April 9, 2014

Start of an agility career - or not?

NADAC trial in March 2014.

Within the last few months I have finally gotten into agility trialing with Vanilla. My nervousness levels are getting lower, well, with one exception being yesterday evenings NADAC mini-trial on an open field in a public park with plenty of other dogs and heavy traffic roads nearby! But we both survived and even ended up doing great! Lesson of the day? Don’t panic for two hours before your run because you’ll be exhausted even before you get on the course and you’ll make your dog nervous as well! Not good :).

To most of my Finnish friends words like NADAC probably don’t say much. And maybe agility in general is sort of a gray area. Hence I decided to explain the basics so it’s easier for you to follow our journey through the ever complicated maze of agility in the United States! 

AKC trial in March 2014.
First of all, the biggest difference compared to how agility is structured in Finland, is the fact that agility trials in the US are organized and held by several different organizations. In Finland it’s simple. All agility trials are held under the Finnish Agility Association and there are only two different course options (classes), standard and jumpers. The United States however, has many different ones with different sets of rules and regulation, their own titling systems etc. The three main ones that Vanilla and I compete in are:

1) USDAA trials (United States Dog Agility Association), which is the largest independent authority for the sport of dog agility and also the one that originally introduced the sport to North America in 1986. They have many classes including Standard, Jumpers, Gamblers, Relay and Snooker.  

2) AKC trials (American Kennel Club), which is almost as big nowadays as USDAA. They offer Standard, Jumpers with Weaves and FAST classes. 

3) NADAC (North American Dog Agility Council), which was founded 1993 and offers many classes and games including Regular (similar to Standard), Jumpers, Tunnelers, Weavers, Touch N Go, Chances and Hoopers. 

There are many more but I have more or less decided to concentrate my efforts on these three. Some people only do one but Tucson doesn’t really offer enough trials to concentrate on just one. It’s good practice too and also all different organizers concentrate on different kinds of courses. AKC has very tight courses which require good fast turns whereas NADAC courses concentrate on your ability to send your dog further away and work more independently. In order to compete in any of these events you need to register your dog with the organization in question. Luckily this is not very expensive and fairly easy to do. There are options for mix breed dogs as well so even if you don’t have a pure bred dog you can still title. 

Got our first AKC title in March 2014!
So as you can see the potential of gaining different Champion titles is a lot more varied here than in Finland, where you can only be a Standard or Jumpers Agility Champion. Here you can be a Champion under any or all the different organizers. Also you get titles along the way, after completing the Novice or Open levels before ending up in the Excellent/Masters/Elite level. In Finland the corresponding levels are called 1, 2 and 3. 

The third most important difference, aside from the structure and offered classes, is the scoring. In Finland you are aiming for a 0, which means a clean run with no mistakes, while here you aim for a qualified run, a Q. Qualified runs are scored in various different ways, for example in some cases starting with a score of a 100 and then subtracting your faults. But the main goal is the same, whether you’re going for a 0 or a Q. As long as you don’t make any mistakes you’re good to go!

Now that you’re a little more familiar with the system, it’s easier for me to brag about our results of course! ;). Not that there are many, but I have to say, I’m very proud of our start in the world of agility. From the one USDAA trial (one day), two AKC trials (both two days), one NADAC trial (one day) and one NADAC mini trial evening that we’ve done in the last couple months, we’ve been able to get several Q’s in several classes and are already able to move up to compete in Open level in AKC standard class and NADAC weavers class! This requires 3 Q’s from each class so, for example, out of our 4 AKC standard runs we Q’d on 3 runs and the same happened with NADAC weavers. So it is a marvelous start! I’m lucky that Vanilla, at the age of 7,5 years, is still as fast as ever and enthusiastic about working with me!

To be honest, I don’t think we have many crazy goals with Vanilla. Maybe there was a time when Vanilla was young and we were still doing Search and Rescue and Obedience in Finland that I pictured a wall full of her merits (well I still like photos of merits ;)) but since we moved to the US, changed our sports altogether and life happened in between, I realized that it really isn’t about the merits. Or what other people think. It’s just, and only, about having fun with your dog! Working towards a better relationship between you and your companion! There are many people that are more competitive and have additional goals, but for us, this is all we need right now. Fun, positive experiences together!

AKC trial in November 2013.