Friday, March 7, 2014

Action Day Rewind: Improving Agility Organizations

The Murr & I are competing in two organizations: American Kennel Club (AKC) and United States Dog Agility Association (USDAA).  We've probably done more AKC than the other two, if only because of proximity, but now we're pretty balanced with about a weekend of each per month.

Each venue has its merits and its flaws.  And because there's so much agility here, I could opt to compete in only one venue - or all 5 (there's also ASCA, NADAC, and CPE around these parts).  So as flawed as I may think an organization is, it's clearly not flawed enough for me to stop throwing my discretionary income at it.

There are a dime a dozen AKC trials by me.  Every weekend I can find one within an hour drive of my apartment.  Some weekends there are two that are 50 miles apart from me (and 100 miles apart from one another).  So lots and lots of AKC.  Our region also boasts a lot of Invitationals dogs (i.e. top 5 in the breed) and double-digit MACHs.

What I like about AKC: It's not a full-day commitment (unless if you're a glutton for punishment, like me, and want to work the novice class).  You can get your measurements before entering a trial.  Jump heights seem pretty reasonable for most dogs.  Courses are generally "flowy and motivating."  The optional games (T2B and FAST) can be very fun.

What I dislike about AKC:  It can feel like a rat race.  Because (for many breeds) you need to compete nearly every weekend to make the Invitational, and Q a heck of a lot of the time.  And if you want a chance of making invitational, you are dissuaded from trying out the other venues.  I'm happy I don't have an Invitational dog (want to make it as a mutt?  then take a sabbatical from work and trial at every opportunity!), as I think both the handler and the dog can get super burnt out - and even injured - from trying to make it into the Top 5 of more popular breeds.  It's also a rat race to qualify for Nationals, particularly if you compete in other venues.  500 points - an "average dog" (37.5 points per QQ, so you would get 750 pts/20 QQs at the same time) would need about 14 jumpers and 14 standard legs to get their points.  The desired AKC Q rate is about 35%.  So that would mean that the "average" dog would need to run about 40 courses in each class to earn their points to qualify for Nationals.  Assuming two days per weekend, we're still talking about two full weekends per month of AKC.  While trials are an hour drive for me, in many other parts of the country it's an 8 hour drive.  Add to that people's desires to try out the other venues, or, y'know, have a life outside of agility... well, that may be tough.  And that FAST and T2B don't count towards the MACH.

What I would do to improve AKC: For Invitationals, have it be based on a finite number of Qs and then yards per second, so that people of more popular breeds can have a life.  Also, split up some of the "breeds" by height (namely us All-Americans, but also Poodles).  It's tough to ask a little chihuahua mix to compete against a sport-bred border staffy.  Make Nationals qualifications manageable so competitors don't need to take out a second mortgage to qualify.  Keep FAST/T2B as optional titling classes but have some way that they can count towards the MACH as well (i.e. points in FAST or T2B could be added as "speed points" to the MACH; a QQQ counts as 1.5 QQs, etc.).  Also, can we please, PLEASE, have a course without weaves?  Or at least take the teeters out of T2B?

There are also a lot of USDAA trials around here, too - at least 2-3 per month.  Some may be just this year, as Cynosport is in our state, but last year there were quite a lot too.  Some local folks have placed at Cynosport in years past, and I'd take a gander that we have one of the larger USDAA hotbeds in the country (though we won't mess with Texas).

What I like about USDAA: The games!  I love snooker, steeplechase (PSJ) is a rush, and a jumpers course without weaves is always a good time.  Laid back environment, people seem game for challenges, and though we're not yet in PIII snooker, watching the "Super Q" competition is pretty darn fun (I may be eating my words later, though).

What I dislike about USDAA: You have to be entered to be measured... problem if you're deciding between championship & performance with a borderline dogs, or if your dog is afraid of people (ahem).  This was the major thing keeping me away from USDAA once we started trialing in the other venues.  Though I have no qualms in running in Performance, having a Championship jump height suitable to Murr-sized dogs (i.e. 10"C) would get the little ones out.  If there are 5 8" dogs at a trial, that's a lot... whereas if I go to AKC there's going to be closer to 20.

What I would do to improve USDAA: First, make qualifying for Cynosport more rigorous.  It's the opposite of AKC - technically, you could get all of your nationals Qs in 2 trials.  So there are many local competitors that have never done USDAA, got their Qs and are back to AKC until Cynosport.  Have a requirement that you have to get some titling class Qs or titles, or something a little more than 1 team, 2 GP, 2 steeplechase.  Allow dogs to be measured at trials they aren't entered in (would it really add that much more time?) or at least allow dogs to move from C to P if they "measure up."  Add a little dog championship height.  And please, please, fence in the Starters/Advanced ring as a norm (especially since leash rules are super lax!)

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