Friday, January 15, 2010

AKC Wises Up

SUMMARY: Almost as if someone read my earlier post.

"While each club’s participation in the AKC Canine Partners program will remain voluntary, clubs may now choose to allow mixed breed participation at any AKC Agility, Obedience or Rally event. Mixed breeds will compete in the same classes and earn the same titles as their purebred counterparts."

Here's the complete letter in PDF.

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The Importance of the World Around Us

SUMMARY: Haiti, civil rights, dog agility equality, me and the Merle Girls.

There has been some discussion among dog bloggers about whether a blog that says it's about dogs (or dog agility, or any other specific topic) is too self-centered if it ignores when the World Out There is undergoing events of great import.

Agility for all?

For example, my agility club has a policy of promoting only agility that allows all healthy adult dogs to compete. So--AKC premiums? Forget it, they're not going out on our email list. Recently, Teacup Agility has come into existence, and we've occasionally seen info on those events come around. But we've called that into question--it allows only dogs under a certain height to compete. So is that exclusionary in the same sense as AKC? Even more recently (effective this year), AKC has allowed its clubs to choose to allow non-AKC dogs to compete in their events. However, they do not compete equally against AKC dogs; they have their own events and their own titles and so on, and aren't eligible for the national competitions. So, is that still exclusionary? (Supreme Court has said "separate but equal" is not in fact equal. Does that apply to dog sports, too?)

This is a highly charged issue, and we're trying to be consistent and nonemotional about it. But does writing about that really make sense when one of the greatest civil rights battles of my adulthood has now started its hearing in the federal courts? Should I be silent when an earthquake has wreaked unimaginable destruction and death on a nearby country (or any country, for that matter).

It's not at all that I don't care about what's going on. I do, in fact, care deeply. But this blog is, after all, "surviving and thriving in dog agility."

But, OK, today. Two unrelated topics. You can skip either, but I ask that you give them a read.


As you all know by know, a 7.0 earthquake devastated the most densely populated parts of Haiti. I've watched and heard the reports come in. My heart has lurched at the sight of the national palace collapsed. (Can you imagine the white house destroyed? Or the capitol building--of your state, let alone your country?) The statistics, guessing up to 100,0000 could be dead. The population of Port au Prince is only a million--that's one out of every 10 people, dead. Ten out of your hundred facebook friends, dead.

They're a poor country and so, we like to think, their infrastructure isn't built as well to withstand earthquakes as is ours in California. And yet, well, who knows.

And not just the average Joe who's been taken down. The president is homeless--national palace destroyed. The archbishop is dead--national cathedral destroyed. The head of the UN in Haiti is missing--whole UN building destroyed. Can you imagine that in your city? Your country? It's almost unimaginable.

I have donated money for the relief effort through the Clinton Foundation. If you want to donate there, or anywhere, I suggest that you check whether the group is on the Institute of Philanthropy's list of top-rated charities. (You can see their worst-rated charities only by becoming a member to get their printed list. So if your charity isn't on the list here, doesn't mean it's not good. Just means do your research on it more carefully.)

And now, on the home front:

Civil rights

I have friends who have lived together for 20 years and love each other deeply. They are wonderful human beings. One is a retired VP of a high-tech company, the other is a skilled accountant. One loves dogs; the other loves photography. Normal people; they've bought a house together, vacation together, plan their retirement together. But, by law, they are not allowed to marry, simply because they are the same sex.

There is no logical reason why they shouldn't be allowed to; it is discrimination, pure and simple. The California Supreme Court said so. The people of California in a fit of reactionary pique approved (but very narrowly) Proposition 8, a constitutional amendment that explicitly bans marriage between people of the same sex.

I have other friends who have been together going on 10 years. They love each other very much. One is an avid mountaineer who is often conflicted between love of the challenge and the desire to spend weekends at home, since they both work during the week. Normal people; they've bought a house together, live together, deal with bills and stopped-up sinks and cars that need to go to the repair shop and all that stuff, together. They are married, but only because they rushed in during the narrow window between the Supreme Court decision and the passage of Proposition 8 and hurriedly put together a simple wedding. And the Supreme Court, while it did not throw out Prop 8, also did not invalidate those marriages, which speaks volumes. So they're in an odd position where they are married but none of their friends can hope to share the joy and legal protection of marriage to their loved, long-term partners.

This week, Proposition 8 began its hearing in Federal court. I know that, no matter what happens, it will be appealed by the losing side. It is sad that it is so, as sad as when people fought *for* laws *against* the right of black Americans to vote, to attend the same schools, drink out of the same water fountains, and, yes, marry (gasp) white people. The U.S. Supreme Court stated clearly that even "separate but equal" was not equal.

I've joined a couple of casual groups of "Heterosexuals for Gay Rights." (Don't know enough about them yet to recommend them.) I'm on the mailing list of Equality California to keep abreast of what's going on. I posted NO ON PROP 8 signs on my lawn, the first time in my life I've ever posted election-related material. I donated to their campaign.

If the opportunity ever comes to you to vote for equal rights for all Americans, I encourage you to do so. It's likely to be one of the few major civil rights issues during our lifetimes that we'll be able to proudly say that we fought for.

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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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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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Thursday, October 09, 2008

Erikson v. Columbus

SUMMARY: History ain't what it used to be.

Remember when we were in school (not sayin' when) and we celebrated Columbus Day1 with fanfare and little construction-paper cut-outs of the Nina, Pinto, and Santa Domingo? Because, after all, Chris discovered the New World?2 Well, along about 1964 we apparently realized that someone else had been here a whole 400 years earlier "opening new frontiers"2, and Congress officially authorized the President of the U.S. to recognize Leif Erikson Day every Oct 9, which he has faithfully done ever since.

(1 Remember the cute little rhyme to help you learn your important dates? "In fourteen hundred and ninety-three, Columbus sailed the deep blue sea"? See how well you remember now?)

(2 Never mind those hundreds of millions of inconvenient half-naked uncivilized aboriginals who'd been hopping around the forest in their mocussinass for the last 20,000 years.)

What, you might ask, does this have to do with agility or dogs? Well, I'm getting there-- see, I've now spent half an hour googling "national (a variety of random things) day" and feeling a warm, cheery glow about all the things that are available for us to celebrate. Sure, you can mark your calendars for National Mutt Day on Dec 2! (Sorry, Boost, I couldn't find a National Border Collie Day.)

But here's the thing: There's no National Dog Agility Day?! I'm hereby proposing creating such a thing. I'll make a web page for it and everything. But I need to pick a date. Anyone have any good suggestions for what date and why?

P.S. Isn't it nice how Boost's hat matches BOTH her eyes? You wish you had it so good!

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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Competing This Weekend and In the Past

SUMMARY: The dogs are looking forward to it, an so am I. Jake always did, too.

First trial since Thanksgiving weekend. Every time I've loaded stuff into the car, the dogs have started dancing around, only to look SOOOO disappointed when I leave without them. Breaks my heart.

Both dogs are in Masters this year, so I can do Bay Team's Masters-only Saturday and then come home. The trial is 2 hours away, so it'll be a long day, but it's under cover, so even if it's still raining, we're good to go. There's one of each of the regular five classes.

Time to remind myself where I am with titles and competing.

Boost: Has two Standard legs and one Snooker leg. In theory, she could get one each of Standard, Jumpers, Gamblers, and Relay and finish her MAD. Frankly, the odds of that are slim to none. I haven't been working on distance stuff with her much at all, AND she's another bar-knocker, AND we still have that refusal problem with jumps. But I'm sure it will be entertaining.

Tika: I would sure like to get that Gambler's leg to finish her Gamblers-Ch Bronze. That 15th leg has proven to be SO difficult to get, don't know why. Of course, I haven't been practicing distance work with her, either, doh! Nothing else is in reach this weekend.

Jake: Well, dang, he's been gone since last February. But a friend pointed out that, with the new rules for Lifetime Achievement Awards now combining Performance and Championship, maybe the little guy could get his LAA Bronze posthumously. So I went back and looked, but no such luck.

He had only 126 masters/p3 legs, counting the Grand Prixs. 52 masters, 12 GPs, 62 Perf's. It seemed like I moved him to performance late in his career, but he had only 4 years in masters and 3 years in Perf, so his "semidachshund semiretirement" went on for a while.

If I had entered him in more than just Jumpers during most of the last year he was competing, maybe he'd have gotten enough. But, no, I entered him in only one class each day at USDAA trials for all of 2005, and then retired him completely from USDAA in 2006. He WANTED to run more, but I was just worried about his arthritis. Just for the record, that's 87 runs that he didn't do in 2005 and 114 runs he didn't do in 2006.

I was NEVER sure that I was doing the right thing for him; he really wanted to run and never really relaxed at a trial until he had been on course at least once, sometimes twice. He did fine jumping at 12" in CPE the whole time, and 16" for a dog who started out jumping 24" didn't really seem like that much. And, furthermore, he never had trouble at 16" while he was doing that. I just didn't want to push it, which was the wise thing to do.

But, oh well--

Historical side note: You know, I think Jake was only in 3 DAM team events ever in his entire 10-year USDAA agility career and never Qed! And only 6 steeplechases, with only 1 Q. Shows how times have changed. Boost's been competing for just over a year, and she's already been in 8 Steeplechases and four DAM events.

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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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