Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Venues - What Are They Good For?

I know, we're supposed to be talking about how to improve agility organizations so in the spirit of staying on topic I'll give my few brief suggestions at the end of the post.  But I'd much rather discuss whether we even need these organizations so I'll start with that.

How great would it be if market forces, ie the needs and wants of competitors, determined jump height cut-offs, equipment safety, course design, etc.?  Why should an individual or a board made up of people who may not even be competing on a regular basis decide what's best for our dogs?  Why should we have to have a discussion about it, cajole the sanctioning organizations, wait and wait and wait for them to maybe someday respond with changes that might be what we want?  What if there were agility trials put on by professional companies and our current regular agility clubs that weren't sanctioned by anyone, no titles to worry about, it's only about what happens on the day?  I suppose I look at recreational sport a bit differently than many agility competitors because I come from the running/triathlon world where the majority of competitors don't expect or receive awards.  They race for the love of racing, maybe competing against a few regular rivals in their age group but mostly racing against themselves and the course.  Very few people care what group sanctions a race and many races are unsanctioned.  Some of these unsanctioned races are a series put on by the race company.  They offer races throughout the season that are part of a series and you can accumulate points towards being the series 'winner' for those who like that format.  Or you can enter a single event and challenge yourself on the day.

I know some of you aren't liking the sound of this because you like titles and I don't want to turn this post into a discussion of the value/harm of titles because that's a post in itself.  But I do think some people get 'title fever' and run their dogs in unsafe conditions, when they're injured, long after they should be retired, etc.  And I think agility would be more exciting, people would take more chances with their handling and be more open to more challenging courses if the run didn't 'count' for anything beyond the competition on the day.  Wouldn't it be great to drive home from a trial and be happy about your 'one bar down but otherwise breathtaking third place run' rather than stewing over missing the Q you need for that Jumpers title?

Clubs could offer cheaper prices for runs and/or hire workers to take some of the load off of club members because they wouldn't have to funnel money to the sanctioning organization .  And commercial operations could step in, giving a break to the long suffering club volunteers who do the bulk of the work trial after trial.  This shift is happening in Boulder right now in the cycling world where entries have become so large that club members, who like in the agility world are volunteers with regular day jobs, can no longer handle the size of the races.  There's a commercial operation that's stepped in that puts on races that are better organized and cheaper than the races the clubs offer and they can accommodate way more people.  They offer both sanctioned and unsanctioned races and in my mind everybody wins as long as they continue to offer a good quality race for the money.

Without the limiting rules of a sanctioning organization there's a lot more flexibility for trials.  You could offer any mixture of types and levels of games and classes, make up your own games, have an International style Standard course in one ring and a wide open, straight forward DOCNA/NADAC style course in another ring.  People wouldn't feel obliged to enter some type of class they didn't like just to complete a title.  You could even have a day of all different Jumpers courses then all Standard the next day.  You could have a series of trials with a points winner at the end as mentioned above.  Trial organizers could get as creative as they wanted as long as they offered people what they wanted.  And while there are no unifying rules about equipment, course design, etc. the trial organizers would be compelled by market forces (ie competitors) to offer consistent reasonable jump heights, equipment specs., safe footing, safe fun course design.  If something didn't work at one trial they could change it at the next, no need for long discussions on the internet or reviews by board members or trying to convince just one individual who runs a whole organization.  If anything these trials should be safer because if they're not people simply won't go to the next one.  They have no titles on the line or reason to return.

Nationals is a bit trickier but unsanctioned clubs and commercial operations could get together and put on a Nationals.  Certain trials could have events that are standardized qualifiers or even specific trials that are set aside for qualifying.  It would take some work to get people to agree on the standards and details of the event but it's not an impossible task.

I'm not saying the venues should or will disappear entirely.  And I'm not sure we're at a point where the sport is big enough for this proposal to be commercially viable.  However there is an untapped market out there, people who are sitting home on the weekend because they're 140th on the waiting list for an AKC trial.  They might not want to get involved with another sanctioned agility organization, especially if the jump heights are very different, but they might be willing to enter an unsanctioned trial at a cheaper price.  And there are people limited by budget who just want to compete but don't want to pay extra just for a title.  Something to think about as the sport moves forward.

As for the existing venues, here are my wish lists.

In general I'd change the contact criteria for the dogwalk and A-frame in all venues probably by lengthening the contact zones or even getting rid of contact zones entirely.  I think the idea of a contact zone being a safety zone is a fallacy.   I know so many people with agility dogs with overuse injuries and I can't help but wondering if all those reps for whatever method you're training are taking a toll on the dogs.  Is it 'safer' to leap from just above the dogwalk contact for a rep or 2 at a trial or to practice 100 dogwalk reps a week in training?  Are the majority of leaps off the contact obstacles unsafe?  If so should we be running our dogs on them at all?  My dog has managed some truly horrifying A-Frame performances that involved leaping over the apex and landing in the yellow.  Legal but absolutely not safe.  I'm not in favor of a complete free for all but there's got to be a better way to define true safe performance.


1.  Less aggressive jump heights.  Just match DOCNA/AKC/NADAC jump heights so everyone's on the same page.

2.  Stop judging the up contact.  So unfair for big strided dogs and it prevents the less athletic judges from being able to judge the down contact, especially for running dogwalks.

3.  No fault limits.  I hate the idea that I can potentially pay $22 for a run, spend a fortune on gas, hotel rooms, food, etc. never mind the time driving and sitting around waiting for my turn only to be whistled out of the ring at the 3rd obstacle.  If you don't have time for me to run, don't take my money.  And in the end it wastes more time because people stop and slowly amble off the course once the whistle goes.  I've timed it and on average it's faster to let people finish.

4.  Lower the A-frame to match DOCNA/AKC.  There's no compelling reason to have it that little bit higher and even though it's better than it was it's still too steep.

5.  Use 24" weave poles at Nationals.  Edited to add:  A reader pointed out that they are indeed using 24" at the TN Nationals.


My one and only issue with DOCNA is that the courses are too similar to each other from trial to trial.  I have no problem with the wide open courses but I'm getting bored with running the same few courses with the same few challenges every trial, especially jumpers.  In fact I've stopped entering Jumpers altogether.  It's not worth the money and the waiting around until the end of the day for pinwheel-pinwheel-serpentine-pinwheel-out of the ring on  straight line of jumps.  Then do the same boring course backwards the next day.  Let's see some more variety in course design.  Jumpers is my favorite course and I hate missing it.


1.  Stop supporting puppy mills.  In fact do something pro-active about the puppy mills.

2.  Stop promoting in-breeding and exaggerated, unhealthy physical characteristics through breed standards for the show ring.

3.  Stop fighting tooth and nail against any and all regulations for the welfare of dogs (see #1).

4.  Require all AKC agility trials to allow mixed breeds/non-AKC breeds.

Do all those things and maybe I'll consider giving you  my money but until then I won't give entry money to the AKC.

I don't do NADAC anymore and we don't have CPE or UKI so I won't comment on them but the one UKI trial I did do was very fun and I had no beef with any of UKI's policies.

This post is part of Dog Agility Blog Action Day.  Go here to read more posts on the topic.


  1. Anonymous8:30 AM

    Interesting thoughts about the sanctioned/non-sanctioned events. Never have considered that before so I am not quite sure how I feel about that yet, but definitely appreciate your points.

    Also love your comments about the contacts. I agree on the "overuse" issue that is so common now that we have running contacts. I have a running Aframe, and just this week have done way more reps than I feel comfortable with in order to get the behavior fluent... Yuck. I also have had a few of those superman two-hitters into the yellow--terrifying. But I dont think a 2o2o on the Aframe is any better of a solution.

    Great food for thought--thank you!

  2. Pursuing titles motivates me to climb the laddar of excellence, and motivation is like gold. But I'd gladly participate in non-sanctioned,non titling agility trials if they were raising money for good causes -- like dog rescue, shelters, free spay/neuter clinics, support for disabled dogs and getting service dogs to those in need.

  3. People love their titles! :) I personally like your ideas though!

  4. Totally agree about the up ramp - forgot to put that in my post but I cant see any safety reason for the dog to have to hit the up marker. Do agree with your points about the AKC, I do feel the same about the UK KC - only problem is up here it is the ONLY one I can run with - and they do let me run my mutt

  5. Anonymous5:00 PM

    Hmmm... AKC issues you bring up, except for #4 have little to do with agility. They do say a lot about your bias though. I certainly hope you are not doing AKC since you obviously disapprove of the entire organization.

    1. I'm on the same page as Days of Speed. And I also don't do AKC agility. Most of my friends do, though, and I'm not trying to discourage them. Oh, wait, sometimes I do sneer a bit, but only in a friendly and supportive way.

  6. one of your wishes has already come true. USDAA announced a while back that 24" weaves would be used in TN this year.

  7. I'm pretty sure the part of my post that says, 'Do all those things and maybe I'll consider giving you my money but until then I won't give entry money to the AKC,' makes it clear that I don't do AKC. And those things have a LOT to do with agility in that the AKC makes a huge amount of money from their agility program. They take that money and fund conformation which is a big money loser as well as their political lobbying against animal welfare legislation. So if I were to give entry money for agility to the AKC I would be directly funding those things as well as all the other nefarious things they do. And yeah I have a very strong bias and it's for the health and welfare of dogs, against cruelty in the form of puppy mills and inbred, unhealthy deformed dogs. If AKC wants to get on board with that then and only then will I give them money.

    'Every dollar you spend is a vote for the world you want'. - Cesar Chavez

    1. Sharon Normandin1:59 PM

      I am so, so with you on this one! And I was somewhat surprised, but very pleasantly so, to hear someone other than myself say this publicly. Based on the growth of AKC agility trials with the trials that have long waiting lists, I suspect we are right now in the minority, but maybe we're really a "silent majority" and you'll stimulate more people to come forward and maybe convince others.

    2. Oh I've never been shy about my opinions about the AKC either in person or on the blog. In fact it seems to me that the people defending the AKC are the ones with the controversial viewpoint. I know lots of people around here who feel the same way but they still do AKC agility. In the end I guess it's a personal decision we all make, what we can give our money to and still look ourselves in the mirror in the morning and the answer is different for everyone.

    3. Anonymous10:06 AM

      What has USDAA or NADAC done for dog law lately? They do no lobbying at all.

      Next time some municipality rages against Pit Bulls...odds are only the AKC will step In to fight it.

    4. USDAA and NADAC are agility organizations not activist organizations. AKC lobbies AGAINST laws that can help dogs and shut down puppy mills. They care about breeders and the money they get from registrations from puppy mills and backyard breeders. They're the problem not part of the solution. And there are plenty of Pit Bull activist groups that have nothing to do with the AKC that do way more than the AKC. There are plenty of ways to support Pit Bulls without supporting all the other horrible things the AKC does.

    5. And many agility organizations have fund raisers and donate money to various dog related groups. A DOCNA trial here recently raised $9000 for a non-profit group that researches animal cancer. DOCNA donated 100% of their fees and the club had a silent auction. I know USDAA donates money at Nationals. And they donate to groups that benefit ALL dogs, not just purebreds.

    6. Anonymous4:54 PM
      If you can keep an open mind while you read it.

      I don't for one second think any group is perfect. But I think some of the AKC hate is really not deserved .

    7. If somebody besides the AKC has evidence that the AKC is so awesome I would have an open mind but back pedalling propaganda from the AKC? Not so much. Just Google 'puppy mills' and 'AKC' and zillions of links come up. I'd post some but I wouldn't know where to start. Here's a link to an article from the New York Times though, very good: NY Times article about AKC

      I think the general public is becoming more and more aware that AKC papers mean nothing and in fact a Championship conformation title is a red flag for inbreeding, health problems, etc. and that the AKC is going to continue to lose money as conformation becomes more and more unpopular.

    8. A quote from the article linked above:

      "But the A.K.C. is increasingly finding itself ostracized in the dog world, in the cross hairs of animal protection services, law enforcement agencies and lawmakers who say that the club is lax in performing inspections and that it often lobbies against basic animal rights bills because they could cut into dog registration fees."

      Also I wouldn't characterize my opinion as 'hate'. I simply disagree with their mission and their values and I refuse to support them financially. I don't see how that qualifies as 'hate', I'm not threatening to harm them or wishing bad things to happen to them or whatever hate actually constitutes. I didn't even encourage anybody else to not support them I just stated my beliefs and what I do and why. In fact I said that if they would change their policies that are harmful to dogs I would think about supporting their agility program. I don't see how acting on a concern for dogs and their welfare by not providing financial support is hate for the AKC.

  8. Thanks Debie, I didn't know that. So glad to know they've switched.

  9. Ooooh...interesting idea! I, like so many people when they began agility, loved getting new titles. But with NADAC, there are so many titles that you can earn, that they hardly mean anything anymore. And now that I've gone through so many (non-agility related) injuries with one dog, I'm happy to just play the game. I could totally get on board with your idea :)

  10. I kinda like the idea--you're basically proposing serious fun matches (the kind that don't allow treats in the ring) but instead of simply being fun, they'd be for ribbons and trophies and even cash prizes. Maybe I could get into that. on the other hand, maybe not, if I could never be good enough to earn a ribbon. Hmm. But there are some events like this already--not sanctioned by any organization, like the Purina whats-it and aren't there a couple more? Eukanuba? Where they can have any kind of equipment that they want and make up their own rules and it might or might not look like any other kind of agility? Oh, but of course NADAC already does that... So actually what you're proposing is a mixture of things that already exist. It might be interesting to try. There are always people around here lamenting that we no longer have time in our weekends for Strategic Pairs and such.

  11. No, they're not fun matches. In fact the idea is to raise the bar of competition because the titling system encourages mediocrity. All sorts of sports have competitions where the majority of participants don't expect or get awards. I think agility gives out way too many awards and in the process waters down the value of them and creates an expectation in competitors that they should be attainable by most people. And this in turn puts the focus on the award rather than the performance. I have no hope at all of any awards in the triathlons I've entered this year but I still get a lot of satisfaction and enjoyment from racing and I have goals unrelated to awards, some of them aren't even related to racing. OTOH I saw a handler taking a ribbon for a run that involved her dog running off course multiple times out of stress because she was horribly late with her cues and yelling at her dog to call him off obstacles. Technically she had a clean run and there were only 2 dogs in her class so she got a ribbon. What motivation does this give her to improve or to look differently at her relationship with her dog?

    The trouble with Purina and the other unsanctioned competitions is that you have to be invited and only a small number of people get to go. They're more of a media event rather than a competition. And all the sanctioning bodies make up their own rules and equipment standards, NADAC just happens to change theirs a lot more than the others. An unsanctioned body could have different rules from trial to trial and market forces would ensure that equipment standards, jump heights, etc. would stay standard. USDAA still doesn't get that having different jump heights and equipment standards from everybody else is a very very bad thing. They think it makes them more elite and sets them apart but in fact it dilutes their competition at the small dog and big dog heights because it drives so many people away. Nobody with a profit motive would have an unsanctioned event with random or goofy rules. But they could alter some rules to make the competitions more interesting, ie maybe have time plus faults at some events and others that reward consistency (clean runs).

    The problem is shifting people's expectations away from the validation of awards and towards things that are harder to measure but actually more validating.

    1. I get it and I think it's a really fun idea.

      Our local park system does a fall series of running races. Each one has it's own twist and you can run all and get scored for all runs or just run individual races for personal reasons or the individual results. It's alot of fun.

      I have participated in league play and it was quite fun. Competitive, but outside of the bounds of chasing titles. Great practice, less pressure.

      There used to be a "top dog" event. I'm struggling with the name, but I think it was held in PA. It was an event with obedience, rally and agility and was held independently. I have one friend who entered in the past and really enjoyed it.

      On the other hand, I know of someone who told me that they were disappointed at nationals and at the invitational (AKC), because they could not earn Qs and points towards their titles at those events. I just shook my head in wonder. :)

    2. League play sounds like fun. We don't have it here though.

      There was a made for t.v. event here in CO many years ago, can't remember the name but it combined mountain biking and agility in the woods, mountain biking with the dogs running along, swimming and canoeing with the dogs and people swimming, and the last day was a big long hike up a mountain. It was a 4 day team even and I think it was in Steamboat Springs. Unfortunately I'd only just start doing agility and I didn't know about it or how to try to get involved. It was also an invitation type thing. Looked like so much fun.

  12. As I come at this from a triathlon perspective as well, it's very appealing to me! At the end of the day I'm competing against myself and my own past performance, trying to improve - the same is true of my efforts with agility. I'd certainly like well run, reasonably priced, easily available options and standardizing something a bit more like this might fit the bill.