Was the 20” Class at 2016 AKC NAC Actually Faster Than Previous Years?

In our Side by Side: Hops vs Gitchi article, we compared the two fastest times of all dogs at any height running in the AKC finals and specifically stated that the 20”class was the toughest 20” field seen in several years. During the finals livestream, commentators Sarah Fernandezlopez and John Nys both noted that the 20” field was very tough this year. The finals included the defending champion (Hops), one of the fastest large dog non-border collies in AKC (Gitchi), and a group of handlers that collectively has competed at the FCI Agility World Championship, European Open, and Americas y Caribe, won AKC nationals with different dogs, and appeared in finals at the AKC Invitational and Westminster. The 20” class produced an astounding 16 clean runs in the finals, with just 0.77 seconds separating 2nd through 8th place! An impressive and highly competitive group, however, one reader took exception:

“in the toughest 20″ field seen in several years” – Huh? How so?

Let’s take a look at the yards per second for each dog who ran in the 20” finals over the last three years, taken from the qualifying period for that year’s nationals. The faster dogs are in the upper right corner.

Perhaps this trend occurs in all heights due to improved training methods or better handling. Maybe judges are wheeling courses bigger, leading to inflated yards per seconds over the last three years. Let’s take a look at the other finals height classes and see if dogs are getting faster as well.

The other height classes do not share the 20″ trend, except for 24″ which had a bump up from 2014 to 2015, but not to 2016. I’m comfortable saying that the 20″ finals this year was tougher than previous years and that this wasn’t the case with the other heights, but why did this happen? 26″ entries were down again this year, and many of these 26″ dogs returned to their natural height—20″. 20″ finalists from this year included Gitchi, Karli Renay, and Stella who all jumped 26″ at nationals last year. The 26″ class is largely a self-selecting group of elite competitors generally vying for spots on international teams. Another 20″ finalist from this year, Scoop, run by Nancy Gyes, finished 2nd in the 24″ finals last year and moved to 20″. Many other dogs moved down in height to 20″ but did not make the finals. People aware of this trend realized that the 20″ class would probably be tougher than previous years. With the impending international shift in jump height from 26″ to 24″ comes the next interesting questions: will the AKC eliminate the 26″ class for the 2017 NAC and if they do, will dogs be allowed to jump 24″ even if they measure into 20″?

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