Your Tone Seems Very Pointed Right Now

April 16, 2015

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.

verypointed

ANY excuse to put a drag queen in a post about Agility will do.

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!

Entries

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!

Entry Fees

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:

FinlandvsOhio

I put Finland over Ohio. Because I live in Ohio.

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.

Getting there

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.

Height classes

“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.

Competition Classes

“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!”

True.

Organization

“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.

Judging

“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.”

Likely true.

“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.

Courses

“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.”

Prizes

“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.

Titles

“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)

No.

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.

I can't help being awesome.

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

“Continuing Education:” It still sounds like something you do at the community college

December 3, 2014

This blog is part of Dog Agility Blog Action Day. Please read more at http://dogagilityblogevents.wordpress.com/continuing-education/

So I didn’t really think I had anything to contribute to this Agility Bloggers day, because–a confession: I’m a seminar-avoider. It’s not that I don’t think that I can learn good and useful stuff in seminars. I can, and I have. My problem is that the nuggets of information I have learned have never seemed worth the amount of money I paid for the seminar.

Then I thought, well, it’s obviously not ALL about seminars. And for as long as I have been doing this Agility thing, I still take weekly classes, occasional privates, building rentals, etc. I DO try to improve. So I must be involved in continuing education in some way.

So many years ago, with my first Agility dogs...

So many years ago, with my first Agility dogs…

The thing is, I am a technical writer (I have a fancier-pants title than that, but a technical writer is what I am). So when I want to do something–fix something, make something, learn something–I have two ways of doing it.

1) Read the instructions. If instructions exist, I am all over that. I want to program the cable remote to control the new TV and the Blu-ray player? Locate instructions, follow instructions, voila!–sit down and watch American Horror Story. Done and done.

I can't help being awesome.

I can’t help being awesome.

“But you’re a technical writer!” you say, with horror (well, you do if you know what a technical writer is, I guess). “You WRITE instructions! What do you do if there are no instructions?”

2) Trial and error. I am not afraid to break things. I am not afraid to experiment, explore, take things apart and put them back together again, As long as I have an eye on what the end result ought to be, I am not afraid to keep trying, get frustrated, work through the frustration (or walk away for a little bit), and try again.

Approach #1, as I think we can all agree, does not work well for dogs (insert hoary cliche generally applied to children of the “does not come with manual” variety). Approach #2 does not work well at seminars. I cannot, as I recently did in class (much to my instructor’s, and the rest of the students’, amusement) lie on my back on the floor and shout “OH MY GOD I AM SO BAD AT THIS!” before getting up and trying again. I’m willing to try anything, but in order for it to be useful I have to do it enough times for it to sink in–and for the most part, this can’t happen in a seminar.

For me personally, continuing education is less about the shiny new move (usually a combination of several old moves that nobody thought to name before, but I digress) or the amazing new training technique, and more about absorbing and incorporating different ways of thinking about Agility in particular and dog training in general such that I can improve my own handling, give each dog what he or she needs, have a good time, and not feel like I would have had more of a sense of achievement on any particular weekend staying home and programming all the remotes. Or putting together IKEA furniture. I am REALLY good at that.

ikea-man

I am not this guy. I am better than this guy.

But there was one other point I wanted to make on this Action Day–I just wasn’t sure how to do it without sounding pretentious–and that is this; it’s the dogs that are teaching me.

I’ve heard a lot of people who go “to the dark side” as they say (hoary cliche #2!) say that their Border Collie has taught them so much about handling, Agility, dog training–and I want to say the same thing about this little thing right here:

"Whut?"

“Whut?”

I have had Shelties in my life since I was 13, and will always have Shelties, BUT–consistent with my worldview since I was a child (I am told my first word was “No”) I have not made the natural progression in Agility–instead, after nearly 20 years (I kid you not) of running Shelties, I am running an Italian Greyhound.

It’s dog training–it’s ALL dog training–but there is something so absolutely delightful about working with a sighthound, I completely don’t understand why more people don’t do it. They’re smart, and yes, they like to think things are their idea and they don’t take drilling well–but hey, neither do I! While each dog may be a learning experience, trying a different breed (and SUCH a different breed) from what I am used to is showing me how to adapt “instructions” to fit a different learning style–and it’s amazingly fun. In turn, I feel I am becoming a better handler for the Shelties as well.

"Don't let her fool you, she still kind of sucks."

“Don’t let her fool you, she still kind of sucks.”

So I suppose my idea of continuing education has less to do with learning more stuff about Agility, and more to do with understanding my dogs’ learning styles and how they mesh with (or differ from) mine.

And if you really want to continue your education? Try working with a type of dog you’ve never worked with before. Even if it doesn’t work out, you may gain some insight about how YOU learn. And you may find it just delightful!

You’re Not Helping

June 4, 2014

Today is Dog Agility Blogger Action Day, and the topic is “Success.” Read all the articles on this topic at http://dogagilityblogevents. wordpress.com/success/

Not too long ago, a fellow competitor ran up to me after I had run my youngest Sheltie and said “Wow, that was a great run! She’s so fast!”

I knew she was giving me a compliment, and normally I would say “thank you,” but I just couldn’t this time. I said something along the lines of “yeah, she’s fast–but she wasn’t paying attention to me at ALL!” And in fact we had had more than one off course and a whole lot of crazy. At that moment, I would gladly have traded MY dog for hers, who is slower and needs some cheerleading but is accurate and reliable. By her standards I had some success (fast dog). By mine, not so much (whole lotta crazy).

WholeLottaCrazy

Yup, whole lotta crazy

This is why I get all crazy when other people try to define success for me.

How often have you heard these Agility mantras?

The Q is not important

The person who says this is almost always someone who Qs a lot (at least by my standards, if not by theirs). In case you haven’t noticed, we don’t live in Yurrip and we do not have a win out system. If we had a win out system, my older Sheltie would have made it to PIII Standard 20 times by now. For a variety of reasons, he almost ALWAYS has a single fault in PII Standard, and almost always wins the class. I don’t even want to know how many times we have NQ’d in Standard–with no one single problem I can train for.

(you know, I just checked. He earned a Q his second time in P2 Standard. We are approaching the 3 year anniversary of that Q)

Underachiever

Underachiever

So you know what? The Q IS important, and I am going to do what I can to get it. When you start telling me all the good things that happened in that run and that the Q is not important? You’re not helping. Which brings us to the second point:

It’s all about having fun with your dog

Once again, the people who say this are often saying it (as if it was a comfort) to people with significantly less success (by their own standards) than they have. I remember a particularly obnoxious incidence of this when a judge with a VERY POPULAR Agility breed said it to a person with a definitely non-traditional breed–likely the ONLY dogs of that breed actually running Agility–who had just gone over time by fractions of a second. It’s condescending. If it was all about having fun, we wouldn’t be entering trials–we’d be playing ball in the back yard. You’re not helping.

TheFun

I AM the fun!

Half of the definitions of success seem to boil down to those two Agility mantras. And then the people who most champion THOSE definitions of success (for other people) go on to say this:

AKC/CPE/whatever courses are BORING! I want the challenge of UKI/USDAA/whatever courses

Well, you just slagged a whole set of competitors who, for whatever reason, prefer those venues that in your humble opinion present no challenge. SUHWEET!

I’m competitive and like to win, and everyone is being all judgy about it!

Trust me, we know who’s competitive. We can see it in the way you prepare, in the way you run, in the way you stand over the scorekeeper gasping for breath (as a scorekeeper, may I ask that you please don’t do that–back off a little until you have some air). Whether or not you actually come out and SAY you want to get 1st place all the time, we know you do. Most of us are NOT being judgy about it–well, except when you start bemoaning the fact that you got 2nd place in one class when you got 1st in all the others. Then we just think you’re annoying.

AND HERE IS WHERE I DEFINE SUCCESS! You can stop reading right now. My definition of success is not YOUR definition of success:

My goals are different for each dog, but achieving those goals in an individual run is my definition of success. For my oldest Sheltie, I want Qs, as I would really like to get into P3 Standard before he makes it into the double-digits. For my younger Sheltie, I also want Qs–goals are control with her speed, a good start-line stay, and for the mistakes to be mine. For my youngest Agility dog, an Italian Greyhound, right now it IS all about the fun as we gain confidence, learn to be a team, and work on our skills. Eventually my definition of success for her will be different.

ViviQ

You know what ELSE we think is fun? Qs

Hmmm… I just read that over, and that’s freaking boring. Which I suppose is why the vague, grand pronouncements get passed around so much.

Don’t let anyone tell you that their definition of success should be yours as well.

Playing Games with your Mind

December 4, 2013
Wheee!!!!

Wheee!!!!

Me (walking a course): “This isn’t going to go well.” 

Friend: “Be positive!” 

Me: “OK, I’m positive this isn’t going to go well.”

Today is Dog Agility Blogger action day, and the topic is The Mental Game. As you might guess, from my little exchange above, I am not the best person to speak to mental management–basically because I don’t have any. I cannot pretend that I don’t care about the Q, and while I can rejoice in great parts of a beautiful run with one minor mistake, frankly I would rather have a messy Q. To me, telling me to stop caring about the Q is right up there with “try not to think about an elephant.” (this, by the way, is known as “ironic process theory” , now my second favorite name for anything right after “Munchausen’s By Proxy”)   So why am I participating in this blogging day, then? Because even though I sneakily feel that “mental game” = “magical thinking”, there are some things that CAN help us get through a day with somewhat less pain and suffering than we otherwise might have. I mean, this IS (for most of us) a hobby, and it IS supposed to be fun. This list is geared towards novice handlers, but I earned my first title in 1996 and I have to remind myself sometimes too.

BEFORE YOUR RUN

  1. Go to the bathroom before you walk your course. Particularly if there are only, like, 2 stalls in the women’s room and you are in the FAR ring. There is usually a rush to the bathroom in the 5 minutes between walk through and first dog on line, so unless you are the 40th dog in the ring, that’s the wrong time to have to stand in line. Even if you don’t THINK you have to go–go. (yes, men, this may not apply to you. Or it might?)
  2. If you can (and it doesn’t cut in to your bathroom time), volunteer for the class before yours. Often courses are nested these days (even if the course is a completely different class) and you can get an idea of what’s working and what isn’t. Plus it’s a nice thing to do.
  3. If you are nervous, have a mint. It will help settle your stomach, and it seems to mask the smell of fear!
  4. This should be obvious, but make time to take your DOG for a potty break also.

WALKING THE COURSE 

  1. Be prepared to punt. If that front cross doesn’t work out, know what you’ll do to get your dog to the next obstacle. Know what MIGHT need extra support. Example: I was the chute straightener for Ex/Masters 20″ recently, and saw many dogs pulled off the chute because the handlers moved early on a lateral send. I had a 12″ Open dog with basically the same sequence, so I made sure I gave her extra support at the chute–we wasted a little yardage, but did not get a refusal (and did qualify).
  2. Don’t assume that your handling choice is wrong just because nobody else is making the same choice. On the other hand, DO take into account why the handlers are making that choice. Hopefully someone you know is there–ask them!
  3. Don’t obsess over off-course possibilities. Think about what you would do if you DID want that off-course obstacle–then don’t do that! Many handlers CAUSE off-courses by trying to block the off-course obstacle.

AT THE GATE

  1. DON’T let anyone rush you, but DO be prepared. Make sure you check the running order right after walk throughs. The order usually changes. If the person before you has a conflict, you might have to run sooner than you think. If the person before you leaves the course for one reason or another, you might have to run sooner than you think. If the person before you MACHs, you might have to wait longer than you think. If the person before you has trouble catching their dog, or many bars go down, or there is a jump height change, you might have to wait longer than you think. Know where you can drop your toys/treats, and be aware of how that might affect your dog. Make sure the gate steward knows where you are, and be aware that although your dog is a special snowflake, if he’s a black and white Border Collie or a sable Sheltie, the gate steward likely isn’t going to be able to tell your dog from all the other ones there. If you are nearby and paying attention, the gate steward is much less likely to start screaming at you! Feeling flustered and rushed is not good for your mental game.
  2. By the same token, if you are planning to leave the ring early for whatever reason, or if you have a MACH on the line, kindly let the person after you know about that so that THEY can be prepared.
  3. If your dog has an odd name (particularly if it’s a language other than the gate steward’s native tongue), tell the gate steward how to pronounce it so that you actually KNOW when you are called.
  4. Make sure your dog has a legal leash and collar for the venue you are competing in. More times than I can count I have seen nice runs NQ’d due to tags, or due to a collar when the rules require that no collar be worn.

ON THE COURSE 

  1. Walk on, take a breath. Scan the course for dropped bars, displaced tunnel entrances, messed-up weaves, out of place ring crew. You want to focus on your dog, but it is the competitor’s responsibility to know that the course is OK before they start, and the timer might not see what you see.
  2. DON’T give up on your dog. Sometimes when a run has gone completely south and you are totally out of sync, the best thing to do is to leave, but if mistakes happen, keep handling! You can often pull something great out of a not-so-great run–and sometimes you get a gift.
  3. It bears repeating–99% of the time, anything that goes wrong was caused by you. 1% of the time, stuff happens.

AFTER YOUR RUN

  1. Don’t obsess over what went wrong. Think about how to fix it.
  2. Love your dog.

Is shoulder height really the best way to set jump heights?

June 5, 2013

Today is Dog Agility Blogger Action Day, and the topic is “Improving Agility Organizations.”

Jump heights both within and across the various venues have long been a topic of concern for those of who want to run our dogs, want to be competitive, but also want to keep our dogs running for as long as possible. I have Shelties, a breed that quite often falls into “just over” territory, both due to the breed’s extreme variation in height, and their sometimes less-than-optimal structure. I am not going to argue the merits (or lack thereof) of the various organizations’ jump heights–but I do think we should consider HOW we measure dogs for Agility.

*PLEASE NOTE: This post does not address measuring for international competition at all. Obviously any competitor interested in competing internationally will have to comply with international standards.

Front structure impacts shoulder height

My second Agility dog, Charlie, I got as a rescue dog and at the time, had very little idea of how structure affects both the dog’s ability to extend over jumps, and the impact jumping has on the dog’s body. Charlie, it turned out, had very straight shoulders–so straight that measured at the normal spot for measuring (the top of the withers) he consistently got measurements of right at 15″ or slightly under–whereas if the wicket slipped at ALL behind the highest point of the withers, he measured closer to 13″. The effect of this was, of course, that he jumped 16″ (initially 18″ in USDAA) in the venues we competed in at the time–landing on straight, high shoulders that really couldn’t take the impact. Even with all the want-to in the world (and he had a lot of want-to!) eventually the impact took its toll, and while part of the problem was likely an injury that occurred before I got him, he retired much younger than I would have liked, with arthritis in his shoulders–so bad on one side that you could feel the bones grinding against each other when you picked him up.

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Charlie, on the right, having a tug with baby Baci. Charlie was 10 years old and had been retired for close to a year at this point.

Shoulder height can vary

How many times have you watched a dog run and thought “really? That dog is REALLY under 18″?” (or 16″ or whatever). Competitors have many, many strategies for conditioning and setting up a dog in order to get the best possible measurement. Taking a LOT of weight off (so the dog is practically skeletal) is a fairly common practice, as is stacking the dog to get the shoulders as low as possible, or attempting to lower the dog’s head subtly while getting measured. I have known people to even teach a dog to crouch slightly when the wicket is set on the shoulders (sometimes not by the kindest means).

Most venues require final measurements once the dog is 2 years old. MOST Shelties (and I can assume that this holds true for at least some other breeds as well) chests don’t drop until they are closer to 3 years old. For a dog in an “iffy” range, this can be the difference between 16″ and 22″ (in USDAA) or 16″ and 20″ in AKC.

And then there’s the measurer…

Step up, folks with hairy dogs! How many times has the judge measured HAIR, not the dog? I am sure I am not the only one who has thinned the hair over my dog’s shoulders.

Can there be a better way to measure?

It would require some consideration and development to find the optimal heights for Agility jumping, but yes, I think there is. Flyball organization U-FLI has developed a measuring technique that isn’t impacted by the dog’s conformation, the handler’s strategies, or the measurer’s competence. It involves using a special device to measure the long bone of a dog’s foreleg from the point of the elbow to the accessory carpal bone (Pisiform), the bony protrusion just above the stop or carpal pad. Smaller dogs can be held by the handler to do the measurement, while taller dogs can stand on the floor. It’s extremely quick and much less stressful for the dog (it literally took SECONDS to do).

If it was possible to get an Agility organization interested in measuring this way, it seems to me that dogs could be measured at trials and a database started to cross-reference current jump height, current shoulder height, and foreleg length in order to develop optimal leg length for current jump heights, and eventually, all dogs’ jump heights could be set using this method.  I believe it would lead to a safer, fairer, more accurate means of determining Agility jump heights, and could only benefit our canine partners.

For information on U-FLI’s measuring protocol, check out u-fli.com

Gonna restart this

May 25, 2013

Because I have opinions. YES! OPINIONS! And bygod I am agoing to express them. Alrighty then. Let’s get this going.
Gio and Vivi

Look, cute dogs sleeping!

Grrr…

January 24, 2009

This past weekend I went to a USDAA trial. I don’t do a lot of USDAA for a few reasons:

1) MY dogs are slightly over 16″. that means they would have to jump 22″ in the USDAA championship program. While they are perfectly capable of doing so, I have heard Remy land after a 22″ spread. It’s loud. Do I like this? Not so much. And while the performance program is a perfectly viable option, let’s face it, Agility folk–USDAA performance people are 2nd-class citizens.

2) No matter what they tell you, USDAA competitors are the most competitive EVER. I rarely hear cheers or compliments on my GOOD runs in USDAA. I get lots of kind love for my sucky ones in AKC. Go figure. I received tons of compliments for a quick recovery after falling on my ass at an AKC trial. USDAA, nice NQ? Not so much.

3) I’ve put on USDAA trials. MONEY SUCK. TIME SUCK. Just saying.

4) There seems to be a general feeling among primarily USDAA folk that primarily AKC folk look down on them. And yet, I was sitting with a bunch of first-time or almost-first-time USDAA people in the Starters/Advanced ring who normally do AKC and were cheering all the nice runs, even NQs. Huh. Dead silence when Remy and I qualified in P3 standard in the MASTERS ring. Maybe it was because we got 1st place?

After this weekend, I’m about done with USDAA, and I LOVE snooker, really enjoy the trials despite the objections above. But I am tired of the received wisdom that everyone is “nicer” and “less competitive” in USDAA. Sorry y’all–I’ve seen enough to know better.

Our Agility weekend, Part 2—I wish I had a video

December 11, 2008

So on Saturday, Remy and I had a very nice Standard run. Smooth, quick (except for his down on the table, which ALWAYS sucks) and qualifying. I was jazzed and hopeful for a double-Q.

Hahaha! Dream on!

Hahaha! Dream on!

Jumpers has always been more of a problem for us, partly because Remy just doesn’t seem to LIKE it  (seriously, he seems to survey the course and say “meh, I don’t have to run FAST” ) and partly because I tend to get lost amidst the sea of jumps. But we have gotten much better over the past year or so, especially on courses where I don’t have to ask him for a start-line stay (which he doesn’t do much of anyway).

Our jumpers course started out pretty well for us, with two offset jumps to a tunnel. My plan was to send to the tunnel (which was a long one), rear cross and then run up to front cross between jumps 4 and 5. I figured if I didn’t get there, I could rear cross between jumps 5 and 6 instead. Remy is a rear-cross dog anyway, with a smoother, faster performance with rears, at least partially because my timing is better and I can keep looking forward.

Soooo… jump, jump, Remy goes in to the tunnel, I go to make my cross, and BOOM! down I go. Probably hit a soft spot in the dirt/mulch mix in the barn. But even as I’m going down, I am thinking “I WANT this double-Q!”

So as soon as I hit, I roll, and am getting to my feet just as Remy comes out of the tunnel and starts to move my way to check on me. I meet him, send him over obstacle #4 (without the planned front cross, obviously–we ended up with the rear cross between #5 and #6), and while our time was not the MOST stellar, we were clean! Double-Q #11!

Whew. We exited the ring to compliments and cheers for my apparently impressive recovery. I was kind of sore the next day.

Our Agility weekend, part 1

December 9, 2008
Remy jumping

Remy jumping

I’ve been working for a very long time to put a MACH on Remy. For those who don’t know, a MACH is an AKC Agility title. It’s 20 double-Qs (qualifying in Excellent B Standard and Excellent B Jumpers on the same day) and 750 points (you get points based on how far under time you are in those classes when you qualify).

It hasn’t been easy, in part because I’m kind of lazy–or kind of busy!– and haven’t been willing/able to put in the time it takes to train my dog to a certain level.  Also, in the last two years I moved from the Chicago area (where I lived for about 13 years) to Pittsburgh and then back to Columbus (my hometown) and hadn’t had consistent training/trialing. When I finally started taking more consistent instruction, one of my instructors told me “hey, Remy doesn’t really know how to LOOK for the weave entrance!”

Well. That was interesting. And she turned out to be right.

We have worked to change that over the last year or so, and it’s REALLY paid off. In 2006, I couldn’t even EARN double-Qs (because Remy and I were unable to finish his AXJ and get in to Excellent B Jumpers). In 2007, we earned 2 double-Qs. So far in 2008, we have earned 9 double-Qs–7 of which we’ve earned since September!

To me, this is nothing short of a miracle.  11 double-Qs. I occasionally worry because our speed is down, but this is at least partly to do with Remy’s worry over the weave poles (he does them at a good clip, but not as fast as he used to) and partly because I am being careful. At this point, I don’t care as much about speed as I do about getting some consistency–and that we have!–and his speed is plenty fast enough that I don’t have to worry about getting speed points.

On to the weekend in my next post!

Here’s the family (except me)

December 8, 2008

craiganddogs-021

Here they are! From left to right, Charlie (U-ACH Secondhand Charlie, CGC, MX, MXJ, NAP, NJP, MAD, RM, JM, EAC, EJC, OGC, RS-N, R1MCL, ONYX, 14 years old) Remy (Boldligo Palisades Night Watch MX, MXJ, OF, HIC, PS2, PD2, FGDCH, TF-E, 7 years old), Craig, and Baci (Boldligo Palisades Mille Baci, NA, NAJ, NF, FDCH-G, TF). Whew.