Denzil doing agility back in the "good old days."
Note that he's so keen to compete that the fur on his back is up..
It's not that I didn't enjoy her article in this month’s Clean Run magazine, it's just that I wish it weren't true. In her article titled “Has Agility Gone the Way of Obedience?” Kristine talks about the increasing competitiveness of agility - how it used to be a sport where everybody cheered for everyone else, but that’s not so true anymore. Now people have handling systems, ways to train that are “better” than others, and are often less than supportive of their fellow competitors. There's just not as much camaraderie as there used to be.
If you’d asked me a few weeks ago, I might have disagreed. But after a couple of things I’ve experienced lately, I’m not so sure.
Situation One: Ugly Competitors
About a month ago, I was bar setter at our agility trial. My area of the course included the double jump, the triple jump, and a high/plank jump on a curve. I figured this would mean a lot of jumps down and a lot of action for me. Unfortunately, only one competitor in all of the Excellent class had any of those jumps down. One of my friends joked that I was like the Maytag Repairperson.
All of this free time did provide me ample opportunity to eavesdrop on the competitors sitting near my end of the ring. I’ve gotta say that much of what I heard appalled me. This particular group of folks started by chatting about their breed of dog, and the philosophy behind some upcoming breedings they had planned. This was interesting not because I like their chosen breed, but dog talk is usually fun and informative. Why not learn new things when eavesdropping?
Then they turned their conversation to the other competitors, and it wasn’t kind. They talked about how some people shouldn’t even bother coming in the ring because they aren’t competitive, how “well, she trains with so-and-so,” the like. They also seemed to enjoy maligning other breeds. We have a multi-MACH Cardi in our area. I paid particular attention to what they said while she was in the ring. They really liked this dog (how could you not – she has MACH’s and she runs like it), but then one of them said something like, “That’s the only corgi I’ve seen that isn’t fat and slow and who should be running agility.” GRRR. If I’d been feeling more cranky I would have said something, or “accidently” dropped an extra plank from the high jump on their toes.
Situation Two: My training philosophy is right (meaning yours isn’t)
I am training Ziggy to do the weaves. Ziggy does pretty much everything slow. Unless he's chasing a squirrel or guarding our house from the neighborhood dogs, Ziggy sees no need to do things quickly. I'm trying to train him to be at least somewhat quick through the poles, so I’m training using channel weaves. It seems to be working pretty well. He’s happy, reliable with his weave entries, and brisk through the poles.
The woman who’s teaching the agility class I’m in uses a different method. In the spirit of learning a new training technique, I tried to practice in class using her method, but Z just didn’t get it. That’s ok – maybe if I’d started that way from the beginning it would work – but at this point I’m determined to see the channel weave method through. Anyway, she mentions to me that “no top trainers” are using channel weaves anymore, and that dogs trained this way just learn to run parallel to the poles. I was a bit taken aback.
Just because I choose a different training method doesn’t mean that one of us has to be wrong. There are many ways to train agility obstacles (and I have many of the DVD's to prove it!). What works for one dog/handler combo might not work for another. I’m always looking for the best way to train my dog so that we both have fun and we complete the course safely and cleanly. I guess maybe I missed the memo about right and wrong handling systems and obstacle training methods.
So yeah, I guess things have changed in the agility world. It's not too bad for me, though - maybe it’s because I'm not a world contender (heck, I run my dogs in 8” Preferred – how competitive can I be?), or that I don’t live or compete in any of the big metropolitan areas - so far I've been able to keep myself out of the worst of the political fray at trials. My dogs and I still enjoy the sport, and I have a group of friends from the area who are still happy to watch each other do well.
I know a lot of you are fellow agility folks. What’s the trial atmosphere like in your areas?