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.
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.