The agility season begins!

It is usually around this time of year that agility competitions really start to kick off again…I like to give my dogs a total break from agility for 3 months over winter… This is a personal decision but for me, I feel they work incredibly hard for the entire summer, competing and training and thus they both mentally and physically deserve some time to just ‘be dogs’. Then, around Easter time each year, the sun starts shining, the clocks change (although that means an hour less in bed!) and we all start coming out of our winter hibernation to compete once more. Juno and Rumer win

So this weekend Emily Crookes (our agility trainer) and I headed off to our first competition of 2017! The dogs worked brilliantly all day, with all of them putting in some lovely bits in each of their runs. However, the ‘puppies’ (still called the puppies despite being nearly 4!) both managed clear rounds and indeed won their classes! Rumer won two Grade 5 runs and Juno won a Grade 3 jumping… Clever girls!

We also couldn’t resist a photo of the Zipper and Lexie doing their best sad faces! Zipper and Lex Funny

Last summer The Kennel Club introduced two rule changes. One was to increase the minimum distance between obstacles to 5m as opposed to 3.6m as it was previously. You can read the research that was conducted on this here (for large dogs) and here (for small and medium dogs). The other was to introduce a Lower Height Option (LHO) meaning that owners could compete their dogs at the Full Height Option or the LHO.

As with anything when you get lots of competitors, these rule changes have been loved by some and hated by others. For me though it is simple – I LOVE THEM! The extended distance lets dogs really open up and the the LHO gives owners the freedom to choose what is best for their dog. For me, with a small, slightly worried ‘large’ dog it makes so much difference. Juno, the small collie, loves jumping at the LHO, she extends beautifully over jumps and is much more motivated to fly around a course. This option also means that owners with beginner dogs, short legged dogs, little dogs, slightly older dogs etc. can compete with their dogs.

Whilst some will argue that others use the LHO as an advantage to go faster and win the class (indeed the higher the hurdle the slower dogs jump – Read more on that here), I think we should be more simplistic with our thoughts. I mean really, does it matter that much?! Our dogs are doing agility, its meant to be a fun hobby!* So, if a rule change means that for some owners and dogs its the difference between competing and having a great time or not, then surely that’s a good thing? No one cries merry hell when a dog wins a small class compared to a big one (it can be the difference between competing against either 20 dogs or 250 dogs) but yet this LHO has really caused arguments. Its bizarre how incredibly emotive this subject is – sometimes I feel we aren’t seeing the wood for the trees….

* I put this in here as I think as agility competitors we really need to think about this… Is agility a sport? Or is agility a hobby? Now, I love running and do it a lot (actually I lie, I run so I can eat cake) but I am aware of my own limitations. I’m never going to be an elite marathon runner, but that doesn’t mean I can’t run a marathon. So with our dogs, should we be testing them more to select the elite from the masses or are we doing things perfectly… We never change jump height, yet this would be a great test of ability and indeed dogs are excellent jumpers (way better than horses!) and we never now ask dogs to do a bounce stride. Yet bounce strides are an excellent test of ability – Can the dog extend and collect their strides as needed? The only way we test our dogs is by course design. Then you could argue its more down to handler ability than the dogs ability. It is amazing how popular agility has become – and trust me, it is totally addictive and an awesome way to spend summer weekends but I do find myself wondering where it is heading… Dogs are getting faster and tighter as training gets better and better, but this is leading to a greater numbers of dogs being in Grade 7 with really, nowhere to go after that….

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