Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Why Are There So Many Agility Organizations?

SUMMARY: In some parts of the U.S., you have almost a dozen sanctioning organizations, or "flavors," to choose from. So--why?

In my previous post, I listed the various organizations that provide rules under which people can compete and earn titles in dog agility. So, why so many flavors?

Let me ask you this: Why so many types of vanilla ice cream? There's regular vanilla. There's premium vanilla. There's low-fat vanilla. Sugar-free vanilla. Vanilla bean. French vanilla. Vanilla with chocolate chips. Vanilla with cookie dough. OK, which of those would you regularly stock in your freezer? Which would you never touch with a ten-foot set of weave poles? Sure, they're all vanilla, but the differences are important.

The agility organizations are just like that. Sure, they're all dog agility, but the differences are important.

Here are just a few examples (note that I'm not fluent in many of the organizations so most examples are with those I'm more fluent in):
  • How often do the rules and/or the equipment specs change? Examples: 
    • USDAA has a reputation for moving slowly and ponderously, much to many people's frustration (just ask about allowing 24"-spaced weave poles, to name one). ]
    • NADAC has a reputation for changing things frequently, seemingly at the drop of a hat. 
    • Either of those extremes can drive people nuts, especially club organizers and equipment purchasers.
  • What equipment is allowed?  Examples:
    • NADAC has disallowed the teeter-totter and spread jumps as dangerous.
    • UKC allows (even requires) the swing plank, sway bridge, and crawl tunnel, which none of the other organizations do. 
    • USDAA allows double and triple spread jumps. 
    • Some people don't want their dogs doing certain equipment--or DO want their dogs doing certain equipment.
  • What are the specifications for individual obstacles? For example, 
    • NADAC prohibits slats on the aframe and dogwalk as safety hazards (dogs stub toes, break nails, etc).
    • USDAA requires them as safety elements (prevents slipping, gives dogs better grip going up, etc.)  
    • CPE allows either one but the club is supposed to state it in its premiums. Some people feel that slatless dogwalks confuse their dogs versus the teeter. Some people feel it makes no difference.  
    • As another example, the length of the yellow zones on the contact obstacles vary. If you have a long-strided dog with a running contact, you might prefer CPE's longer contact zones over USDAA's.  USDAA's Aframe was considerably higher (therefore steeper) and NADAC's considerably lower (therefore more running than climbing) than "average" for a long time.
  • How obsessive are the rules? For example, 
    • AKC has become extremely strict (some say unreasonable) in stating exactly when you must remove the leash from your dog at the start line, what you can and can't do at the start line, and what penalties you face if you don't leash your dog immediately at the finish line. 
    • USDAA is much more relaxed, although all organizations want the dogs under reasonable control.
  • How many faults are allowed and what kind? For example,
    • in USDAA Jumpers and Standard, your run must be clean to earn a Q, even at the Starters level. 
    • In CPE Jumpers and Standard, you can earn Qs with a variety of faults, which decrease as you go up in levels. 
    • USDAA and AKC count runouts and refusals; CPE and NADAC don't. 
    • USDAA judges the up contacts as well as the down contacts; I think that most or all other organizations don't.
  • How high does your dog have to jump?  
    • All organizations base the jump height on the dog's shoulder height and then some throw in extra qualifiers (length of dog's back versus legs, age of dog, etc.). But where they divide the jump heights and how high those heights are varies considerably. 
    • For example, my dog Tika must jump 26" in USDAA unless I move her to Performance, where she can jump 22".  Boost must jump 22", unless I move her to Performance, where she can jump 16". 
    • In CPE, Tika's *regular* jump height is 20" and Boost's is 16"; CPE gives two additional tracks of competition, one 4" lower than regular, the other 8" lower than regular. So I could in theory jump Tika at 12" and Boost at 8". 
    • Some people do not want their dogs jumping the higher required jumps or their dogs simply can't jump the higher jumps, usually for structural reasons (some dogs aren't built for jumping).
  • What's the atmosphere like at trials? 
    • CPE participants generally find that it's a relaxed atmosphere.  CPE has so many levels and height groupings and low qualifying requirements that lots and lots of people earn Qs and placement ribbons. In addition, CPE trials tend to be smaller--CPE allows clubs to limit entries.  
    • USDAA events tend to be intense. USDAA has many fewer levels and fewer height groupings, so placements are harder to come by. USDAA trials can be huge; USDAA does not allow clubs to limit entries. Around here, 3- and 4-ring trials are not uncommon.
  • What are the courses like? 
    • NADAC and ASCA courses tend to be open and flowing. 
    • CPE courses tend to be small and generally fairly simple. USDAA courses are usually large (using most or all of the 100x100-foot field) and can be technically challenging. 
    • AKC has a bit of a reputation for tight, choppy courses. 
    • Teacup courses are designed exclusively for small dogs, who may have a variety of challenges on courses on which much larger dogs also run.
  • How fast does your dog have to be? 
    • CPE's course times are extremely generous. 
    • USDAA has some classes that require that your dog be in the top 15% in his class to earn a Q. 
    • NADAC times are extremely tight; your dog had better be fleet of foot, particularly in the upper levels.
  • What variety of classes are offered? 
    • AKC for the longest time offered only Standard and Jumpers; recently added the FAST (sort of gambly like). 
    • USDAA offers Standard, Jumpers, Gamblers, Snooker, Pairs Relay, and the tournaments Steeplechase, Grand Prix, and DAM Team (although the tournament classes are really just slight variants on the regular 5 classes). 
    • CPE offers 7 different classes, some of which are similar to USDAA classes and some of which are entirely their own. 
    • NADAC offers 6 or 7 classes (I've lost track), which  are mostly different from those offered anywhere else. 
    • Some people (like me) love the variety. Some people (particularly those who start in AKC) find the variety intimidating and prefer the clarity of simply  numbered courses.
  • Are mixed breeds allowed to compete? 
    • Can you say "AKC" (not)? Other organizations don't care what your dog looks like, as long as she's healthy and sound and old enough.
  • Do you want to compete at the top of the sport, possibly including internationally?  
    • AKC's program is affiliated with the FCI for their world championships. 
    • USDAA's program is affiliated with the IFCS, lesser-known and not [yet] as prestigious.
    • CPE has no international affiliation. It's not a particularly competitive venue. Only a few of those who are at the level where they could be finalists at AKC or USDAA national events will compete in CPE trials. 
    • Some people feel that competing against the best that the sport has to offer helps them to improve their own performance. Others prefer not to have to compete against those who have made agility competition their primary focus.
I could list many other chocolate chip or low-fat variations, but this should give you an idea. Now time for some nice peppermint-stick ice cream.

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Monday, December 14, 2009

nYAAO! Yet ANother Agility Organization

SUMMARY: In case the umpteen variants currently available aren't enough for you, here's another one coming your way.

Noted agility seminarists Greg Derrett and his significant other, the formerly Bay Area local person Laura Manchester [Derrett], are bringing their new agility organization to the U.S. You can read about it on the UKI (UK Agility International) web site.

That's  in case you aren't already flush with conflicting rules and equipment in these other umpteen agility organizations, almost all of which are available here in profusion although perhaps not in your neighborhood (in alphabetic order):

  • AKC (American Kennel Club's program)
  • ASCA (Australian Shepherd Club's program--rules are what NADAC used to be)
  • CPE (Canine Performance Events)
  • DOCNA (Dogs On Course North America)
  • NADAC (North American Dog Agility Council)
  • TDAA (Teacup Dog Agility Association)
  • UKC (United Kennel Club's program)
  • USDAA (United States Dog Agility Association)
And that's not to mention the Canadian org's if one happens to live in that vicinity. And if you compete internationally, there's the FCI and the IFCS agility venues as well. Eeeegads.

I'm not saying that any existing agility organization is perfect or couldn't use improvement. UKI might be the be-all and end-all of agility that solves every issue that anyone has ever had with agility and people would be willing to drop their lifetime title pursuits in other organizations to start over there. But wait, how about this: Hey, the Bay Team is a big organization with a lot of ideas and experience; maybe we should start our own flavor of agility, because WE know how to DO IT RIGHT!

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Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Preparing for CPE Agility This Weekend

SUMMARY: the rain...with no practice... riding along with my train of thoughts this drizzly morning...

Since I haven't been going to class and haven't been working on agility with Boost, that means (by various contorted TMH logic) that we also haven't been doing agility with Tika. So it has now been at least 2 weeks since I've done ANYTHING with agility equipment.

And now there's a competition coming this weekend. And the yard is sopping wet and muddy, and it's raining, and looks to keep that way most of the week. Maybe I should get out there and do it anyway; good practice for Tika to run in the rain in case we have to do so this weekend. Maybe just a few bar-knocking drills and contact drills. Maybe some weave entries. Maybe some gambles. I dunno. I'm almost entirely unmotivated.

Tika is gradually working on her C-ATE in CPE. That's roughly equivalent to the ADCH-Silver: around 250 Qs at the top level of competition. That's a lot of Qs when you're doing only 3-4 CPE trials a year, with a maximum of 8-10 possible each weekend--with a trend lately towards 8 rather than 10--and you know that we won't get all the Qs every time.

I was more interested in Boost trying to get a few more CPE titles and work on her C-ATCH, since that's more within range (Tika needs about 130 Qs still but Boost needs only 45), but the next 2 weekends are 2 of our 4 or 5 CPEs for all of 2009, and she's not competing. Sigh.

Now that Tika's 8, I'm wondering whether we'll ever get the C-ATE; if she gets 7 of 8 Qs (pushing it) per trial at 5 trials (pushing it) a year, that's another 4 years, and I'm thinking it's unlikely she'll be competing that long (although in CPE she will be legal to jump at 16" and even 12" if I really wanted to be extreme--oh but I have to check whether moving her to Specialist or whatever resets the count on the C-ATE? Gads, I hope not!).

And I'm not sure that I want to give up USDAA trials for CPE trials.

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Monday, March 26, 2007

CPE Hang-The-Handler Rule

SUMMARY: You must tell the judge what course you're running or be penalized.

Here's a new CPE rule for 2007, one that seems to go counter to CPE's professed goal of making agility fun and encouraging Qs.

Background: The Colors class consists of two intertwined courses, of maybe 9-12 obstacles each. You pick one, state which one you're doing, and do it. The judge can design them so that they start either on the same obstacle or on different obstacles. Used to be, if they started on the same obstacle, judge or scribe or someone would ask if you forgot to say which one you were intending to do.

New rule: If you do not tell the judge which color you're doing, you get a 5-point fault. This is particularly painful if you're at Level C, where you're not allowed any faults: you could have a perfect run but NQ because you forgot to say it and no one prompted you. This weekend it was even more painful because the two courses started on completely opposite sides of the field, so there was no chance whatsoever for misunderstanding which you were intending to do.

I don't think there's anything in the rules prohibiting the judge or scribe or someone from asking what color you're intending to do, but based on how many faults were given for not stating your color, it seems to me that people are thinking that they don't dare say anything because it would be outside help. At our next trial, I'll try to remember to make sure that the ring crews for the Colors courses are prompted to help the competitors remember.

OK, have I been burned by this? Twice! I remembered for Boost this weekend, but although it was in my head when I walked out with Tika, then someone yelled something behind me and I turned around to see what it was, then Tika got distracted by a dog in the field outside the ring, then when I put her in a sit she kept standing up, and so then when I finally looked up for my first obstacle, the thought had escaped. After 11 years of agility (that's 2,366 runs, only 50 of which have been Colors, and most preceding this rule), my instincts have been trained to focus on my dog, the timer's "go when ready," and my course. It's going to take a lot of unlearning to remember to do this thing.

I did notice that the Level 1 and 2 dogs, and even at times the Level 3, were much better at remembering CPE's nonstandard rules like this and like the "go to the table to stop the clock" rules after you've already completed a Snooker course or a Jackpot gamble. And we talked about how it's because those are the only rules they've ever known; unlike the more experienced handlers, they don't have years of experience telling them how to do things--which go counter to CPE rules.


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Tuesday, March 20, 2007

CPE Rule Changes

SUMMARY: Continuing from last year's April 1 newsletter--

The newsletter reported:
Levels: Because so many people have earned their C-ATCHs in the last year, CPE is adding 3 more levels (Level 6 through Level 8) between Level 5 and Level C. Dogs will need to complete 24 Standard Qs and 12 of each of the games at each level before proceeding to the Championship level.

In fact, as of July of this year, CPE has changed the number of legs required to earn a C-ATCH (from Level 1 through Level 5) from 91 to 120. So there ya have it--I should stop being a tech writer and start selling my services as an agility prognosticator.


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Sunday, February 25, 2007

Jake at Emergency Clinic after Good CPE

SUMMARY: Jake's status TBD. Bad ending to a lovely day.

Jake had a prolonged seizure in the wee hours of the morning. Don't know whether it's related to that little episode a week and a half ago where he briefly had trouble standing, or to getting into the front seat of the car during the trial yesterday and consuming every bag of Zukes and a variety of other dog treats that he could find. I don't think that he ate anything other than dog treats--can't find any evidence of it and can't think what it would be--but emergency vet doesn't think it would've been caused by dog treats.

They dosed him with phenobarbitol and another drug both to prevent seizures and to ease his horrible panic that continued after the seizure. Vet reports this morning that he's agitated and barking in his crate, and I couldn't tell him whether that was typical for being at the hospital, and they're too busy at the change of shift to let me in to see him and I have to go meet someone in an hour for some photos I've been trying to set up for weeks and don't want to cancel, so I don't know whether just seeing me would calm him or make him worse.

They are trying to get a urine sample and want to do some xrays. It's almost $900 just for the overnight stay and this basic array of tests. They've found nothing in his blood work.

It's really too bad. He seemed very happy to be running in the morning. He did fairly well in Full House--a strategy game in which the handler usually designs the course but in this case was designed primarily by jake who couldn't hear me very well or maybe see me very well or who knows--but at any rate, earned a Qualifying score AND placed 3rd of 6 dogs. His second run was much later in the day, after the gorge-fest; Jumpers, and he was obviously slower, which didn't surprise me considering how much he had eaten. He still earned a qualifying score by only by grace of the CPE rule that drops fractional seconds: SCT was 36 and he took 36.5.

Tika Qed 4 out of 5 classes, and the 5th was a stupid handler trick--I thought that she was over the last jump when I slacked off and said "Good Girl!", but the bar went down right *after* that, so my brain had just extrapolated incorrectly. Sigh. And she took 1st place in all 5 classes (the other 24" dogs made more mistakes than we did in that same class).

Boost Qed 4 out of 5; the fifth was a couldn't-be-easier-to-Q nontraditional Jackpot that I just completely mishandled, got out of place, panicked, and couldn't think on my feet. We had about 20 chances to get it and my brain went south. Sigh.

Still, good for her 1st CPE trial, starting at Level 3 (completely bypassing 1 and 2), and she had two 1sts for the day. Qed in Standard with no faults although went past 2 jumps that I had to bring her back around for, in Jumpers although went pas 2 jumps that I had to bring her back around for, in Colors although missed weave entry and had to come back for it.

Fourth Q was in Full House with a nearly flawless run on a course that I designed beautifully, if I may say so myself--knocked a bar, so ended up with 1 fewer point than Tika, with whom I used the same course. And they were the 3rd and 4th-highest scoring dogs out of 125 competing--the two who beat us (a) are very fast smaller dogs who get 5 seconds more of running time and (b) have running Aframes, and I held each of my dogs on two Aframes long enough for a "good girl" and then release. That was definitely my highlight for the day.

Tika's Jackpot was about 5th highest of all 80+ 3/4/5/C dogs, all but one of the higher-scorers small dogs with more time.

And she was 4th fastest of all 3/4/5C in Wildcard, with all 3 faster dogs having running Aframes and I once again held her for a "good girl". Don't know if releasing her immediately would have beat the very fastest dog who was a full 1.5 seconds faster, but probably the other 2. She was at 4.94 yards per second, on a course including an Aframe, 6 weaves, and a 3-jump serpentine.

Her Colors was 2nd fastest of all 3/4/5/C again, but there was that danged bar down (her only non-Q). That was over 5 yards per second, with a teeter, 6 weaves, and two short, sharp right-angle turns.

Anyway, this is one reason why I like CPE--because we really seem like hot stuff because there is a much-smaller percentage of hot-stuff dogs at CPE trials than at USDAA trials, where any more it feels like 80 to 90% are hot-stuff dogs. Still, I watched so many amazing blazing dogs on course even here this weekend. And I think, because we just normally do so well in CPE, I relax more and therefore do even better than I might on a similar course at a USDAA trial and probably have even more fun with my dogs.

This was good typing this, I haven't thought about Jake for 5 whole minutes. Now it's off to deal with my day.

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Thursday, January 18, 2007

No CPE for Me This Year

SUMMARY: How can there be so many trials and so little time? And money?

First, you have to understand that I spearheaded getting CPE into The Bay Team. I attended the early first demo trials in CA held by other clubs, I researched it, I proposed it to the club, I volunteered to chair the first couple of trials, found a new agility site, and so on and so on. (Although we now do two CPEs a year instead of two NADACs, that was more NADAC's doing than mine. Once everyone had an alternative, almost everyone welcomed it with delight.)

No CPE this year worth mentioning

And yet--I'm thinking that I'm not going to be doing any CPE this year except for the two Bay Team ones and the VAST one in March that I've already committed to be chief ring steward for in exchange for free entries and maybe the Thanksgiving one at WAG, which is always a hoot. I'm really really really trying to cut back on the number of trials. Don't really WANT to, but money is a big factor--both in entry fees/hotel/gas and in time that I'm not putting in my max billable hours when I'm going off to agility for the weekend, and my finances show it. In 2005 and 2006 I vowed I'd cut back from 20-some-odd to only 10 a year. I managed to cut back to 20-some-odd. (Not one of my most successful goal-setting experiences.)

Many USDAA trials

I'd rather concentrate on USDAA, and I count 13 USDAA trials just within 2 hours of home this year, plus Scottsdale, and there we go, that uses up my maximum of 10 trials for the year. (Read: Ha! I'll never cut back to 10!) It's been really tough going for almost 4 months with no agility competitions because of my knee, but in some ways kind of nice. I'm horrified to see that there are 2 months during the summer when there's NOTHING (cpe or usdaa anyway) anywhere at all. (Read my personal online weekend calendar)

Free entries would of course help, but I also don't want to exhaust myself working chief ring steward every trial with 3 dogs to tend to. And I not everyone gives free entries for that, anyway. Score table's a little better but, again, not everyone gives freebies for that, and it does tie me down a lot although not so exhausting.

Other issues

So I dunno. I hate to give up the opportunities to do stuff with Boost in CPE, or to eventually in some distant fantasy future earn Tika's CATE, but I just don't see how I'm going to swing it. And the lotto machine wouldn't take my dollar yesterday, so THAT plan won't work.

AND I'm going to do power paws camp this year with Boost, I've decided--I submitted my application today--we really need the intense time together and the learning experience, and there goes another weekend and my budget all blown to pieces. :-/ Sigh. Why couldn't I take up an inexpensive hobby like... like... I dunno, graffiti? (As long as you don't get caught.)

Take the summer off?

So back onto those 8 weeks in midsummer: I can't believe that there's nothing to do between the VAST USDAA June 2/3 and the Bay Team CPE July 21/22. (Read Karey's Famous Calendar for agility of interest to Bay Areans) That's 6 weekends in a row with no agility! Oh, sure, if you do that namby-pamby AKC stuff or can deal with NADAC so-called agility--or drive to Portland!?!?! for USDAA-- why can't some of these folks move their CPEs and USDAAs from the winter & spring out to the middle of summer? That's a great time for agility in the Central Valley! (Read about the central valley summer climate)

Argh! What will I do???

Qualifying for nationals

Plus it's scary having 3 months(!) from the VAST USDAA to the next USDAA at the end of August. I'm trying to not panic about national qualification, but since I missed a couple of chances in the fall due to my knee, I see only:
VAST: Grand Prix and steeplechase
CAT: stpl only
Haute TRACS combined trial: gp, stp, team (4-day trial, argh, that's where my knee first blew out last year)
SMART: probably stp, gp
Bay Team--No tournament at all??? When was the last time that we ever had no tournament at all? Is this overreaction to last year when Saturday was All-Team, All The Time, and no one came?
VAST: team, stp, gp (all in 2 days??)

then all of a sudden we've got 3 months off before the next set of 3 USDAAs in a row (last chances before nationals) and I'll be stewing like crazy if we haven't already Qed in everything for Scottsdale. This needing *2* each of BOTH Steeplechase and Grand Prix is nuts. Thank the gods that it requires only one team so far. My Q rate is just not that high that I think I can get 2 out of 3 with both dogs in both GP and stpl! Argh argh argh!

There are a couple in there in southern california, but driving 6 hours each way is REALLY exhausting. (I know, I know, I'm spoiled rotten.)

Life as an agility addict is full of difficult choices. And, I know, I'm supposed to be doing this for FUN. Which it is. And think how much time and money it will save me if my dogs don't qualify for nationals for a change!

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