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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Monday, August 17, 2009

24" Weave poles

SUMMARY: Should USDAA change weave pole spacing?

I've had 4 dogs in agility. Two (so far) have had a bit of arthritis in their necks and/or backs. Don't know that it's caused by agility--two previous dogs who didn't do agility also had arthritis. But I know that 24-inch spacing on the poles is much easier on dogs' spines than the current USDAA 20-21". One of our own club members did some overhead videotaping--unfortunatly don't think it's online. But there are other videos available if you search.

International competition (FCI) now uses 24" spacing. The Canadian associate of USDAA, AAC, is going to 24" weaves next year. AKC and the Canadian equivalent, CKC, now use 24". CPE is probably in the same arena--the current rules stae "21" to 23" from center to center with no more than a 1" variance"--which means that 24" (if they're no more than that) are OK.

USDAA has recently reviewed the topic and decided not to change, and has said that the issue is closed to any further discussion. I have no idea why. Sure, weave poles aren't cheap and not every club can afford to replace them (or every competitor--I'd want to replace my own, and they're just not cheap). But still, I'm a strong advocate for the wider spacing and for consistency (so dogs aren't going from, say, 20" to 24" from weekend to weekend or ring to ring), but I can deal with a phase-in period of maybe a couple of years.

It also presents a different course-building challenge--if you add 3-4" of spacing between all poles, the weaves are now 3 to 4 feet longer than before! But we can learn to live with that, I'm sure.

Susan Garrett has posted about the topic.

and there is now a 3-question survey on whether USDAA should allow 24" weaves. Please take the survey. Please go and vote for the increased space. Even if your dogs seem happy with the current spacing, please consider other dogs whose lot might be improved by the change.


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Saturday, May 23, 2009

We Don't Get No Respect

SUMMARY: AKC and the public perception of agility.

My sister brought me a souvenir from her recent trip: An in-flight magazine (USA Today Open Air Magazine) containing the article "See Spot run...and jump" by Steve Dale. A full page article about dog agility! Cool! Some people get souvenir t-shirts from their relatives. I get copies of free magazines. But she knows what I like!

Even cooler: It mentioned 6 people from around the country, and I know 4 of them! (Laurie Leach, local, author of The Beginner's Guide to Dog Agility and USDAA nationals winner with her sheltie a couple of years back; Marj and Bruce Vincent, used to own Starfleet Agility--now WAG--in Elk Grove; and Sara McKinley and the local Haute Dawgs Agility Group.)

Gives contact info for AKC, USDAA, NADAC, and DOCNA (wth? no CPE? Which has been around twice as long as DOCNA?... weirder, DOCNA's not even mentioned in the wikipedia article. Guess I'd better fix that.)

But, OK. Here's the thing. The article starts with a brief intro sentence and then, WHAM UPSIDE YOUR HEAD, "Dog agility is a bona fide dog sport, sanctioned by the American Kennel Club." [italics mine] Argh! Like, it's not a bona fide dog sport if it's NOT sanctioned by the AKC? There wasn't even any AKC worth mentioning when I started; USDAA was already big and televised regularly before AKC agility got any traction. USDAA pretty much started agility in north america (short of a year or so of effort by Bud Kramer), and USDAA is huge. USDAA isn't even mentioned in the article until 3/4 of the way through. All the statistics about how many dogs are competing are AKC statistics.


When AKC associates their name with something, then they own it. In the public's view, at any rate.

Fah, I say.

Of course, USDAA added to the confusion by cleverly creating a logo by taking the AKC logo, changing "AKC" to "USDAA" and adding a little yellow tint here and there.

And, P.S., the author missed an excellent opportunity to say the sport is a bona fido sport. Or bone fide sport. What's the world of professional writers coming to?

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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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Thursday, November 20, 2008

USDAA Rules Change to Qualify in Team Individual Events

SUMMARY: Now your individual events in DAM tournaments can count as Qualifying scores (Qs) towards your LAAs. Maybe.

Effective Sept 19, dogs can earn Qs in the individual events in the DAM tournament.

This will be calculated similarly to Steeplechase: Average the top 3 scores in each jump height, and dogs within 15% (Steeplechase is 25%) will earn a Q.

It's nice to get additional Qs towards the LAA. But. Take Tika, who always is within Steeplechase time at 25%, but just barely. She'd never be in steeplechase time at 15%. So she'll probably never Q in Team std or jumpers at 15% of the top 3 dogs.

I did a quick look at our Team Standard from Labor Day. Forty-eight 26" dogs ran. The top 3 did Standard in 29.39, 30.52, and 31.98 seconds. This averages to 30.63. Add 15% of that, and the qualifying score is 35.22. I see only 9 that would've Qed: Dan, Reya, Icon, Rusty, Jester, Apache, Cirque, Aiko, and London. All very fast border collies, I believe, except Apache (Terv--34.68) and Rusty (Aussie--32.71, actually pretty good). That's under 19% Qs.

Tika was clean but 2 seconds over. I didn't note anything in particular that we did wrong on course. Still, hmmm, we're often comparable to Apache's and Rusty's time, so maybe on a good day...

Once again, rewarding the very top dogs and blocking out those who aren't at the top of the sport. USDAA is less and less a venue for Just People with Just Dogs.

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Sunday, November 09, 2008

Uninspired and Still Reliving Scottsdale

SUMMARY: Postnationals Tropical Depression

I am SO uninterested in practicing anything related to agility. Maybe it's because I worked on it so much more than usual before Scottsdale. Maybe it's because it's finally raining in San Jose worth mentioning and the lawn looks gorgeous (how can that possibly happen overnight?) and I know that dogs rampaging around on it will tear it even more to shreds by spring way beyond what the grubs did to it this fall and the barometic pressure is hosed.

Maybe I'm still still still getting over that nasty cold from Arizona.

Maybe it's that everything in my life is full of challenging transitions at the moment: So much to learn, so much to process, only so many hours in the day. Pursuing photography more. Want to get back to writing more--November is NaNoWriMo again and again I have friends pounding away at their keyboards and again I'm missing it; agility season never ends in California (but girl don't they warn ya...) and we've got a trial this weekend and I'm looking for teams for both dogs for our December trial because my Scottsdale teammates aren't available; trying to get rid of Stuff From My House; eager to help my parents with some things; Boost wants me to throw the tennis ball throw the tennis ball just throw it; Tika is bored and chasing around after the crows in the sky; not enough chocolate; not enough hiking.

I need some ommmmmmmmm time I think. Or more sunrises like this one Sunday morning over the kenneling area in Scottsdale.

I thought I'd type up more notes from our competition at Scottsdale but am feeling uninspired there, too. Have sort of sorted through the photos at a quick first pass. More work to do. I like this one of Robert and Cap in the Grand Prix finals, making sure they get that danged dogwalk contact after 10 of the 24 22" finalists got called on it. And the judge is looking to make sure he does, too!

Here's my World's Most Expensive Polo Shirt! (I'm wearing it over my other shirt, which is why I look a little bulky in the upper vicinities.)

Here's my traveling companion, Dogg, with her Grand Prix finalist shirt, wearing her finalist Team shirt as well. Looks pretty danged happy to me! I'm delighted that she's done so well, as this is the first time at the nationals with her new corgi after 3 years of absence after her last one died so suddenly (see here and here).

Her license plate is apparently pretty accurate; in addition to being in two of the three finals, Porsche was the overall highest-scoring 12" dog in the team event over four individual classes. Not bad for a wee shy doggie.

And here's d star corgi her very self.

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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Zero-Fault Grand Prixs

SUMMARY: You just knew it was going to happen sooner or later.

Well, folks, we're getting word that the 2009 Grand Prix qualifying season will now require clean runs to qualify.

Sigh--I knew that would happen sooner or later. There go all of Tika's future GP qualifiers. (It's like steeplechase--knocked bars have kept her from qualifying SO many times; now it'll be the same in the GP. 19 of her 25 GP Qs have been with 5 faults. And one of Boost's two Qs has been with 5 faults. Basically-- I'm doomed.)

Here's how they've gradually been shortening the leash:

Grand Prix introduced: 1988. I have no info from then through 1996.

1997: 15 or fewer faults to qualify.
1998, 1999: I can't find info. Anyone have this?
2000, 2001, 2002: 10 or fewer
2003, 2004, 2005, 2006: 7 or fewer
2007, 2008: 5 or fewer
2009: 0 or fewer

2012: 0 or fewer faults within 25% of the top three finishers?

2015: The top three finishers with 0 faults?

Maybe I shouldn't even suggest those, even facetiously, in might give the wrong people some bad ideas...

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Sunday, February 03, 2008

Home From A Cold USDAA Weekend

SUMMARY: Quick wrap-up: Didn't get what I wanted, but it wasn't a total loss.

It was cold. As in: Saturday morning, all the water tubs and dishes had solid crusts of ice. This is the California Central Valley, remember: It's supposed to be HOT! It was also supposed to rain a lot, but it held off Saturday until the last hour or so, and this morning wee got only a few showers, and the field drained very, very nicely indeed, so it could have been much worse.

Tika needed: Steeplechase. Grand Prix. Jumpers.

What Tika got: Two gamblers (8th and 3rd of 22). Pairs (4th of 30). And--yes! Woohooo! A jumpers! (6th of 24, just one out of Top Ten-point-accrual range).

Boost needed: Steeplechase. Gamblers (had 2 chances). Standard (had 2 chances). Jumpers.

What Boost got: Pairs.

That's 3 Masters Gamblers in a row for Tika, which is cool because it ends a bit of a drought there. And she ran beautifully, fast, happily all weekend, setting aside my concerns about her physical health and age.

Boost looks more and more like a masters dog all the time. Sunday's Standard was lovely but for one bar. We went off course on only one of 9 runs, and that was a bad handling move as much as puppy inexperience. Her gambler's opening today was spot on; lots of points and fast and accurate and no bobbles.

I'm home, I'm finally almost warm, I think I'll go have dinner, shower, & go to my nice warm bed!

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Wednesday, January 09, 2008

USDAA rule updates for 2008

SUMMARY: Good news for Performance dogs

Friend and Bay Teammate Holly Newman sent this to the club and gave me permission to post verbatim here. Thanks, Holly!

If you have been paying close attention to the USDAA Performance Program changes for 2008, then this is redundant and you can delete it. But if you haven't, and you have a Performance or a split-Pf/Ch dog, the rule changes are VERY important as regards titling.

Here are the highlights from, with some confirmed interpretations.


1. "...the Board has postponed the inclusion of Relay qualifications in the Performance Dog I, II and III titles (PD1, PD2 & PD3) to January 1, 2009."

This change was originally supposed to happen on January 1, 2008, but they found that in some areas, people were having trouble getting enough Performance dog entries to put together a meaningful Relay class. So they're giving an extra year for the program to grow. So the PD1,2,3 still only requires Standard, Jumpers, Gamblers, and Snooker classes.

2. "...Similarly, tournament qualification inclusion in the Accomplished Performance Dog title will be postponed until January 1, 2009."

This change is for the same reasons as #1. So the APD through 2008 requires 5 of each Standard and Games class, and 5 PNS legs but no Relay, VP or PSJ legs.

3. "...because the effective dates of implementation of the relay and tournament requirements in the versatility titles -[PDI, PDII, PDIII, and APD] - are being postponed for another full year to 2009, there will be no grandfathering of the old titling requirements for these awards once the new regulations become effective."

Wow, this means that if you don't finish your APD in 2008, you WILL have to meet all of the new Tournament and Relay requirements. When the ADCH changed to require tournaments and the MAD changed from 7 Standard to 5, there was a year of grandfathering when you could earn your ADCH under the old rules if you got your MAD by a certain date. NOT SO with the new APD requirements.


1. "...beginning in 2008, the Lifetime Achievement Award will be calculated without regard to which program a qualification has been earned."

This one is a HUGE change for those of us with aging dogs. We still have to get 15 legs of everything (except Tournament) and 150 total, but the 15 legs NO LONGER have to be all in Championship. They can be any combination of Championship and Performance. Here's why this is huge: in the past, if you had a struggle for 15 in any Championship class, you had to decide whether to go for the LAA or the APD. In other words, you might have struggled for one or two last Ch Gamblers to get 15, which means you never had an opportunity to get the 5 Pf Gamblers you need for APD. Now, you can move to Pf and all of the Ch and Pf legs combine toward the 15 required in each class. This means that you can go for your APD without sacrificing your LAA goals. Woo hoo! I'm expecting this single change to move a lot of dogs to Performance, which will also help alleviate the problems that led to #1 and #2 above.

2. "In all cases, as in previous changes, any qualifications earned become a part of a competitor's permanent record, and such qualifications will be considered at such time a new titling requirement may become effective. For example, 2007 qualifications in Performance tournaments will count toward the Lifetime Achievement award under its new formula beginning January 1, 2008."

So if you had gone back and forth between Ch and Pf for any reason, you might have earned some Pf legs. Even if you earned these prior to this year, they will count under the new combo rules. This is GREAT news for the dogs that have re-entered in Pf after an injury, because the legs they have already earned will count toward the LAA minimums.


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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Unwritten Rules

SUMMARY: Long-time Pairs Relay rule apparently isn't.

In USDAA pairs relay, if there are an odd number of dogs, one of the dogs who is already entered in another pair can run a second time (as the "accommodating dog") so that the leftover dog can compete. The rules in Chapter 6 for Relay state that this additional run is nonqualifying for the accommodating dog, which is fine.

However, although everyone knows that the accommodating dog must run the opposite half of the course from what they run with their original team, in fact that rule doesn't seem to be in the rulebook. I asked a bunch of folks about it after trying to explain the rules to a non-USDAA person and finding that I couldn't find it anywhere. Don't it make you wonder what other "rules" are really just word of mouth?

I shouldn't have said anything and just used it as a secret weapon at some future time: "No, I'm not going to run a different half; tell me where in the rules it says that I have to?" But noooooo--I had to blab my question to everyone and now JB says he's going to bring it up to the rules committee to make sure that it gets into the next rules book. Ah, well, better luck next omission.

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Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Scoring for the USDAA Regionals

SUMMARY: USDAA's documentation for rules is typically unhelpful.

All of the agility organizations have the same problems with their rulebooks: They're miserably unclear and incomplete--and sometimes just so dense with meaningless verbiage that one can't find any real info anyway--in so many areas. They all need to stop having attorneys, athletes, and executives writing the rules and hire a good technical writer, preferably one who has experience with agility rules and/or scoring as well.

So I'm singling out USDAA today only because it's fresh in my mind from this weekend.

When proofing the premium before it went out, my heart sank at all the thick and useless verbiage that USDAA required us to put into our premium. Back when I was doing the premiums, I tried very hard to rewrite text to be clear and concise and provide only what competitors were most likely to need to know. One of the frustrations with doing premiums was that most of the orgs complained if they noticed that we changed the wording.

However, I thought, at least--hidden in all that garbage that no one cares about except the USDAA's legal team--at least, surely, there are the rules for the tournament events. And that's what I continued thinking until I had to score the Grand Prix Round 2 on Sunday. I knew that some percentage of the dogs, based on some criteria, earned byes into the semifinals at Scottsdale. But what percentage? What criteria?

The premium verbiage is: "Competitors that earn five (5) or fewer faults in the final round may earn "byes" into the semifinals or finals of the World Championships based upon their placement in the final round. See the complete rules and regulations for Regional and World Championships, which are hereby incorporated by reference."

As an editor, I object to "competitors that" versus "competitors who"; the "five (5)" is insane legalese; the "which are hereby incorporated..." phrase which is more legalize that provides absolutely no (0) info to anyone that the first (1st) part of the sentence doesn't already convey. Gah!

But now I'm the head score-table person and I need to figure out what to do. Here's what I did over the next 45 (forty-five) minutes or so, striding briskly around the trial site while trying to keep tabs on the work going on at the score table and two (2) walkthroughs and a (1) run for my own dogs.

Talked to: Karey Krauter, Jim Basic, Tom Kula, Stacy Peardot-Goudy, Dave Grubel, Erika Maurer, Kate Moureaux, Candy Gaiser, Leslie Bickel, Nancy Gyes, Scott Chamberlain, Mark Wirant, and a variety of other people whom I thought might have definitive knowledge of the rules. This list includes assorted judges, USDAA board members, score table wizards, rules gurus, and the trial secretary and chair for completeness, most of whom I was directed to by other people. After some early uncertainty from a couple of people on whether it was 50% (fifty percent) of the dogs who had qualifying scores (five (5) or fewer faults) or fifty percent (50%) of the dogs running, it was quickly established that it was the latter, and that only those with five (5) or fewer faults among that 50% earned byes.

My question that sent me around the hinterlands, however, was this: If there are an odd number of dogs running, do you round up or round down from the 50%?

As I asked the question, I got answers like "I'm pretty sure they round down," "I'm pretty sure they round up," "I'd guess that they round down," "I'd guess that they'd round up," "I'm 99% sure that they round down," "They round up"--"are you sure?"--"Yes."--"are you sure enough that if I give a bye to the odd person that USDAA won't take it away from them and they'll be disappointed?"--"You'd better check with ---x----." And so on. At the end of my long list of people who PROBABLY knew or were PRETTY SURE, I had fifty percent (50%) of opinions in both directions.

A couple of people suggested calling Ken Tatsch, but either no one had his number or he was a trial (or maybe both--that wasn't clear).

I found three (3) people who had printed what they thought were the complete rules and regulations, and the phrasing was exactly the same as in the premium (and you'll note that those words do not say anything about 50% of anything--this is all word of mouth so far). Scott, who was judging, had additional material from USDAA out in his car that he kindly went and got during a walkthrough. The additional material included the same text that everyone else had, but there was also a lovely flowchart with decision boxes that says that dogs (I believe the phrase was) "within 50% of the first-place dog" earn byes. So, in the GP, what does that mean? It can't be within 50% (more) time, because there are also faults. It can't be within 50% (more) faults, because 50% of zero (0) is still zero (0). And it still doesn't say anything about rounding up or rounding down. One could read it literally as "well, rounding up would make it 50.01% and that's out of range." However, at a convocation around the score table in Scott's ring with several of the relevant parties, we decided that, since DAM Team rounds up at 50%, and Snooker Super-Qs round up at 15%, it would be completely consistent to round up here, too. And if they're inconsistent about rounding up or rounding down, the rules are stupid. (There, I've said it publicly.)

I think (I hope) that we told all of the people on the cusp about the issue and agreed to let USDAA be the bad guys if they wanted to be, since they're the ones who don't appear to have published comprehensible rules, or certainly not where anyone knowledgeable could find them.

This morning, after our show secretary emailed USDAA about it, we got this response:

"everyone has been rounding up. Next year that won't be the will be stated specifically."

In other words, it sounds like their rule is going to be stupid.

The other thing that's relevant here was noting the opinions about USDAA expressed by people as I asked them the question. Those who prefaced their responses with "USDAA is always generous to competitors and makes decisions in their favor" were pretty sure that we should round up. Those who prefaced their responses with "USDAA is pretty stingy about stuff like that" and/or "USDAA is so inconsistent with their rules and I wish they wouldn't be" were pretty sure that we should round down.

So there are some image problems that USDAA could work on, too. If anyone's listening.

(Final caveat: I didn't list specific people's names to disparage their knowledge; au contraire, I listed them because many are acknowledged to be among the most knowledgeable people in the country about USDAA rules, even among their peers, and if they don't know and can't find the specific rules, it's a communication failure from the organization.)

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Tuesday, July 03, 2007

In the Heart of Agility Country

SUMMARY: Yes, I'm lucky where I live.

In response to a comment about being lucky where I live to have 14 USDAA trials in a year--yes...yes, I am. Although, since I feel compelled to be at all of them plus a few CPEs as well (such is the nature of addiction), it would actually be nice to live somewhere were they *weren't* so convenient and I could spend my weekends doing something creative, exploratory, or even (gasp!) relaxing.

Here's a quick calendar of the USDAA events that I put on my personal calendar for 2007. Notes:
  • The ones that are nearly 2 hours, I spend the night. So there are really only 3-4 USDAA trials a year where I can sleep in my own bed.
  • The ones that are farther than that, I just don't go to (except Nationals), although many of my friends do, and I keep thinking that someday I might want to go to them again (did for a couple of years).
  • And I haven't even included the Oregon ones, to which some diehards travel. And I think there might be a few more of those southern Cal ones (5-8 hours) that I didn't even note on my calendar.
  • Times are actual driving times, not including stops.

January Bay Team Santa Rosa <2 hrs
San Diego 7 hrs
February VAST Turlock <2 hrs
Pomona5 1/2 hrs
March Fillmore 5 hrs
CAT Madera <2 hrs
April Haute TRACS Dixon <2 hrs
SMART Salinas < 1 hr
May Bay Team varies...used to be sunnyvale 20 mins, but in any case <2 hrs
Quicksilver Carson City 4 hrs
Moorpark 5 hrs
June NAF Turlock <2 hrs
July City of Industry 5 hrs
Moorpark 5 hrs
Aug SMART Salinas< 1 hr
Sept Bay Team Sunnyvale 20 mins
VAST Turlock < 2hrs
TRACS Woodland 2 hrs
Oct Haute Dawgs Dixon <2hrs
CAT Madera <2 hrs
Nov Nationals 11 hrs
NAF Turlock <2 hrs
DART Irwindale 5 1/2 hrs

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Monday, March 05, 2007

USDAA rules changes

SUMMARY: Lowered Aframe--at last!

I've just received this notice from a club member about USDAA rules changes
(Here's the article--ah ha, discovered that the link I was sent was for subscribers; this is now the nonsubscriber link):

The big news is about the AFrame!!

Ch Open: no less than 5'9", no more than 5'11"

Ch Mini/Pf: no less than 5'3", no more than 5'5"

Effective 4/1/2007!

Tika on the 6'3" aframe.
Note how scrunched up her back legs are.
Tika on the 5'11" aframe.
Note how comfortably straight her rear legs are. (I also notice a huge difference in the angle of her back--but maybe it's just me. )
Interesting, noting the position of her feet. She placed herself both times. Guess she's pretty consistent--

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Monday, February 05, 2007

The Other Big Thing

SUMMARY: Tika brings home some USDAA placement ribbons, a rarity.

Way, way back in the ages dark, our instructor at the time (Rachel) suggested that we should all have goals for our agility that we reevaluate at the beginning of every year, along the lines of "qualify for the nationals in all three events" or "lick that dogwalk up contact problem for good". My stated goal was for Tika to "Take 1st regularly at USDAA trials among the usual gang of suspects."

That was a long time ago.

We hardly ever place in the top 4 in USDAA events. In fact--for those of you who just love the fact that I have a database where I can pull this info out in half a minute--in Tika's 179 Masters runs through last weekend, Tika has places in the top four for placement ribbons exactly 11 times:
  • Two 2nds (her previous two Super-Qs)
  • Five 3rds (2 gamblers, 2 standards, 1 jumper; 4 at trials with fewer than 20 dogs)
  • Four 4ths (3 at trials with fewer than 20 dogs; 2 jumpers, 1 snooker, 1 standard)
We've never placed first in Masters. Never.

On Saturday, as the day drew to a close, it sank in that, not only had Tika earned her ADCH, but she had placed in three separate classes: 4th in pairs (and that's with an unknown 5-point fault; both I and my partner thought we were clean), and 3rd in both Standard and Snooker, all Qs. In one day, we had increased our lifetime number of Masters placements by over 25%.

It gave me an added cheery glow to the edges of the ADCH, but at the same time I couldn't help but note that there were still only between 20 and 24 dogs in our height class (our average Masters competition size over all this time is over 27 dogs, so this was a smallish trial this weekend), and even with the smaller number, we haven't managed to break the First Place Barrier.

This is in strong contrast to CPE trials, where it's unusual for Tika to NOT place first. As you might know if you've read some of my CPE posts, it is furthermore commonplace for Tika to have the fastest time or the highest number of points over *all* dogs competing on the same course, not just her own height class. I'm always a little disappointed when we can't pull off three or four of those in one CPE weekend. (It's just like, at at the CPE nationals, Tika takes 1st in most of her classes, 2nd in another, takes high in trial in Standard, and so on--but at the USDAA nationals I'm climbing all over myself with ecstasy when we place 10th or 11th in our height in even one event, let alone make it to the final round and place 22nd there over all heights in another event.) And there you have, in a nutshell, the difference in the competition between CPE and USDAA.

Sunday morning we started with Gamblers. Saturday's gamble was disappointing: Somehow in our opening sequence, Tika turned around on top of the Aframe and went back down the same side, negating a whole ton of points (and it wasn't a rear cross, either), and furthermore followed that by negating the gamble by taking a 2nd gamble obstacle in a row while I was trying to put on the skids and get back to her, so although she did the gamble flawlessly, we had very low opening points and no Q to show for it. So back to Sunday. Despite Saturday, Tika has lately proven to be a very good gamblin' dog, so there's been no stress, just fun for us.

The course presented lots of options in the opening, which meant that a clever course could possibly beat faster dogs whose handlers didn't think of that particular option. I like that, because sometimes I can come up with clever courses. And the gamble itself looked challenging and yet like one that I thought Tika and I had a good chance at while everyone else would crap out. I like that, too. (Being basically competitive.)

However, when we were told to clear the course, I hadn't come up with a course that I liked. My thought was jump, weaves, jump, tire, back through the tire, teeter, Aframe, jump, weaves, jump, teeter, aframe. But I wasn't thrilled with the back-to-back tire because Tika would be blasting at it after a wide-open run and it would be hard to make a tight turn; we had left the chute entirely undone, wasting a perfectly fine set of points; and I thought we'd have extra time left that we'd have to waste doing figure 8s on the two jumps this on this side of the Aframe while waiting for the gamble whistle.

I tried figuring out how to fit in weaves-chute-weaves-chute because it looked like a nice fast simple loop, and also teeter-tire-teeter-tire made a nice loop, but I couldn't manage to work them all in and also get two Aframes and still end up near the approach to the 1-2 instead of stuck in the back corner behind the aframe, teeter, and chute.

I chatted with our classmate, Ashley, who's always a good one for aggressive courses because he's regularly blowing everyone's socks off with his runs with Luka, so he always has lots of obstacles and covers lots of ground, plus he's in 16" so in no way in direct competition with us. (Although most friends will share their courses--even for super-Qs--it always feels weird to me to ask someone for ideas when you're both hoping for placements.)

He started with the jump-Aframe and went out to the tire, which I hadn't even thought of, duh-- Hence jump-aframe-tire-teeter-tire-teeter-aframe-jump-weave-weave but he couldn't figure out how to get the chute in. Duh, I thought, and said, "weave-chute-weave-chute", and we both departed with pleased excitement about that course. Had a nice flow to it and, if I released Tika from all four contacts immediately, I felt that we had a chance at it.

To wrap up what's again becoming a long story, Tika executed perfectly, the whistle blew as we were entering the last chute so we didn't get those last 2 points; she's really fast and sent out nicely for a change ahead of me across #1 and #2, caught my meaning immediately as she blasted out of #2 and pushed herself back out to #3 instead of continuing to veer towards me, got the up contact, did a fast dogwalk, stuck her down contact, and made it over the #4 before time ran out without having knocked any bars. Another Q.

The almost-end of the story is that, not only did she Q, but she placed 1st in the 26" class. And, sure, there were only 22 dogs, but we're still competing against perennial national finalists like Rachel Sanders and the amazing Fable, Greg Leal and Coty and Tala, Susan Cochrane and Aiko, Tania Chadwick and Kidd... So I was very pleased and proud.

But the real end to the story is that our score ended up being the highest of all 82 masters dogs, all heights, even Luka, who ran a modified opening that exchanged some points for a chance to do the dogwalk in the hopes that it would help Luka realize it was there and make the gamble. They did get the gamble, but who knows whether it was because of that or just because they know what they're doing anyway.'

The top left quadrant of the accumulator sheet. (Click for larger image.)
What a thrill! And I'm not being facetious. This was a bigger feat to me than the ADCH, of all things, maybe because I knew that, eventually, we'd just get that Dang Super-Q and finish the ADCH, but I wasn't convinced any longer that we'd ever get a 1st, let alone high score, in Masters.

But we drove all out on this one; I sacrificed later contact stability for an instant release, and pushed pushed pushed, and yet felt no major stress because nothing at all of any significance hinged on our Qing or placing. This reminds me of a comment made by, I believe, Jo Sermon, on more than one occasion: That the worst thing that happened to agility in the U.S. is titles. She says that, in the UK (at least until recently), you advanced to higher levels only by placing and there was no such thing as a Qualifying score/minimum acceptable level. You had to go all out all the time to try to beat other dogs, but because there are SO many dogs competing over there and so few placements to be had, the stress level was low, resulting in an attitude of, ah, what the heck, I'm not going to win anyway, I might as well get the best I possibly can out of me and my dog and just have a great time. She said that coming over here to the states, she sees people overhandling, overrestraining, undercompeting, and so on, and so often not letting their dogs be as good as they could be because they're so worried about doing things letter-perfect to get that minimal Q.

And I'm somewhat guilty of that. I almost always hold Tika on her contacts because, otherwise, she starts blowing them off entirely and then we get faults and lose our chances to Q. But, when it's important to me to finish among the top--such as in Snookers and Steeplechases--I release her as fast as I can and drive her as hard as I can and we do reasonably well most of the time. So I wonder what my agility life would be like if I drove her like that all the time?

And maybe it's time to find out. We have no reason left to hold it in. Sure, there are bronzes and silvers and golds and, maybe, someday, platinums if we Q enough, but really that ADCH is the plateau beyond which one's entire agility career stretches out beyond. Huh. Something to ponder.

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Sunday, January 28, 2007

Mixed-Success Weekend

SUMMARY: Both dogs ran well and behaved themselves, but training and handling were issues.

I had a good time this weekend, loved running both dogs, and my knee held up fairly well.


No ADCH again. One issue that keeps cropping up is to try to cover wide-open territory and then send her ahead of me to an obstacle. Jake used to do that really well. Tika bounces along in front of me telling me that she doesn't understand what I want and is really excited and wants to do something. So we might not have made time on our necessarily aggressive Snooker course anyway, but what ended up killing us was, during the opening, a really fast blast from a tunnel into the weaves for the second time, I had her so revved up that she hit her weave entrance and bounced into the 3rd pole instead of the second. That hasn't happened in a long, long while, as I've worked so hard with her on weaves. After that, there was no way we could get the Super-Q no matter what I did for the rest of the run. Crap.

She had a lovely pairs run, although got tangled in the chute for some reason--it might have been my cross-behind and strong call, which I haven't usually used in the chute. Still, she was clean although partner was offcourse.

In her standard run, she was offcourse immediately on a lead-out pivot that I didn't time anywhere near well enough. Felt like I was working in molasses and just couldn't get myself moving until she was already committed for the wrong jump.

And the gamble was tough--only 9 of 69 dogs earned Qs. A few more dogs got the gamble but over time. My practice at home this week was spot on--I decided to do "weird handler weaves" with Tika a whole bunch, where I just do weird things and move in odd directions and so on while she's in the weaves and reward her when she stays in. She was hesitant at the beginning of the week (after not practicing this for a long while) but stronger by the end of the week. I was feeling confident about this gamble, where most dogs were popping out at weave #10. But, to start with, *I* bobbled a weave entry in the opening--thought she was going to miss it and called her just as she made a difficult skid and turn and made the entry perfectly (that practice pays off!) but came out again in response to my call. Didn't trust my dog to do her job! So we ended up missing 7 points in the opening, and then the closing involved the same set of weaves and I hung back a little to avoid the problems that other people were having, and danged if she didnt make her entry and immediately turn back and come to me to see what was going on! So much for practice makes perfect...

On the up side, she had a flawless Jumpers run; don't know how I could have gotten any more speed out of her, thought we had a chance of finally winning one, but no--3rd place (which, mind you, I'm not complaining about), missing second by only .14 of a second.

And most exciting, she knocked only one bar out of all 5 runs, and that was the first bar of the gamble opening, where it really didn't matter (and that's because she lay down at the start and there wasn't enough room for her to get elevated again).

She stuck her start line, stuck her contacts (came off one early and I held her up, then she was fine again), and was just a total joy to run. If only she felt the same way about my handling!

Boost with her "New Title" ribbon for her AD.


My other goal for the weekend was to finish Boost's AD--which we did, Phew!, now we can move up to Advanced in everything. Not entirely sure we're ready for it, as our issues are, again, handling and experience (both of us with each other, Boost, with different situations). Once again our biggest issue was blowing past things, usually when I'd give her a little call to change her line a little, and she'd change her line by a mile and blast past the next obstacle while looking at me. As someone said, like driving a Ferrari, you make one twitch on the steering and she veers a mile offcourse--she is *so amazingly fast*.

She started the day with a nearly flawless pairs run. I just about floated off the course. From A to Y, almost couldn't have asked for anything better. Held her start line without even raising her butt a fraction. Made her 2 contact entries smoothly, hit her two-on-two-offs fast and held them until I released her, made a very fast weave entry and stuck them all the way through, kept all her bars up, didn't run past anything. The only thing that wasn't perfect was that she slowed a bunch on the dogwalk up--she seems to not yet be able to identify the difference between a teeter and a dogwalk, and the fact that I use different words for them hasn't sunk in.

Our partner had a fault, but we Qed on the run (although didn't place). And she Qed in her Standard for the AD, but again didn't place--blew past the weaves (my fault involving a complicated table situation and I don't think she had a chance to see them until she was past them) and a jump, both of which I had to come back for.

In jumpers, blew past 2 jumps when I made those little adjustment calls (was TRYING to keep my mouth shut) and I just didn't go back for them; just wanted her to keep running, and man did she ever!

In gamblers, had some issues with go-ons to obstacles in front of us, but were in nice position for the gamble--and she blew past a jump that required a little more direction ('out' or 'left' or something) from me, but did obstacles 1,2, and 4 with tremendous speed and elan. :-)

And in snooker, her opening of 5-7-7 was absolutely luverly including go-ons to obstacles way ahead of me, but the closing started with a serpentine-type move across a jump and she blew right past it into the next tunnel and I couldn't possibly call her off of it (flat footed yelling "boost!boost!boost!" but nooooooooo). But I already knew all too well that serpentine-type jumping is an issue with us: That was solidly drilled in on our courses at Scottsdale. Soooo need even more of that!

But altogether she was a pleasure to be on the course with. Did all of her contacts beautifully, made all of her weave entrances except that one and stayed in all of them once she was in, kept all her bars up, etc. etc. What a good girl.

How many Boost trials?

So I don't know what to say about "Boost earned her AD in only X trials." It's a weird count. At the Labor Day trial, I entered only one class a day and used it for training, not for Qing (e.g., repeating the missed weaves in the gamble opening even though the whistle had blown). So does that trial count, since I deliberately blew off Qs?

At the next trial, she Qed 6 of 9 or so--short only 1 for her AD. And that's the one where my knee blew up.

At the next trial, we were handicapped by the fact that I literally could not run with her because of my knee, AND by the fact that that's when her weave poles fell apart and she couldn't complete a weave successfully all weekend. Would it have mattered if I could have run with her? Probably not, although a couple of classes that was decidedly the relevant factor in not Qing. So maybe I should count that trial and maybe not.

The next trial was the Nationals, and we were trying to make a go of it on masters-level courses and she did very well (including weaves) except for the aforementioned serpentiney kinds of moves. So do I count the nationals as a real trial? Not on the AD campaign, because she couldn't earn Qs.

So she completed her AD in only--um, 2, 3, 4, or 5 trials depending on how you count 'em. (grin)

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Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Agility-Related Goals for This Week

SUMMARY: Some realism, some extreme optimism.

  • Today: Walk around the (long) block--about 2/3 miles. Exercycle briskly 10 minutes. 5 minutes quad work. Jump-knocking drills with Tika and Boost. Finish removing plants around lilac in hopes it will be taken away later today--then another 15 feet of usable length in my yard! Woohoo! Go to class with Tika, my cold be danged.
  • Thurs: Walk around the long block. Exercycle 10 minutes. 5 minutes quad work. Go to class with Boost. Go-on drills with Boost. Bar-knocking and snooker practice with Tika.
  • Fri: Walk around the long block. 10 minutes exercycle. 5 minutes quads. Pack & load car for the weekend (usually takes 1-2 hours). Snooker and bar-knocking drills with Tika. Go-on drills with Boost. Get to bed early.
  • Rise at the crack of 4am, drive 2 hours to Santa Rosa, ice my knee after every run (5 with Tika), earn Tika's ADCH with a Super-Q, don't freeze my buns off. Night at Motel 6.
  • Sun: Ice my knee after every run (5 with Boost), earn Boost's AD with a Standard leg. Don't freeze my buns off. Remember to do stuff with Jake. Drive home, stopping for nap if need be.
  • Mon: Walk around the long block. 10 minutes exercycle. 5 minutes quads. I dunno, that's 5 days from now!

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