In my (completely) unbiased opinion, Murray is a fantastic little agility dog. But a Nationally competitive dog he is not, nor will he ever be. I know that sounds horrible coming from his #1 fan and teammate, but hear me out. The Murr has shaved off considerable time from his typical course runs - where he used to struggle to make course time in Masters JWW, he is now accruing double digit MACH points. I figured that we would be 40 QQs in before he'd have close to enough points for a MACH; he hit his 20th QQ a couple of weeks ago and now has just over 70 points to go. So he's definitely in the running for Most Improved Player, and he has astonished me and several of my agility pals with his drastic improvement in speed as of late.
But, he stands 8.75" at the withers while still weighing 10 pounds and being a doxie build. And, if anything, the boy could use a cheeseburger. The long corgis (whose owners note that papillons have it easier) weigh double or triple what he does, allowing them to dig better into the ground. Plus, they are big dogs on short legs with the herding drive that lends itself nicely to the sport. Plus, even their legs are (marginally) bigger than Murr's - most in the 8" height class are close to the 11" cutoff mark. On the other side, there are the papillons. Most of the paps also hover into the 10-11" height zone, with some of the smaller ladies around 9". And they are all legs, no body, and with only 5-6 pounds of weight can fly over the jumps with ease. When I first moved into AKC Excellent, I realized just how much shorter Murray was than the typical 8" dog. He jumps beautifully at 8" but he's a shrimp among the shrimps.
Body type definitely has its limitations. Yes, you can say that Muggsy Bogues made a name for himself in the NBA at a paltry 5'3" in height. But part of his allure was how out of the norm it was for such a short player to be making it in the big leagues. Would he have become as prolific had he been 6'3"? Couple Murr's stature with having a relatively inexperienced handler, who (while improving herself) is still learning most handling for the first time, and you have a dog that will never be a Nationals finalist. I'm not making excuses, just stating the (practically) facts which I would be foolish to rebuke.
That is okay! There are so many opportunities for us to compete and succeed outside of Nationals. And the door is open for us at Nationals (or Cynosport) based on the qualifying criteria. It's just our decision on whether or not we want to make the trip. We started competing in AKC halfway through the 2014 Nationals Qualifying Period, and honestly I didn't even know much about Nationals to start other than that some of the local competitors had done well in years past. The 2014 Nationals were in Harrisonburg, Pennsylvania, or 3,000+ miles away from home. Had this been the location for 2015 I would have likely not made a conscious effort to qualify, as the cost of traveling that far for one run per day (and a total of 4 runs) would not seem like a good use of time nor money for a dog like The Murr. Nationals experience - totally cool! Nationals experience for $1,000+? Meh.
However, we get a double-header coming our way. 2014 Cynosport is a manageable drive to the Bay Area, and 2015 AKC Nationals is pretty close too (Reno can either be an 8h drive or a 1.5h flight). So I decided that we would shoot to qualify for both - I can totally justify traveling a day's drive give-or-take to play with my dog while also watching some of the best of the best compete.
To qualify for AKC Nationals, you need to complete the following criteria (to be completed between 12/1/2013 and 11/30/2014):
- 4 double Qs
- 20 master's legs (can be any combination of JWW or Standard)
- 500 MACH points
Since Murr is pretty consistent, we finished up the Q and QQ requirements by early 2014. However, it was the MACH points that were holding us back from a ticket to the Nationals. When mid-April rolled around, he had nearly 300 points to go. Yes, we were not even halfway through the qualifying period, but, dang - when I started doing the math it seemed like a lot of AKC trialing necessary to wrap up those points. Add USDAA plans to the calendar (and non-agility plans, because there are those too) and I started wondering whether I would need to give up the goal. Then we started anger running, which yielded higher-point Qs. Murray hit his 500th MACH point in the qualifying period on July 19, with a 24-point standard run - posting his fastest standard Q time ever and taking 2nd place in the 8" class.
So we're headed to Nationals, just as we'll be going to Cynosport in just a few short months (which is easier to justify as you get quite a few more runs out of it!) Given the proximity, I'm anticipating a large Southern California contingent, which makes for an even more exciting trip. I don't think we'll be trying for Tulsa 2016, because of the whole competitiveness/cost tradeoff but I'm really stoked that I'll get to experience Nationals with my Novice A dog next Spring!