Tuesday, October 12, 2010

This time I'm a bit sad to say that I agree with Kristine

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?


  1. I've been out of agility a while now, and I hate to hear that agility is getting that way for you. I hope we get back to it someday, but it will make me very sad if I find it has changed like this.

    I laughed when you talked about the channel weaves being out of favor now. When I trained Spencer weaves, our club did not have channel weaves yet, so I taught him by luring him through. He caught on quickly and does weaves as fast as he does anything else, which is to say, "not very." So, when I started training Scout, I planned to do it the same way - but NO - WE DON'T DO IT THAT WAY ANYMORE. YOU MUST USE CHANNEL WEAVES.

    So, I slunk back home and taught her weaves at home, the way I knew how - too shamed to train that way in public!

  2. Sadly, the ringside attitudes seem to vary by organization. CPE last weekend had several new people competing, and when they ran many many people cheered and were very encouraging. THe judge was very encouraging too. I think you see less of that in AKC, but those really great people-are really great no matter where they are. Find those people and let the rest go!

  3. Don't get me wrong - I still have fun at agility trials. I have good, supportive friends. Maybe I just never paid attention to the ringside gossip before?

    And Janet -I can relate to what you're saying re: weave training - I "lured" Maggie to train her through the weaves when we started agility 8 years ago. She was always a slow (albeit very accurate) weaver. I was determined to speed things up using the channel weaves. Only to find maybe I've missed the trend again...?!

  4. Hey Lani, please let me know when you plan to start showing Rip. If possible we will come cheer for you.

  5. Lani--
    I always appreciate getting your views on my editorials. I admit I was a little apprehensive to even submit this particular one, but I felt pretty strongly that the world of agilty has changed A LOT in the past 8 or so years.
    I still remember the first trial I took Rugby to. It was so much fun. Even though I knew very few people, it seemed like everyone came up and gave me encouragement both before and after my runs. Rugby was no agility superstar by any means, but at least I felt like he was by all the encouraging remarks I got.

    When it came time to train Zoey, I bounced around from trainer to trainer. It seemed like each of them had their own preferred way of training and handling and if you didn't conform to what they wanted it was 'see you later, gator'. I have never been a particuarly good agility handler and found myself getting frustrated when I couldn't do what was often asked of me. Seemed like I was always in the wrong place at the wrong time on any given course.

    To be fair, I think bad-mouthing, etc. (unfortunately) goes on in all sports, even my beloved flyball. I guess with agility it just seemed to go from a 'fun' sport to a 'serious' sport so quickly...

    Thanks for your thoughts!

  6. I guess it never occured to me that the snarky remarks from other groups wasn't normal (I grew up showing horses... 'nuf said!). Actually, I don't see much snarkyness where we trial... yet!

    We've only been trialing for about three years and train with a very young agility club. This is both good and bad as we bounce from one training style to the next trying to "find ourselves" (we have the channel weaves, 2x2 etc...).

    We have a very supportive club and it is great to travel and trial not only to agility events but obedience, rally, tracking etc as well.

    I wonder why people think that there is a "pot of gold" at the end of the trial/run/track? Isn't the purpose to have fun with your dog?

    This is my goal... no matter how many times my CWC makes me do the off-lead heeling pattern on my own (twice so far), We're still going to have fun. And no matter what, she'll get her soccer ball as a treat. Much better than a "pot of gold"

  7. I sure hope the eventing world doesn't go the way of agility. Eventing seems to be one of the only horse sports where people are very supportive and cheer one another on.

    Agility had already become super snobby in my area back when I was running my (now 11 year old) Pem. I tried to join the local club and after getting totally snubbed at the first couple of meetings, I gave up! :-(

    I can't imagine what it must be like now...

  8. I think the reason the atmosphere at agility trials has "intensified" is because the popularity of the sport has EXPLODED. With so many more people trying their hand at it, you are bound to run into a variety of personalities, including some that are not so pleasant. In my area of Northen Virginia, most aspects of life are very competitive, from the car you drive, to the job you have, to where you live, everyone is trying to keep up with the Joneses. So is it any wonder that some of that competitive and maybe even combative attidude is going to spill over into a person's hobby. It's ashame, but it happens. Even so, I have no problem finding pleasant people to pass the day with. I know better than to try and strike up a conversation with one of the World Team hopefuls as they are not there for the comraderie. And sometimes I still get the unexpected thrill of a stranger coming up and telling me what a nice run Jimmy had....

    Oh, and Lani, don't you know? 2X2's is the ONLY way to train weaves! Just kidding, of course :-)


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