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Wednesday, July 7, 2010

YES, the 1/2 Day Agility Trial is Possible!

See the empty chair* pictured on the right? That symbolizes my home on weekends when I'm off showing at an agility trial. Imagine the possibilities...I could be at home reading a book, holding my husband's hand or snuggling a dog. 

Don't get me wrong, I love agility. 

There are times I spend hours thinking about a particular agility-thing, entire evenings spent enjoying it with my students and 4-day weekends watching it while judging. That's my choice and not only am I comfortable with it, but most importantly, I love it.

However, as a competitor, the continued trend of spending entire days sitting around at an AKC agility trial for more than 5 hours waiting to do a 60 second run is not one of the things on my 'love-to-do-list'. To be honest, it easily falls onto my "absolutely-can't-stand-to-do-page". 

Why? Well, if it were just me hanging around it would fall into the "who-cares-area" of life, but it's not. It's about my dogs. It's about life-balance for all of us. It's about being well-rounded as individuals. It's about doing laundry, spending time with family, weeding the garden or simply cleaning the house.

Specifically, I'm not fond of having to get my dogs to a location by 7:00 a.m., then asking (no, it's more like requiring) them to wastefully wait around for 3+ hours until their first run, followed by more mind-numbing downtime for up to an additional 5+ hours until their second run, leaving by 4:30 p.m. (if we're lucky), driving home, getting in late, snarfing down dinner, sneaking in a few chores and then doing it all over again the following day.

Sure, I could use my trial-waiting-time to practice tricks, do some training, visit with folks, network and assist with the trial event (and believe me, I do all of those things). But imagine a trial where I wasn't required to devote my entire day waiting around while my other life obligations and commitments were asked to take a back seat to my hobby.

Specifically, I miss the days where AKC, Excellent classes (all of them) were run first (there were a few trials where I was back home by 10:30 a.m.). Open folks arrived around 10:30-11 and Novice folks showed up around noon. Sure, the Open & Novice folks might have to wait around for a bit until it was time for their classes, but they weren't required to arrive at O'-too-early AND stay until O'-last-dog. The schedule I mention here is far more dog-friendly, ensures handler-happiness and most importantly, life outside of agility goes on as usual.

I've heard the argument that this type of schedule makes it harder to obtain volunteer workers. Honestly, I say bull-hockey! Why? Well, the other schedule (where Excellent is first and last of the day) falsely assumes that because Excellent handlers (the largest group) are forced to wait around, they are more likely to volunteer. First, you can't force anyone to volunteer. Second, they already feel they're making personal sacrifices just by attending for the lengthy day and third, they're hyper-aware of the already looming time commitment and simply don't want to take away from their personal lives any more than they have to.

Case in point, if on Saturday small dogs run first and there is a separate walk-thru for the large dogs (after small dogs are done). The large dog people won't show up first thing because they know they're already going to be there until the end of the day. Even showing up late, that means they're probably going to be forced to hang out for 7+ hours. Since they arrive later, that means they won't be available when the first dog enters the ring. Vice versa with the small dogs. They were forced to arrive early and so when their runs are completed (6+ hours later), they want to go home and so they're not available to help at the end of the day.

The other argument says that there are more conflicts when Excellent is running in both rings. Again, this is not necessarily true since there are just as many, if not more, conflicts when Novice and Open are running opposite Excellent. At the very least, there is more pressure since on Novice and Open since those tend to be smaller classes and if you miss your run there, you may be out of luck if they are already moving on to the next course change. And who wants to be rushed with a young dog? (hint: nobody!)

No matter what the running order, there is no doubt that volunteers are hard to come by and conflicts will arise. However, forcing people to stay and volunteer just isn't the answer because this doesn't create the pay-it-forward, feel-good moment everyone wants in agility. 

I'm an optimist and while this might come back to bite me in the butt (especially if I'm judging and need ring crew), but I think we should allow people to make their own decisions and handle their time as they see fit. People may surprise you. One day someone might not be in a rush and so they stay until the end. Another day they may have an obligation. Either way, it's a win-win for everyone involved and we're encouraging and facilitating BALANCE.

Whatever the running order, the days of spending 10 hours a day waiting for two agility runs needs to end. Nobody (or dog) can remain sharp, fun and relaxed for that amount of time and  who wants to be held captive at an agility trial. (again, nobody!)

* If you like the chair pictured, go to this link to learn how to do it yourself.


  1. My local club hosts CPE, NADAC, and USDAA. My other local club hosts AKC. At the AKC trial, I would agree that is hard to come by volunteers, but in the other venues we usually have more volunteers than we know what to do with. I find that very interesting. I have even seen, at the end of a long CPE day, a competition break out among the volunteers as to who could set the most poles the fastest!

  2. Most of the clubs around here (Colorado - see you both in a week!) have gone to the format you speak of - running all the Excellent dogs first, then Open then Novice.
    I think this works well for the most part, except that I currently run a dog in Exc. B and one in Novice/Open, so my dogs have to hang out all day, and my novice dog tends to not do so well with waiting 7 hours before his first run.
    The group of people we train with are very supportive of each other and will typically stay through the last of the dogs that we run. Its a social event hanging out with friends, playing and watching agility, and we all have a good time of it!

  3. Very very well said. I would add to this that if trials all had general walkthroughs at the beginning of the day for excellent in both rings then there would be far fewer conflicts and far more volunteers.

    In S. CA "Excellent first in both rings" + rotation groups is what is done and I love it. I get my walkthrus. My 3 dogs don't clash. I get to warm them all up and run them in the published order, knowing I won't be conflicted

    Elsewhere... Excellent intermingled with Open. Open or FAST first in one ring only. Different height orders each day. .... I get hugely conflicted when running 3 dogs and it is very hard to work out my dogs' run order ahead of time to ensure that it doesn't clash with a walkthru in the other ring. The gate has to "work me in" at the last minute (they know I am conflicted). I dare not volunteer until all my runs are done for the day.

  4. Lisa, this is EXACTLY why I'm seriously thinking agility may not be my "thing." It is clear that to excel, one has to devote her entire life, which includes all weekends, to the sport. As fun as the game looks, I really want to spend more quality time with Ky than the agility life allows. Maybe it's okay to play at it without competing and just enjoy the relationship. There's just more to my life and who I am than hours and hours at an agility show.....waiting...and waiting...

  5. Great comments everyone! (Greg, see you next week!)

    @Jenifer - don't let my post scare you away from agility. As with everything, things go in cycles and while it is hard to remember, you don't have to do every day of a trial. There are several trials I've only entered one day and was very happy with that decision.

    Also, there are some great things to hanging out at the trials, especially when we're using the RV or visiting with friends.

    I've just found that when it's my decision on how I'm going to use my time, I tend to volunteer more.

  6. Interesting post, esp because here on the west coast that is how our trials are done, excellent first then open, and last novice. I am new to trialing so when I did my first trials I got there at the first of the morning and had all day and hated that way of scheduling....but they are pretty good about giving novice and open a time to get there now, and now that I understand the whole thing ;-), it is nice to not have to get up at the crack of dawn to drive two hours and be at a trial in time....although I am going to be in excellent in the next trial or two and will have to be there early and I am not looking forward to leaving the house at 5 to get to the trials in time ;-(. Here on the west coast in the summer it is a HUGE bummer to always have to be the ones to run in the heat if you are in open or novice, usually it is still warming up and nice while exellent are running, although in the cooler months then I guess novice or open would be the preferred place to run because it will be warmer then the chilly early morning runs, guess it all has its good parts and bad parts!

  7. Good post. We usually have Excellent run first around here, and I love having the rest of the day for chores, letting my dogs run in the woods, or whatever else needs to be done.