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4th Jump Height in Canada

A historical reflection...

Dianne P. Ford has seen Canadian agility move from one height structure to another and she has competed under both the old and new regimes. In the light of the recent debate here on the introduction of a 4th height into Kennel Club agility, Kay Jennings asked Dianne what it's like to compete in Canada. She kindly agreed to explain how agility works in another FCI country and how the variations in jump heights fit in with the ability to compete internationally. It’s not all Mounties and maple syrup...

Kay Jennings (KJ) :Tell us a little bit about yourself and your dogs

Dianne Ford (DF) I live in Canada and I've been training and competing in agility since 1994, primarily with Agility Association of Canada (AAC). I've had three agility partners - all of whom have taught me a bit about jump heights.

My first dog was Brooke, a crossbreed Alsatian/Doberman/Lab mix who measured at 24in / 61cm at the withers and had phenomenal conformation for jumping. We competed together from 1994 - 2003, and she earned five agility titles before retiring at the Masters level. Baxter was my second partner. He was a large-boned Welsh Springer Spaniel (WWS). He measured 20in / 51cm at the withers and had less than ideal conformation - large boned and a bit too long in back - but he was exceptionally fit. Kelsey, my current partner, is also a WSS, measures 18.5in / 47cm and has a phenomenal conformation for jumping. Some call her my 'flying squirrel' as she really soars.

KJ: What's the situation with jump heights in Canadian agility?

DF: The AAC has four height categories. Back in the 90s they added some new classifications, specifically regulars, specials and veterans to allow for more inclusivity and extend agility careers safely. Specials and vets jump a lower height, for example, and veterans get more time.

The current AAC heights are:-

  • Open Regular: 22in & 26 / 56cm & 66cm

  • Open Vet / Specials: 16in &22in / 41cm & 56cm

  • Mini Regular: 10in & 16in / 25.5cm & 41cm

  • Mini Vet /Specials: 6in & 10in / 25cm & 25.5cm

KJ: What was your own experience?

DF: Back in the 1990s, our Large height was 30in / 76cm, which meant Brooke was jumping 6in / 15cm above her withers. She could do it, but I had to do a lot of work to strength her rear and ensuring she was fit and generally healthy. When AAC lowered the heights to 26in / 66cm, I immediately noticed a difference on the course with her. Our speed picked up, and she exhibited more joy on course. Again, as she aged, I moved her to Specials - we didn’t need extra time - and the sparkle came back. We were able to get her final title before she retired.

Baxter was never built to jump full height. His measurement put him into 22in / 56cm which he could manage, but I could see it was taking a toll on him - emotionally and physically - so before we started competing I made the decision to keep him in 16in / 41cm Specials. He had a phenomenal agility career, and he was doing it right up to the day before he died. The joy on his face was paramount to me, not proving he could jump his regular height.

Kelsey's measurement puts her into our 22in height category which is 3.5in / 9cm above her withers. Technically, she could leap over 26in but that would be 7.5in / 19cm above her withers. After watching what happened with Brooke after moving from jumps that were 6in above her withers to 2in above, I won't even consider putting an even a greater differential onto Kelsey. In my opinion, it wears out their body that much faster, and moves it from a fast, competitive, fun sport to do with my dog to a purely competitive one. The 26in large height is also deterring me from training and seeking World’s l(FCI) evel with Kelsey which was commented to me as something I should consider from two of Canada’s World’s level competitors (WAO and IFCS with the Midi height still being an interesting option.)

Large dog jumping full heightI have never heard any discontent about the four heights – and I have competed across nearly all of Canada from Alberta to Newfoundland. The 22in height bracket tends to have the Border Collies, Spaniels, mixed breeds while the 26in bracket tends to have the large BC, Shepherds, Standard Poodles, Labs, Goldies, Dobermans and large mixed breeds.

One difference I've noticed between Canada and the UK is the huge variety of dogs in agility. It might have to do with the four heights, or it could have to do with the basis of moving up / titles. Regardless, I know if I lived in the UK, I am sure that Brooke would have done just fine, but Baxter would not have been able to have had a competitive agility career and earn all the titles he did. And I'd have some serious thinking about whether or not I'd have competed with Kelsey at all. If we did, hers would certainly have been a shorter competitive agility career, say four or five years as opposed to the 9-11 years that I've had with my past teammates.

KJ: Can you tell us how this translates to the international stage? If a person with a phenomenal dog wishes to compete at FCI worlds, but their 18in dog normally jumps at 22in nationally, can they qualify? Because that size dog would be large at FCI....

DF: For Canadian teams who go international, members of the 22in group basically make the decision whether that's a route they want to go. If the dog's overall health and physical strength can support it, then they would do specific training prior to the international event to up the jump height - something that with basic jumping foundation isn't that hard to do. Any Canadian international-level competitors with 22in dogs would do / have done the 26in heights at international competitions. It is a very conscious decision, based on fitness and seen as a short-term blip in the dog's agility career rather than the permanent, multi-trial, multi-year height.

JK: Interesting... so competing nationally at 22in doesn't preclude you from trying out at 26in?

DF: In AAC the jump height, as determined by your dog's measurement, is the 'minimum' height it may enter. The handler may choose to run the dog in a higher jump height i.e. I could have chosen to enter Kelsey in a trial at 26in height. I have yet to see someone choose to run their 22in dog at 26in, and that's after nearly two decades of competing. However, it would allow those preparing for an international competition to enter an AAC competition at the international height. I can't honestly say I know of anyone doing that though - it's usually an out-of-trial training issue, not a competitive issue.

Whenever there are major changes like this, it does lead to heated debates. It was no different in the AAC when the new, lower jump heights and weaving spacing were instigated or the Specials / Veterans categories introduced. But after implementation, I can't say I've ever heard any further complaints as the benefits for the dogs are so apparent that it overrides any other issues including investment issues for equipment etc. Now people and their dogs can play longer and more people can play, which ultimately brings in more finances to clubs/businesses. Plus, everyone is happier when their dogs are fit, happy and healthy. That's a little simplistic, but that is what I have witnessed over the years.

JK: Thank you for your input: It’s immensely useful to find the view of someone who has been here ahead of us and has seen both sides of the argument.

DF: Thank you. I hope it contributes usefully to the debate.

About the author...
Dianne Ford has been training, instructing and competing in agility in Canada since 1994. She is the Chair of the Agility Training Committee of Newfoundland Athletic Dog Association, Inc., and a university professor in management. She has trained with many of the top handlers and instructors Internationally and within Canada, either in formal classes, workshops, private lessons, auditing, or training. These include: Greg Derrett (UK), Laura Derrett (UK), Dave Munnings (UK), Lauren Langman (UK), Mathew Rouse (UK), Susan Garrett (Ontario), Lynda Orton-Hill (Ontario), Adrian Rooyakkers (Ontario), Kimberley Anderson (Saskatchewan), and Cheryl Bartlett (Saskatchewan). She is also an instructor in her own right.

Dianne’s background includes a Psychology degree and several years as a competitor in equestrian competition.

Feedback

From Pam Ellwood...
Interesting as it is to read of how agility is run in other countries it is important to understand the differences between the situations there and here in the UK.

Firstly, can we dispel the myth that there is compelling scientific evidence that it is better for the health of a shorter Large dog to jump a lower height? It simply hasn't been proved one way or the other as yet, And certainly the FCI that influences far more of the world's agility than the combined North American organisations with their multiple and various jump heights has found no reason to change from the three heights we have her in the UK now. It should be borne in mind that the FCI's remit is to promote the pedigree dog in all its shapes and sizes so it has a vested interest in showcasing as many breeds as possible.

If a dog is repeatedly suffering injuries, the handler needs to look at far more than what jump height the dog has to do. Does it have an underlying conformational problem? How old was it when introduced to jump work, high impact and speed? Has it been pushed too hard because the handler has a reputation to maintain? How often has it been trained? What surface has it worked on?

European agility rewards winning, not just qualifying scores that can be gained at a moderate pace. The pressure is for a dog to go faster than the rest and, with increased speed, the physical risks increase. Currently many of the most successful and very fast dogs are somewhat vertically challenged and, to make them even faster by lowering their jump height, could well increase the danger of injury to them.

Size of shows
Most North American shows are very small compared with even a small UK Kennel Club show. Multiple rings each with up to 450 dogs to get through in a day is the norm for one of our shows. (Our own show which isn't one of the biggest has 10 rings on each of the main days.) What works on a small scale is not necessarily transferable to the scale we have to deal with. I believe UKA here with it's small shows and 4 heights can have very late finishes.

Cost
North American agility is for the relatively well-heeled for various reasons. In the UK, it is a sport for everyone regardless of income. We can maintain that approach because of economy of scale. A 4th height would mean longer to get through a day if the same classes were scheduled for all. With many shows already running at capacity every second minute lost during the day matters and the consequence would be likely that the number of runs on offer would be cut. Cut the number of runs and income falls - result an increase in entry fees for everyone to compensate. Overheads would be the same and the clubs running the shows won't want to see the income they make from them fall as most use it to subsidise their training, again to make it affordable to the less well off.

Graded classes
In some areas, certain of our  seven grades (Large dogs) are low in numbers and splitting them into two heights would make it less viable or advisable to offer those grades graded classes with the result that more Combined Grade classes would be scheduled against the spirit of our current system. A numerically small class makes it easier for a dog that perhaps isn't ready to move up a grade to do so. Having  only a handful of dogs in a class isn't important where a dog is only running for a qualifying score.

I don't have an opinion as to whether I think multiple heights are right in the context they are used in North America because I am not familiar enough with them. Watching You Tube doesn't really count. I'd invite those handlers from over The Pond who are of the opinion that we should do the same as they do to come here and visit our shows with an open mind and see what our dogs are capable of and what issues face the majority of competitors and show organisers. ' (05/12/12)

From Elaine Brennan on Facebook...
Having a read on the Agilitynet website, I thought this was interesting, it gives us some idea of a before and after picture from a country which has added a 4th height. I like the idea of a minimum height category rather than a 'this is your height you've got to jump it.' (26/11/12)

From Susan Garrett
I can't imagine an agility association not having a 22on height class. Being raised in the sport where we have always had at least four jump heights it is inconceivable to me not to have all four. What is the point really? Why make a dog that measures 18in tall jump a 26in jump?

I am thrilled that with Feature I have the option of jumping her at 22in when she gets older because she does measure into the 22in class but in preparation for FCI I choose to jump her at 26in but, at least it is my option. No one is forcing me to do it. Encore will never jump 26in again but happily she can still play. Having a 4th jump height just makes agility more inclusive, allowing healthy sound dogs of all abilities and ages to play.

From Andrea Guindon (Canada) ...
I was asked to comment regarding my dogs competing in Canada. We have four heights here and we are allowed to jump higher than the measured height. With my Border Bollie, I did jump her in Large for the first several years of her career as I was advised this would make her use a better jump style. To be honest with her I found the opposite. When I moved her to Standard which is what she measured for she turned much better and seemed to have a softer landing. She was using her body better verses launching herself over the jumps. However, this is just my experience with one dog and I don't really know if the few years at Large contributed to her being better at Standard height. It's probably dependent on so many factors.

The Large dogs on our FCI world team this past year all measure for Standard height. Some compete at Standard height and some compete at Large in Canada, depending upon the person, event etc. I would also like to say that I have friends who have Tollers, Standard Schnauzer and various mixes that would not trial their dogs if they had to jump in Large.

I'm not sure how you will define the Standard class, if accepted, but the 22in jump height in Canada and the US does seem to have the largest number of entries at almost every show and I can't imagine not having it. (24/11/12)

First published 22 November 2012