The Bad Dog Agility Weekly for December 6th, 2017

News, commentary, and training tips for the dog agility enthusiast.

Welcome to the BDA Weekly! We’re painting our house so our Christmas tree isn’t up yet and I’m starting to get a little antsy…

European Open Tryouts Results for Team USA

You can view complete results here. Jennifer Crank and border collie P!nk served as a white dog (a demonstration dog) for the event, and Sarah Baker put in a pair of top 10 finishes with border collie Hops. Both Jennifer and Sarah have been to the European Open before, and now Sarah will wait to hear if Hops has been selected for the large dog team.

In spite of the craziness at my house, I was able to catch a few rounds from the event and in the coming weeks I’ll take a closer look at some spots where a lot of handlers struggled. Congrats to all the competitors as well as the new team members!

I’m excited about the number of handlers who showed up for the event, because part of fielding competitive teams abroad is getting people to show up for your tryouts. Showing up commits them to preparation. Preparation leads to improvement…and you get the idea. Agility powerhouses like Slovenia (with a population of barely 2 million) have larger tryouts for their international teams than the United States (population > 300 million). I think interest in the European Open continues to increase and hopefully this will spill over to the separate team tryouts for the Agility World Championship, which has not been able to sustain any kind of meaningful increase in participation over the past few years.

Looking at raw data of yards per second for the past several years, international team members are not typically the fastest dogs in the United States. I think everyone knows some really fast dogs and talented handlers that never try out for an international team, and that’s a loss for Team USA. Recruitment should be a key part of any program development. I want to make sure lots of fast dogs, especially young ones, are showing up at my tryouts, and I want to support those handlers by giving them the instruction/feedback they need to dominate international coursework. When you think about it, a fast young dog with a terrible handler can eventually become a medal contender. A medium speed dog with “capped” speed/skills, even with an experienced former world team member, will probably never contend for a medal. Which leads to the question, should medium or slow speed dogs even show up for tryouts?

Sarah and I talked about this just a few days ago, and we think that yes, competitors can (and should) treat both EO and AWC tryouts as stand alone events. These are the only two events that bring international coursework here to the United States, with the judges who will actually judge the event later in the year. Tryouts are literally a mini-AWC and a mini-EO for Americans who can’t make the trip overseas. If you’ve qualified for the event, I strongly encourage you to attend, as your dog has earned that right and you both belong there. Plus it’s fun and inspiring! And as I noted above, it’s not possible to stack the small and medium teams with super fast dogs at every position, so some slower dogs will make the team, and that dog might as well be yours!

I like the changes Ann Braue, the European Open coach, has made to the team selection process and I hope she continues to move in this direction. Adding more automatic spots takes away the perception of bias, encourages more handlers to attend, and obviously emphasizes objectively measured performance (run times). After all, this is agility and not conformation–the event is timed and there should be no subjective input into the process. Here again, especially with respect to the Agility World Championship (coached by Nancy Gyes), the United States lags behind the elite agility countries like Finland, Germany, and Slovenia as those countries are fully “automated” in their selection process, though it’s worth noting that this past year the Agility World Championship selection process for Team USA moved from 2 of 4 spots being automatic to 3 of 4. Ann has also given the automatic spots to winners of individual rounds rather than cumulative winners, emphasizing the speed aspect of the sport because at the actual event, it’s impossible to win without a clean round. At that level, running clean to medal is a given, so it makes more sense to select for speed. Of course, it’s usually not possible to generate a 100% medal-contending full team for either the Agility World Championship (12 dogs) or European Open (32 dogs), so you reach a point where it’s less important to select for speed. I’d still fully automate the selection process for the team development and morale benefits.

As a side note, I like my tryouts courses hard. The best countries have the toughest tryouts, and I think there’s some correlation there. When you dumb down your tryouts, you do an incredible disservice to your competitors because they will tend to underprepare for tryouts. Since 2008, the gap between the United States and Europe has widened much more for small and medium dogs than for large dogs. The reason for this is two-fold: 1) there are more large dogs, and 2) courses designed to be acceptable for large dogs in terms of spacing are far too spacious and easy to challenge smaller dogs that have plenty of time to change course. Especially at the international level, courses should be specifically designed to give small and medium dogs the challenges they will see abroad. Your team tryouts is the ONE EVENT where there should be no compromise on this issue.

Have you been a bad dog agility mom this year?

Questions or Comments?
Send them to sarahandesteban@baddogagility.com and give me a few days to get back to you. We are nine days away from Star Wars…