finland. I have won many classes with my P2 (advanced) level dog, but he can’t finish the title and move up to the next level because he keeps having a single fault (usually a knocked bar or a missed contact). If we had a win out system, he’d have been in the top level several times over by now. Therefore, winning a class with him is NEVER my goal. Because it’s meaningless if it doesn’t come with a Q.
However, I have to take issue with the last half of that sentence. I don’t know what it even MEANS, but I will say this…
Because a championship is more WIDELY AVAILABLE in U.S. agility (due to the variety of venues, the variety of jump heights, etc.) there will be a wider variety of competitors with a wider variety of goals. There is NO WAY for anyone to know that the handler walking to the line (who is being dissed here) does NOT have “getting the best out of the dog” as a goal.
I see U.S. competitors making the same argument, actually.
But why would we all have the same goals in our Agility lives? And as long as someone is not abusing their dog, and their dog is having a good time, why should anyone CARE what another person’s goals are?
Unless they’re paying your bills, pay them bitches no mind. ~RuPaul