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More Advanced Out of Intermediate?

The argument 'for' and 'against' ...and the exception

Following an open debate between Agility Liaison Council members at a recent Kennel Club meeting and the subsequent vote 5-4 against, the discussion on whether to take Advanced level handlers out of Intermediate classes continues. Should we or shouldn’t we? What are the arguments for and against? Three top handlers present their opinions - Jo Sermon (pro), Dave Cooper (con) and Mary Anne Nester with the Mini/Midi point of view. Read both sides of the argument and then vote on this hot topic on Rachel's Mini Poll.

After some discussion on the Agility Forum, Jo Sermon has suggested this proposed change to the rules i.e. would be to remove Advanced handlers from Intermediate whilst at the same time amending the Advanced classification itself to allow older/unfit dogs to drop back into Intermediate.

The proposal becomes: -

Advanced: - For dogs that have gained four wins in Open, Intermediate or Senior classes (2 of which must be agility) AND have been awarded a place in any standard class within the last 12 months.

Intermediate: - For dogs that are not eligible for Starters or Advanced.

Consider the arguments carefully after you've read the pros and cons below, then cast your vote on this hot topic on Rachel's Mini Poll.

FOR

Jo Sermon

It is my opinion that the situation where Novice dogs must compete against the best this country has to offer is hopelessly out of date.

This type of competition benefits nobody. The few dogs that come out and can compete, will soon be into Senior anyway. The rest of the Novice dogs don’t need to try and I can’t see how the Advanced handlers benefit from competing against Novice dogs and handlers.

Classes
Novice dogs would seem at present to be the largest group in Agility in the UK and their needs and requirements should, therefore, be paramount. Numbers in Novice, especially in the South are ridiculous. At Mid-Downs there were more than 900 dogs entered to a single class. Splitting classes works very well, but who on earth is going to schedule TWO Novice classes when faced with numbers such as those? The rest of the classes for the Novice dog that has won out of Starters are, therefore, Intermediate. It’s all very well to say that if you don’t have a fast dog you should set your own targets but do these handlers really need to face the best this country has to offer almost every time they step in the ring? I think not. Removing Advanced would give the Novice dogs and handlers two properly defined levels to enter and make Intermediate a true stepping stone.

Judging
From a judging perspective, Intermediate is an almost impossible task as the course must be a suitable test of Advanced dogs and handlers and also suitable for a young green dog at it’s first show. Without Advanced, the entry would be Novice/Senior – a much more manageable task.

The arguments against the proposal seem to revolve around the "status" of the Advanced handlers and how difficult or otherwise it would then be to win into Advanced. From my perspective, the standard of Advanced dogs would seem to be variable. The dog that wins four of the relevant classes at a Cornish show on a Monday did not beat "the best" to attain Advanced status. How many dogs would have been there? How many Advanced handlers will there be at a show that offers only one class for them. A recent show had only one Intermediate class and the rest of the classes were Novice/Starter. Did the winner beat the best of the best? There’s no guarantee that in every Open class the top Advanced dogs will be there, is there? It was interesting to note at Supadogs a while ago, that when an Advanced jumping course was run over the same course as a Senior jumping, the top Advanced dogs were certainly faster, but the rest weren’t. So the top 10 Senior dogs were faster than a good proportion of the Advanced……..I’d be interested in some more solid data, but it suggests to me that the top Senior dogs will not be out of place in Advanced, even if they don’t win.

I think that this proposal will actually raise the standard of Advanced as it will allow older/injured or unfit dogs to drop back and only the dogs that maintain their standard will be eligible. If the dog that wins an amended Intermediate class to attain Advanced status really doesn’t make the grade, it’ll soon drop out again!

The argument that there will no longer be a class where you have to beat the best of the best to enter is also now out of date – the Championship class is here, for better or worse. The opportunity to put letters with your dog’s name is surely enough of a cachet and the Champion has surely beaten the best of the best!

My only real worry is that Mini/Midi dogs will be put back, as their numbers often don’t make it practical to schedule individual classes for each of the levels. The answer would seem to be in the hands of the show secretaries – time will tell, but I do feel that one class with multiple presentations could be an answer.

AGAINST

Dave Cooper

Why do Bottlenecks happened

Why are we getting ever bigger novice and intermediate classes.

As more and more people win out of starters, we get bigger and bigger Intermediate classes.

Now before we go any further, I am not opposed to people winning out of Starters or any other class for that matter, but having heard the argument that to win out of Starters, you only have to beat starter dogs, and to win out of Novice you only have to beat Novice dogs.

The point must be made that to win out of Novice you have to win two classes one of which must be agility, so why not do a similar thing for Starters, maybe even retrospectively, putting some people back a level. This would help to cut down on the number of dogs and handlers. After all, one win at Starters can place two or three extra dogs into Intermediate. This does not happen at senior level, swelling the intermediate ranks.

The argument that courses would be easier for Intermediate Classes
There are and always will be people, who when asked to judge, view it as a challenge to eliminate as many people as they can. The variety of courses is part of the underlying challenge of agility, and yes I agree that sometimes - just sometimes - the courses are too difficult for the standard they are aimed at. I’ve heard people justify this by saying “They’ll have to do this at the next level,'  so until we can convince judges to set courses the lowest standard of the class should complete, we will always have the above problem.

The Qualification for Advanced
Arguments for dropping Intermediate wins if the Advanced dogs are removed from Intermediate.

I. Firstly from a historical perspective.
Intermediate wins were included in the Advanced qualification, as an afterthought, because at that time to win an intermediate class you had to beat the advanced dogs.

So surely if the reason for that rule change is effectively taken away we should, consider removing the rule change itself.

II. Secondly what does Advanced mean.
There follows three definitions from the dictionary.

  1. At a higher level in training or knowledge or skill.

  2. Being at a higher level than others.

  3. Highly developed.

All three definitions indicate that dogs that achieve the Advanced status in agility should be the crème de la crème of the dogs on the agility circuit. The big question is how do we prove this.

I have read and heard many arguments for including revised intermediate wins, one saying, it would still be Senior dogs that won the Intermediate classes. Quite likely, but would it be the dogs that meet the three definitions above, or simply the best of the rest, because if it was the best of the rest, surely the three above meanings of advanced would not be met by that dog.

Somebody else said that to change the classification would put some people further away from qualifying for Advanced, as if their Intermediate wins were no longer to be counted. They would need three and not one win as they currently do. Why not simply reword the Advanced qualification to, 'Open to dogs having gained at least four wins, in classes which advanced dogs were/are able to enter, two of which must be agility”. At the end of the day, the only way of proving you meet the above three definitions is to beat the advanced dogs.

III. Thirdly what does Intermediate mean?

Again three dictionary definitions.

  1. Being or occurring at the middle place, stage, or degree or between extremes

  2. One that is intermediate.

  3. Around the middle of a scale of evaluation.

All the above definitions indicate that dogs in this classification should:-

  • be of a standard that is to good for Starters

  • not good enough to win an Advanced class

  • include by definition all dogs that no longer qualify for starters

  • do not yet qualify for advanced

But how do you prove you could win an Advanced class? You beat the Advanced dogs. If all you are beating is dogs also of a revised intermediate standard, you are not proving that you would be capable of competing in an Advanced class.

Some people have said that counting the revised Intermediate 'would give Novice dogs a chance.' Well, Novice dogs have a class where they stand a chance. It’s called Novice.

Conclusion
So the underlying conclusion is, if you are good enough for advanced, prove it beat the people already there. After all the first definition of advanced that I used was, “At a higher level in training or knowledge or skill”, note how the word training is used, if you really want to achieve that goal, train for it, after all if it’s worth doing, surely no one will mind putting the effort in, don’t just expect it to happen, and if it doesn’t so what, have you enjoyed yourself and given it your very best shot, if the answer was or is no, then ask yourself honestly, “Do I deserve to be advanced?”.

Moderation
The first point about the advanced class was done from a historical perspective, also on that note there might be a good case for including, two revised intermediate wins in the qualification standard for advanced, in the same way that we did use to count two novice wins, but even then we had to beat the advanced dogs twice.

As a foot note to the above argument, it is not a selfish view point, but a point of view from someone who has one Advanced dog and another still looking for wins to gain that standard at five years old.

THE EXCEPTION TO THE RULE

 

Mary Ann Nester

Size Matters

I believe that many of the debates raging in the agility world ignore the Mini and Midi dog faction. This is because size does matter. The more there are of you, the harder it is to be overlooked. Quite simply, the Mini group is minute (and Midis are positively micro) when compared to the number of big dog handlers. 

But that does not mean mini/midi handlers do not aim high. They are as keen to hone their handling skills and achieve success as anyone else on the circuit. Their competitions abide by the same rules as those governing big dogs’ and their progress through the classes is controlled by identical regulations.

Advanced Mini and Midi Dogs Do Exist
The proposal to take Advanced dogs out of Intermediate classes has serious repercussions for the Mini/Midi faction. Due to the smaller numbers of Mini/Midi competitors, it is not always practical for agility clubs and dog training societies to do anything but schedule Open classes at their shows for this segment of the agility community. 

Minis and midis handlers have been competing against the best of their class for years. Have you ever seen any classes for Advanced Mini/Midi dogs? The clubs that do have Mini/Midi charisma can justify Starter and Intermediate or Novice and Senior classes, but not all four at once.  Agility heaven for the small dog handler is found at the Mini/Midi shows where a club’s manpower and organisational skills are devoted solely to the smaller dogs. Here are classes at all levels and of all types with the chance to win out of Starters and go all the way to the top.

Champions all?
Yes, there are Championship classes for the Advanced Mini dog. But have you noticed how the competitors in this class get shorter and shorter with each passing week?  Why do some shows scheduling mini Championship classes also offer Intermediate, Senior or Open Mini classes?  Why do weekend shows hold mini Championships classes as well as mini qualifiers like the Eukanuba, Agility Voice Knock-Out Pairs or Pedigree Chum heats?  Mini handlers can be seen running their little legs off getting from one ring to another.  Or they can be found at the garage replacing the tread on their tyres - hitting a Championship class up North on Saturday and down South on Sunday creates an awful lot of wear and tear on your wheel.   I think the mini Championship classes should stand-alone and try to avoid clashing with other mini qualifiers.  And, those dogs competing in the Championship could be excluded from the other classes scheduled on that particular day by limiting the number of classes in which a dog can be entered.  How can a handler concentrate on Championship qualifying rounds if he is trying to get a run in with that dog before last call in another class?  These are problems that can be addressed by show committees and scheduling, not by taking “Advanced” out of “Intermediate”.

Equal opportunities
Midi dogs do not have the same opportunities for progress and development as mini dogs and there are no Championship classes for “Advanced” midi dogs.  They represent a very narrow band of dogs competing in agility – a mere two inches, but midi “Open” classes are appearing on more and more schedules.  Recently, there were three weekend shows running concurrently offering midi classes.  All were within an hour and half drive from my home and it was a real dilemma deciding which to enter!  Take “Advanced” out of “Intermediate” and, on the few occasions when there is a choice of class, these dogs’ handlers would miss an opportunity to test their handling skills on a more demanding course.  In fact, they would probably miss the whole show, as their numbers would be too few to warrant an Advanced Midi class.  

Encourage, not penalise
And don’t forget the little hairy handbags out there that went Advanced years ago, but are still up for a bit of agility.  Old minis are frequently brought out of retirement to have a go at Intermediate or Championship class and the same happens to standard dogs. Ancient agility super stars are better suited to Veteran or All-Sorts classes. The courses are kinder and more fun and, with luck, these classes will proliferate. There is certainly a need and demand for them.  

All for one and one for all
Mini/midi dogs should not be treated as an exception to any rule that governs agility. They may be difficult to accommodate, hard to satisfy and damned awkward at times but they are still agility dogs whose handlers are just as competitive as anyone else.  Mini/midi dogs that achieve Advanced standing shouldn’t find their status a handicap and I don’t think one rule for standard dogs and one rule for mini/midi dogs is an answer. I don’t know what is.

I want to take a minute to thank Jo for giving consideration to the Mini/Midi fraternity.
I don’t know how much of what I have written is a true reflection of the feelings of other Mini/Midi handlers or just my own.  We do most of our competing in Open classes. When there is an Intermediate class on the schedule, taking Advanced dogs out of the running would not only limit the number of entries in an already small class, but would prevent many of them from competing at all - Mini/Midi Advanced classes simply are not available. 

And it is not necessarily Advanced classes that Mini/Midi handlers would like to see on a schedule, but Starters. The point to remember is that any proposals concerning Intermediate and Advanced dogs will have repercussions for on all agility dogs whatever their size.

And it is important to speculate on future development. Entries for Mini classes have certainly gone up in the past few years, and I anticipate that the same thing will eventually happen to midi classes. There is as yet no Mini Novice bottleneck, but there could well be as numbers increase and it becomes more practical to schedule individual classes for each of the levels. There may even be Championship classes for midi dogs!


Rachel's Mini Poll

Though Junior handler Rachel Willis is 'only' a Starter, she realised from the thread on the Agility Forum that the question of whether Advanced dogs should be taken out of Intermediate classes was a hot topic . So she had a little play around with html codes and created this Mini Poll which she has kindly agreed to share with Agilitynet.

Please take the time to vote on this controversial  topic.

The Question: Should Advanced dogs be taken out of Intermediate classes?'


Feedback

From Rachel Woods...
Mary Ann certainly has a point. The Advanced/Intermediate debate will only ever have a place in the Mini/Midi world when shows are able to accommodate the full range of classes available to Standard dogs. You cannot take the Advanced dogs out of Intermediate with this portion of the agility world as these classes are nearly never held in the first place.

As a handler of a Midi, I do find it frustrating to have to constantly run Open classes against dogs that really are of Advanced or Senior status.  It is no surprise to see the same names appearing on the league tables year on year. One one hand, it would be great to win and to think that, yes we have beaten some really good dogs, but on the other - it would be nice not to be so outclassed in the ring! More starters classes would be lovely, but I understand the problems clubs have with arranging and running classes where the entry might be less than 40 dogs! 

A welcome move this year has been seen by Donyatt DTC in having a good variety of Midi - yes Midi! classes. but I have noticed that in one of my classes (Novice, I believe) there are less than 30 dogs in the class so is this really viable for a club?  In addition, I am hoping the 10% of entries rosette rule will be bent a little to at least go to sixth as only to have first, second and third is a little disheartening to an already frustrated handler!

When it comes to Standard classes, I would hope that if I ever made it to Intermediate, I would be able to train to a high enough calibre to give the Advanced dogs a run for their money but would prefer to compete against others of my own level. Also, if I owned an Advanced dog, I am not sure that winning an Intermediate class would be much of an achievement. The wind would go out of my sails to think that the dogs and handlers I had beaten could well have been of Novice standard, and I would much rather win in a class where I was sure I was up against dogs of a similar calibre with experienced top class handlers, Now that would be something to write home about! (30/07/02)

From Jane Norwood...
I have read the arguments presented by Jo, Dave and Mary-Anne with interest. However, I do feel that the case made in favour of continuing to allow Advanced dogs to compete in Intermediate has failed to present any arguments in support of  this position which actually stand up to scrutiny. 

The topic is opened by bringing up the issue of degree of difficulty set on a course.  Most of us would probably agree that on occasion it seems that the judge has set  a course which is harder than necessary for the level being judged, but this can happen in all levels of classes from Elementary right up to Advanced so what bearing does this have on whether or not Advanced dogs are or are not permitted to compete in Intermediate? 

If a course is condemned as being 'too hard'  by the majority of those competing, then perhaps it is indeed an unfair test of the dogs ability at that level. However in such circumstances, it is down to an error of judgment on the part of the person designing the course, an error which can be made whether or not the course happens to be an Intermediate one.

However, the fact that Intermediate has a wide range of dogs who are eligible for entry - from inexperienced dogs in their first year of competition to those who are eligible for Advanced and have been competing for several years does - indeed makes it far harder to pitch the degree of difficulty at a level which is a fair test to all, and so perhaps it is more likely that Intermediate courses will be criticised in this manner. This then is perhaps an argument which supports the idea of removing Advanced dogs from Intermediate rather than the opposite.

We are then presented with the argument that there are historical reasons for including Advanced dogs in the Intermediate classification and, therefore, things should remain unchanged. However, Agility is a dynamic and growing sport, and just because these reasons may have been relevant many years ago does not necessarily make them so today. No evidence has been offered to prove that the original thinking behind the historical decision is still appropriate to today’s scene and, therefore, the statements made fail to offer any real substance in support  of the case for maintaining the status quo.

We then move on to the suggestion that the dictionary definitions of the words 'Advanced' and 'Intermediate' can be used to support his argument, the definitions for Advanced being:

  1. At a higher level in training or knowledge or skill

  2. Being at a higher level than others

  3. Highly developed

However, these definitions are subjective and are dependant on the standards to which they are being compared. Any dogs winning out from their present level,  from Elementary onwards, have proven their dog to be at a 'higher level in training or knowledge or skill' when compared to those who were formerly it’s peers. Qualifying for Advanced should simply mean that your dog has attained the three dictionary definitions quoted when compared to dogs still eligible for Intermediate/Senior classes and so had earned the right to advance to the next level and compete for supremacy at that level.  Now at that point in time perhaps it would be true to term such dogs “the best of the rest”, but being the best of the rest should entitle a dog to move onwards and not to stagnate at a level where it has already proven itself more than capable.  If you follow the logic of the argument given, where it is stated that  the only way of proving you meet the dictionary definitions for the term Advanced in relation to qualifying for Advanced classes, then it follows that by beating Advanced dogs on four separate occasions, a Senior dog could be said to have shown it has in fact achieved a level in training higher than Advanced and should be promoted to a class above Advanced!

With regards the term 'Advanced,' it is suggested that any Advanced dog should be the crème de la crème. Well maybe this is so, but I would suggest that becoming eligible for entry into the Advanced class is not sufficient to claim this level of excellence, winning the Advanced class is what entitles a dog to that description. 

Moving on to the definitions given for the word “'Intermediate,' then the argument falls apart completely. All three confirm that the term refers to the middle of the range and so beg the question 'what on earth are the top dogs doing competing at this middle level?' The view that Advanced dogs should be removed from Intermediate is, in fact, supported by the statements made to describe what an intermediate dog should be:

  • Be of a standard that is too good for Starters

  • Not good enough to win an Advanced class

  • Include by definition all dogs that no longer qualify for Starters

  • Do not yet qualify for Advanced

Here both the second and fourth statements indicate that Advanced dogs should not be considered eligible for Intermediate, and yet an attempt is made to discount this fact with a comment asking 'how you prove you could win an Advanced class.' Surely this is not a sufficient argument for permitting Advanced dogs to remain in Intermediate. After all at no other level is it necessary to prove you can beat the dogs competing at the next higher level before progressing up to that level. Therefore why should it be necessary to beat Advanced dogs prior to being permitted to enter that class? 

The argument then goes on to belittle the statement that Novice dogs should be given a chance and points out that Novice dogs do have their chance in Novice, but the issue that is not addressed is why should Novice dogs only have their chance in Novice when other classifications have a chance in two classes, the lowest being the one in which they compete against their peers and the second being a class in which they also compete against the those who are only one level above.  The real issue here is not to 'give Novice dogs a chance,' but to give Intermediate/Senior dogs a fairer chance at progression, whilst also delivering a benefit to the Novice dogs in the form of Intermediate courses which are less likely to be pitched too far beyond their level of competence. Nobody is suggesting that Intermediate courses should simply become just another Novice run.

Finally the conclusion states that to prove a dog is good enough for Advanced it should do so by beating the dogs who have already achieved Advanced status. Once again we are presented with a statement which seems to be simply a matter of opinion and no justification is given for this argument, and we left having to ask 'why should this be so?' After all it is not necessary to beat dogs who are at a higher level in order to progress upwards and into any other classes and no objective arguments have been offered to explain why Advanced should be different.  

This argument is further weakened when you consider that no doubt there are many Senior Dogs and some Novice dogs too who can and have beaten Advanced dogs, by achieving placings of second, third etc in Intermediate, Open and in the case of the Senior dogs, Senior classes. Unfortunately these dogs have simply not managed to beat all of the Advanced dogs on the same day and in the same class.  By allowing the Advanced dogs to compete in Intermediate, this is actually what the Senior dogs are being asked to do and to do it four times!

So to conclude, once again we have been offered no real arguments of substance for permitting the Advanced dogs to continue competing at Intermediate Level, and in fact, the definitions given for the term Intermediate simply confirm that the classification should indeed be amended to remove the Advanced dogs from the Intermediate class.  (31/07/02)

From Dave Cooper...
I feel that it should be pointed out to Jane Norwood that 'We are then presented with the argument that there are historical reasons for including Advanced dogs in the Intermediate classification and, therefore, things should remain unchanged.' is not a fair representation of what was actually said, as she does not mention the line, 'The Qualification for Advanced Arguments for dropping Intermediate wins if the Advanced dogs are removed from Intermediate.'

This line indicates that this section is about the knock on effects, which should be considered, not against the argument of removal, as is apparent when the last paragraph of that section is read, 'The first point about the Advanced class was done from a historical perspective, also on that note there might be a good case for including, two revised intermediate wins in the qualification standard for advanced, in the same way that we did use to count two novice wins, but even then we had to beat the advanced dogs twice.' (04/08/02)

From Wendy Gray...
Perhaps we should not get too drawn into what the classes are actually called and mean here, what it is really about is testing the ability of dog and handler and working through levels that achieve the best from both .

I think we have more issues here that impact on this debate. Starting with where do we start with ability.

  1. Should new young dogs automatically start in Novice /Intermediate classes purely because the handler has won out of Starters with another dog.

  2. Again should a handler who has won in Midi/Mini classes start in Novice /Intermediate classes should they happen to get a standard dog The Advanced dog gets there purely on merit having won the necessary classes. Novice/Intermediate dogs for the most part are there because of the reasons 1 & 2.

Surely these classes should be about merit/ability i.e. is the dog/handler good enough. When queuing in an Intermediate class I hear people say that they don't have a chance with Senior and Advanced dogs there. Well, perhaps we should be looking at the standard/ability of these dogs first before bemoaning the fact that 'I haven't got a chance.' Maybe all dogs should go through ranks of ability starting with Starter classes to Novice to Intermediate to Senior to advanced at the end of the day a good dog will go through, and a good handler will win even with a mediocre dog. I wonder how many young dogs are spoilt because they are over faced with difficult courses?

Which ever way it goes it is going to be an administration nightmare. If what Jo Sermon has proposed goes through who will monitor this? Does the Kennel Club currently have the capacity to deal with this or are we going to rely on people being honest about their successes/non-successes.

At the end of the day It is the best dog/handler on the day that should win. I do not have any axes to grind. I have a Midi who has won a couple of Midi classes and now have another dog that has to compete in Standard classes, and although I think we are capable competing in Novice and Intermediate, I wish I could have been able to give him the basics in Starter classes.  (01/08/02)