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Proud to Choose LHO

Stuck between a rock and a hard place...

Recently Beth Rachlis has been reading the discussions on-line and in the agility media concerning the Kennel Club's decision to introduce Lower Height Option (LHO) at shows. Usually it starts on a Monday, after a weekend of shows and goes something like this 'it's unfair that the KC brought in LHO or 'my full height dog would have / should have won,' but now it also seems to be creeping in to when shows and schedules are announced. Beth thinks it's it just not right! She is proud to choose LHO!

I have one of those smaller Large dogs. Izzie (MorgansR Swizzie Rascal) measured 469mm at UK Agility (UKA). As her name indicates, she is a rescue dog adopted at about seven months from Morgan's Rescue in Cumbria, and she carries a bundle of nerves with her which makes her stand taller than she is.

She had never had much human contact and was petrified of everything as anyone who has seen her meltdown in training or competition can attest to! At our first meeting, she didn't move. She had to be carried out of her kennel and onto the field so I could see her. I didn't adopt her for her potential to grow to 'normal' size. I adopted her because her face lit up and she completely relaxed when she met my other dog and, as a bonus, my other dog didn't try to eat her!

I've recently returned to Agility after a four year absence. My first dog never made it out of Grade 1 and has now retired to Veterans/Anysize. I quickly realised that Izzie might have a problem. She was short, with a long back and, if she measured into Large, there would be some VERY large jumps. Whilst still doing foundations and still running over Small, I made an hour and a half journey to get her measured only to have it officially confirmed that she was in fact a 'Large' dog.

It took us almost seven months to get her up to full height. She used to run under Medium jumps and even tried to crawl under Small ones. She would shut down, run away and hide in the car, climb on contacts or run into tunnels. We would get one run out of her and then nothing for the rest of the training session. But, we got there. She would do it, but wasn't the happy, carefree dog that I saw over Medium or 550mm.

And then LHO was announced
Hallelujah! It came at a time when I was starting to think about entering her into competitions. We could do 550mm! It is 81mm taller than her, but she was much happier and more confident.

I waited eagerly for the shows with LHO to be announced. I admit I got antsy, and entered her into a couple of full height classes just to see. She did it and didn't drop poles, but she wasn't very happy.

There was such a difference at our first show at LHO, so we haven't returned to full height. We have skipped local shows and gone further afield. We have joined UKA where she runs over 550mm.

Izzie has just gone up to Grade 4, and has recently gained enough points for her AW/B. She's exceeded all my expectations and sometimes we have moments of brilliance, usually when I remember to tell her what to do! However, we also get eliminated a lot. I cue her late. I forget the course. The dreaded tunnel monster sucks her in, or she sees a piece of contact equipment and just can't help herself.

LHO has not solved all our problems nor made her a robot dog. If anything, it has made running her harder!  She's happy and drivey. My mistakes are amplified as she will take any jump she sees even if I am facing the opposite way and shouting left, Left, LEFT! at her.

Would she have had the same success over full height? Who knows? What LHO has given Izzie - and me - is confidence. She's happy. She wants to be there and do Agility. I stand in the queue amongst our other LHO competitors, and we bond. The Labradors, the Spaniels, the Shepherds, the Collies, the crossbreeds, the all the other dogs who may struggle over Full Height love LHO. The owners believe that LHO is better for the long term health of their dog.

Choice and fairness
The Kennel Club has given us the responsibility to make a choice for what we think is best for our own dog. There is lots of talk about 'fairness' at the moment, specifically how it isn't fair that dogs can win up running at LHO, and how it isn't the same course. Well, it isn't fair that my little dog forgot to grow. It isn't fair that she should have to jump Large at 181mm more than her height (or 138% of her height) for a hobby that is mine, not hers. Dogs aren't born being taught how to do Agility, they have to learn. As such, I believe that we have a responsibility to ourselves - and our pets - to do what we feel is best for them. Each dog has different strengths and weaknesses, and it is up to us to support them.

Comments have been made comparing Agility to human sports but the analogy falls down. Humans can make their own decisions about how often to train and if the sport suits them. Dogs can't. We have to be their voice and make decisions on their behalf.

In KC Agility Liaison Council minutes, it has been mentioned that participation into the sport of Agility has fallen. There are comments that Grade 1 and Grade 2 are a lot smaller than they used to be and where are the new people? Well, maybe they are finding that Agility isn't the sport for them and their dogs. Perhaps sports like Flyball where the smaller dogs are encouraged and sought out or Rally-O where size doesn't matter as much, are a better fit for them.

LHO isn't perfect. Some people decry that shows can choose whether or not to offer it, that awards should be combined or separate, or if there should just be a confirmed 4th and 5th height.

But, what we have to remember, is that we can only work within the framework we are given. Running at LHO is not cheating. It is allowed within the rules. It is for anyone to use. If a dog wins up quickly, before they are ready, all that happens is that they then get stuck in a new grade until they win out. That may already happen with the dogs running over Small, or Medium, or those who enter shows with small entries.

Stuck between a rock and a hard place
There is shrinking interest in KC Agility with lower numbers of new handlers, while there is growing pressure from research and other organisations that maybe the arbitrarily set heights of 350mm, 450mm, and 650mm may no longer meet the needs of the modern Agility organisation. Dogs run successfully in the UK and across the world at different jump heights, and organisations such as UKA offer a greater variety of heights and options for dogs.

The Kennel Club's tagline is ' Fit for Function. Fit For Life.' The existing three height bands are not accessible and functional for all dogs. While the Kennel Club is making decisions on the future of these heights, their interim introduction of LHO allows for more participation, hopefully shoring up the shrinking Grade 1-Grade 2 numbers, and allows greater access to Agility for all dogs.

Footnote: Since this article was written, UKA, Sweden and USDAA have lowered their jump heights for the 2017 season. In those organisations, Izzie would be jumping 500mm (UKA), 500mm (Sweden) and 20 inches [508mm] (USDAA) as opposed to the Kennel Club 'full' height of 650mm (25.5 inches). 

 

About the author
Beth Rachlis lives in Newcastle upon Tyne with her two rescue dogs. She dabbled in Agility with her eldest one and returned 18 months ago with Izzie.  

In her spare time, Izzie enjoys herding her pet cats, swimming and rolling in poo.

First published 30 November 2016

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