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Little Dogs - Does Size Matter?

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Is there institutional prejudice against small dogs?

Hey, Mini and Midi handlers - do little dogs get as much coverage in the Agility media - including Agilitynet - as Standard dogs? Possibly not! Do big dog handlers taunt you with jibes of 'get a proper dog!' Do you long for lower contact equipment to match your dog's little legs? Agilitynet asked six Mini and Midi handlers with various levels of experience to talk about some of the issues that effect small dogs in agility in a 'virtual' roundtable discussion. Feel free to join in.

Meet The Panel

Penny Cockerill

Penny is a newcomer to agility with her Staffie X (Mad) Maggie. She has an 11 year old Airedale Terrier as well. Though she tried agility with him he couldn't really see the point.

 Bridget Fletcher

Bridget currently owns a mixed bag of four dogs including two WSD, a JRT and a crossbreed. She runs two dogs - Jesse (Wild 'n' Wirey Jesse) in Midi and Tod (What A Little Tod), a WSD in Standard. Pepper and Billy are retired.

Vanessa Hardin

Vanessa has been doing agility for 14 years with two Yorkies and three poodles to date. She has competed at all the major finals and trained in the SE and Midlands.

Mary Ann Nester

In 1994, Mary Ann took her first small step toward becoming a proponent of poodle power by adding Brillo Pad, a black miniature poodle, to her pack.  He introduced her to mini agility and took her to Crufts, Olympia & the World Agility Championship.

Peter van Dongen

Peter discovered agility through a friend when Basil was already five years old. As Basil is a Mini, they have only been involved in Mini agility. The next 'Basil' is on its way now. She is another JRT X and is called Sky.

Kay Westgate

Kay (a silver surfer) now runs Oz a JRT. She says all she now needs is a brain and leg transplant so that she can run him the way he deserves. If only!

Q. Why did you choose a 'small' dog for agility?

Peter: I started doing agility to meet people who liked animals and did not have anything to do with veterinary stuff. As I had a ‘Mini’, I have only competed in Minis, mostly because Basil is my first and still only agility dog.

Bridget: I got my first dog Jesse, a scruffy crossbreed, from the local animal shelter. At the time I had not seen agility, and she was just purely bought as a pet. Then I saw an agility demo and decided to give it a go with Jess. We started competing over standard height until Midi classes came along . We have won Midi Dog of the Year, come second twice and third. As she is now 11, I just run her for fun, but even managed to win a few classes last year!

Kay: For me it was the other way around. I had a small dog when I discovered agility. Naturally I started competing in Mini competitions. I found Mini handlers to be friendly and encouraging, so Mini events suited me the best! To this day, there is still an element of 'them' and 'us' between Standard and Minis and this applies to training clubs as well.

Penny: I have a Midi by accident. We adopted Maggie at 12 weeks when she was found running free. At that stage we didn’t even know what breeds she might be or what her eventual size would be. She is mostly Staffie but could also have Jack Russell, Boxer, Beagle, Whippet ….all 57! She was always so bright and athletic (vaulting happily over or clambering underneath our large Airedale Terrier, jumping onto the back of the settee, leaping up and down stairs, etc.) that we took up agility for fun and to keep her mind exercised as well as her body. She adores it – this is our main problem as she gets unbelievably excited at the prospect then races away at the start. By the time she settles down (about halfway around a course) she usually finishes beautifully!

Mary Ann; When I was thinking of getting a new dog, I spent a great deal of time watching the Minis run at agility shows. There were three things that made getting a Mini an attractive prospect. Language Timothy, a Jack Russell, was the fastest dog of any size that I have ever seen attack a course. His handler, Keith Rump, gave Timmy 100 per cent and, if the dog missed a contact or took the wrong obstacle, he shrugged his shoulders and walked the next course. Keith and Timmy were great crowd pullers and I never saw them crack under pressure or loose it. Well, we all have to have a role model

Vanessa: The beauty of Minis is that there is no 'gotta be a collie' vibe as the top dogs are various both purebred and 'uniques.' Long legs, nutty and outgoing helps! The little dogs have several advantages for me:-

  • They do little poos that are not totally gross to pick up.

  • You can fit loads of them in the smallest car!

  • They are cheap to run and do loads of miles per kilo of dog food.

  • They offer variety in the classes both in breeds and personality but I do not feel their commercial spectator value has ever been utilised.

Mary Ann: And I liked the Mini competitors. Their dogs were so naughty and they still loved them. The first Mini handler I spoke to was Angela Carter and I blame her for turning me into a poodle person. She is a good raconteur and mimic and usually has me in fits of giggles. Her poodle stories are extraordinary. If you want to escape the mundane, spice your life up with a poodle. When someone complained about barking dogs, she retorted, 'What do they expect at a dog show? Dogs bark. We don’t bring cats.' She makes me laugh, and I am delighted that she now runs a Midi dog and I can stand next to her in the queue.

And the other reason I like Mini dogs is that they take up so little space. You can squeeze an extra one in the car no problem. I can sit on the settee and be covered in poodles. If I had as many German Shepherds, I would be suffocated. And being small they are less noticeable. Therefore, sneaking them into the Travel Lodge Hotel is easy.

Q. Apart from size, do you think that Mini/Midi agility dogs are 'different' from Standard ones?

Mary Ann: Owning a mini dog has proved to me that good things come in small packages especially if it's a poodle!.

Penny: I do think there are quite a few 'characters' in the 'small dogs.'  Most pedigree dogs seem to compete in sSandard or Mini - apart from spaniels and one or two others - so Midi contests usually contain quite a few crossbreeds, and this can be very entertaining!

Kay: Dogs themselves do not think there are any differences between each other, but humans seem to make the distinction.

Vanessa: I feel very defensive about 'little dogs' because I am now celebrating my 14th year of competition and the paranoia set in early! I have had run a trained collie in competition for someone else so I have a vague idea of both! As far as running a Mini - they are different and offer different challenges to standard dogs on the equipment purely due to size.

Peter: After having seen agility for quite a few years now, including big dog agility as well, I think Mini and Midi agility is definitely more interesting than standard agility for the following reasons:

  1. More diverse breeds, including of course many crossbreeds, with winners of very different sorts at big finals; you can never predict who’s going to win;

  2. Less difference between the height of the dog and the height of the jumps, so that the stress on the joints is not so bad.

  3. More of a challenge to do agility well in most Mini and Midi breeds, as Collies (and let’s face it, most standard dogs are Collies, at least at competitive level) are, and have been for many centuries, bred to work for humans. They are, I think, more likely to want to work for you, while dogs like terriers have been bred to think for themselves and work independently from humans. It is therefore a greater challenge to get a terrier to do what you want than it is a Collie.

Q. In your experience, do you think Minis and Midis are adequately catered for at the clubs or schools where you have trained?

Mary Ann: OK, I’ll say it again. Mini/Midi dogs are small. Hold a treat too far above their head and it disappears out of sight. You have to bend over or your dog will wonder where you are. Little dogs get under foot and trampled. Your biggest training aid is your feet. Few of the small breeds are herding types. They don’t have a work ethic. They take eight steps to your two. In short, if you get a Mini/Midi dog, you will not be able to train it like a collie. You may get it to work like a collie, but that is a completely different matter. Good luck!

Vanessa: To me, the most immediate disadvantage I have experienced is the lack of good training. It is hard to find clubs that welcome Minis and take them seriously to offer quality training alongside their 'bigger' cousins.

Kay: I agree. It is still hard to find clubs that will cater for Minis. Yes, clubs will let you attend but usually you end up being tagged on the end waiting for your turn! I appreciate jumps have to be put up and down but always being last can be frustrating! When I attended Axstane Agility Club they had a separate mini class and it was great! Unfortunately the long distance I had to travel eventually became too much and I had to leave. The club I am at now gives us all a fair crack of whip so I cannot complain these days, but I know others that are not so lucky!

Penny: As a Midi Starter handler, training is not really a problem for me. At one club I belong to the poles are left on the bottom rung and on the top rung so all heights of dog can train around the course – this suits Minis and Standards but is not really a proper training for my Midi dog Maggie. At Watford, jumps are adjusted sometimes but not when Minis and Midis are training together.

Q. Have you encountered any disadvantages being a Mini or Midi handler?

Vanessa: In my humble opinion, Minis and Midis are definitely afterthoughts and they often come behind the Standard dogs in shows, classes and training.

Penny: At the moment there are not so many Midi classes but, at least when we do compete, the classes are relatively small. The drawback is that the course may be at any level, and dogs of all ages and experience run the same course. At the moment I am not experienced enough to know whether the course I am running is suitable for inexperienced dogs/handlers or not, so I have no real way of knowing how I am doing – obviously if we were placed I would have a good idea! So far I have managed only to be eliminated – in fact, in one round I qualified to be eliminated three times – is this a record!

I have considered entering Maggie for standard courses at elementary level, but although she can jump the height and leap onto the standard table, I am not sure how good this is for her. I can’t help feeling it could be harmful or lead to injuries. I would certainly like to hear from any other handler who has taken this route.

Kay: When I first started in Mini Agility thirteen years ago, we were known as the 'blue rinse brigade' because of the high proportion of elderly handlers taking part. Jokes about why didn't we get ourselves a proper' dog really got on our nerves! In those days size really did matter!

Mary Ann: On a more humourous note, my first Mini dog Brillo Pad, being small and black, can easily make himself disappear. I have spent many a heart-stopping hour looking all over the neighbourhood for Brillo while he snoozes in a pile of laundry on the floor.

Q. What is your opinion about shows and sponsored competitions for Mini and Midi dogs?

Vanessa: Because the classes are more than often 'Open' it is comparatively hard to work through from Starter to Advance unless you have a real 'flyer.'

Peter: There are generally two classes for Minis, and sometimes even less for Midis, at a show, while there are often more than that for Standard dogs. This has never kept me from going to a particular show, even with only one dog to run, but with the current high numbers of dogs competing at any one show I don’t see how and why this should change, unless it means only two classes for standard dogs as well.

Kay: It would be nice if there were more than two classes for minis, although I have noticed that some shows are putting on extra ones this year. Some clubs have one Mini competition first thing and put the other one last of the day. Consideration of this would be appreciated. Also we now have the happy situation of Mini/Midi only shows although not so much around the South East area. Eukanuba and Pedigree sponsor major mini events although we do not get a mention on television at Crufts. It would be great if Pedigree allowed mini teams to compete in the Crufts team event too! Ah well, you can't have everything!

Mary Ann: I think the current trend to stage Mini/Midi shows is great. Last weekend, I competed at the Wye Valley Mini/Midi show. There was a huge selection of classes for small dogs including teams, pairs and starters. I have never had so many runs in a single day.

Peter: Minis can’t complain as far as sponsored competitions are concerned, with Crufts and Olympia catered for. Midis on the other hand are the poor cousins at the moment, and the big sponsors should definitely look at this category as well, I feel.

Mary Ann: I agree that while Mini dogs are comparatively well catered for, Midi dogs have yet to make a big impact on the show schedule. There are a number of shows that squeeze just one Midi class into the timetable when two should be the bare Minimum if you want to attract competitors.

Penny: Being completely ignorant of agility rules when I started training with Maggie, I assumed we would enter competitions starting with easy and working up to more difficult levels. Indeed, we can do that in the Winter League in which my club (Watford) competes. However, now that I have started entering open contests I realise that I have a choice of entering Midi only if there is a class for them, or Starters at standard height if there is no class for Midis.

Peter: Overall although I think there are sufficient rosettes and trophies for Minis, I agree that Midis are sometimes not catered for so well. Inevitably this will change when numbers increase.

Penny: I believe that my dog Maggie has a lot of potential and I would love to have a goal other than 'not being eliminated,' but there are no annual contests or sponsored competitions leading to Crufts or Olympia for Midis that I know of.

Mary Ann: Once again, Midis lag behind the Minis that have major finals sponsored by Eukanuba, Pedigree, Burgess and the Agility Club. No Crufts or Olympia for Midi dogs. No wonder handlers keep trying to shrink their puppies in the drier to keep them less than fifteen inches. Midis have a lot of catching up to do and look forward to Supa Dog Week and Dogs in Need as the only shows that have dipped their toes in the water and run finals for them.

The experience of competing in a qualifying heat or final is quite different from running in a class at a show. Midis have yet to test their handling techniques under this kind of pressure. I think they are now ready for this challenge.

Penny: Because we are competing as Elementary/Starters, competitions are very nerve-wracking, particularly on the standard and type of course we might face, so we are getting more fun from demonstrations at present, but while the advantage of demonstrations is that you know what you are doing, the down side is that they are not particularly challenging either!

Q. What do you think about all the talk about measuring and the (possible) changes to the sizes of small/medium/large dogs in agility due to things like qualifying for events like the FCI World Championships?

Vanessa: We obviously need to all think long and hard as to whether to change our current agility set up to match the rest of the world and compete once a year (the chosen few that is) on more completive terms or carry on as we are which affects the majority.

Mary Ann: When I bought a Mini, I remember that dogs were always being measured at agility shows and responsible owners accustomed their puppies to having strange metal croquet hoops passed over their shoulders. Measuring is less frequent these days, and I expect that is because Mini classes are larger and measuring can be time consuming and traumatic if the result is not what the owner anticipated.

Looking around though, I do see dogs that look too big for Mini or Midi. It is hard to measure a dog by eye. Dogs that are stumpy and fat can look shorter than dogs that are waiflike. 

Penny: At two, Maggie is just over 15ins – we reckon – she wriggled so much when being measured with a frame it was difficult to tell exactly!

Peter: Personally I feel that measuring should be mandatory in all dogs doing agility. I would suggest that all dogs are measured when at least 18 months old, by an ‘official’, at an official measuring session, several of which to be held yearly at different places throughout the country, with the height documented in the dog’s record book, together with that dog’s photograph and microchip number. For this year's WC I measured all the competing dogs before the event to put the 'official' measure in the dogs 'record book'.

Kay: I agree with Peter that it should be mandatory. Measuring minis has always been a sore point! It would save an awful lot of gossip and black looks directed at some handlers in the ring! It would be fairer all round. As far as the World Championships go I must admit I have not really bothered to get involved in this. I think the rule about pedigree dogs means that in my view it cannot be called World Championship but should be renamed Pedigree (with a small 'p') World Championship.

Mary Ann: Yes, it would be nice if Mini and Midi dogs were measured once by an authorised official and issued with a certificate with their exact height. Pet Passports have liberated agility dogs and they can now compete in competitions abroad. Many of the countries that can be visited operate different height classifications. How many Minis are under the FCI 35cm? How many Minis in this country would be Midis in Europe?

More important, handlers who have a dog right on the measure at fifteen or seventeen inches are always going to have fingers pointed at them if they do well – sometimes even if they don’t do well. I bet they would love to be able to wave a certificate in the face of anyone who questions their dog’s height.

Q. Do you think that anything has changed in regards to small and medium-sized dogs since the time that you started Agility with your dog?

Kay: Thankfully today things have changed and you will find the same mix of people taking part in Mini classes as in standard ones. The performance of our little dogs has improved tremendously and more and more standard handlers are choosing to run a Mini themselves. Now nearly all shows have Mini classes where as in days gone by you had very limited choice. 

Mary Ann: But things are changing slowly. I am overjoyed to see different types of classes appearing on some schedules this year. Thank you Easter Extravaganza for letting the Midi handlers try their hand at a Gamblers.

The standard in Midi classes improves and becomes more competitive with each passing month. Sharon Lear with the Marshall and Angie Edwards with Ricky have dominated the Midi classes because of their speed and control. But watch out for Mr. Partidge Jr. with Spike. This is a young pair that will have a trophy shelf bursting at the seams by the end of the season. And don’t blink or you will miss Marc Wingate Wynne with Jigs. These two are the Keith Rump and Timmy of the Midi classes and I predict a great future for them. They are sure to catch the eye of the selectors for the UK Midi team going to the World Championships in Dortmund. Hopefully, sponsors here will be impressed with them, too.

Peter: At last years World Agility Championships the standard of the Mini competition was incredibly high, so much so that the standard handlers, historically ‘not too keen on the little’uns’, were in awe of some of the top Minis. This can only be good for Mini agility in general, and I hope that this years Championships are even better, with all three categories catered for!

Q. Do you think that Mini and Midi dogs and handlers get 'fair' coverage in the agility press?

Peter: Yes, I do actually. There is enough to read about mini dogs in general. Again, the midis get left behind a bit, but I'm sure that will change as well. All it needs is an enthusiastic person from the midis to bring them more to our attention.

Vanessa: I disagree. I honestly believe there is a difference in attitudes over size.

Bridget: Speaking as a Midi handler I think one of the problems, for me anyway, is that because there are no big qualifiers to go for i.e. Olympia or Crufts, the only thing that makes Midi worthy is the points system in the magazines. Perhaps this could be a reason why Midis get overlooked in the 'press' as there are never many finals to report on.

Kay: I suppose that when you consider the large number of our bigger cousins taking part in agility it is fair they get the most mention. Yes it would be nice to get more coverage but being taken seriously is far more important I think. Agilitynet is a great site which just gets better and better and provides agility enthusiasts everywhere with everything they need to know! Contrary to popular belief we are not moanin' Minis anymore - we just want to get on with the sport we all love!  

Q. Given the choice, would you get another Mini or Midi?

Peter: Yes, of course, in fact I just have! Here is a sneak preview of the next Basil. She is called Sky. Watch this space!

Vanessa: For me living and enjoying my dogs is the first and foremost reason. I happen to love my Minis who fit in with my lifestyle but also give my a wonderful outlet in training and shows. However, at the end of the day 30 seconds in the ring once a week is a very small time factor compared to the fun and loyalty they give me for the rest of the week. Maybe if some Mini handlers were higher in the decision making of the sport things would be different, which would the public rather watch - speedy collie after collie or speedy different type of Mini after different type of Mini with loads of 'aah factor?'

Mary Ann: Would I ever run a big dog again? Probably not. They take up so much space and are so obviously dogs.

Kay: Yes certainly. If I had the room I would get a standard dog too! First and foremost though they are my loyal companions and friends. I want dogs always to be a part of my life.

Penny: I have thought about getting another dog of Midi size, although I am so used to having one big and one small dog that I would find it hard to have two small ones! And big dogs can be very restful - my Airedale certainly is compared with Mad Maggie

Bridget: While I thoroughly enjoy running Jess having experienced the thrill of qualifiers feel it is unlikely that I would purposely get another Midi dog for competition. I wonder how many other handlers who have experienced Midi and are competitive feel the same? The problem at the moment is a bit like the chicken and the egg. There aren't enough good quality dogs out there to hold qualifiers, yet there won't be until there are.

Mary Ann: But that’s the attraction of the Mini/Midi classes. Anything goes - and frequently does... in the wrong direction. Poodles and shelties are great favourites, but you will also see a great number of terriers, spaniels. I have even seen a pug. In Mini/Midi classes; variety is the spice of life. We are a long way from ABP (Any Breed but Poodle) – thank goodness.

A Little Feedback

From Rachel Woods...
What a great article. It covers all the great points of owning a mini or a midi.

The only drawback I have found to running a smaller than standard dog is the lack of classes. Many shows offer Midi classes but rarely under any classification other than open. Mini's are more commonly getting Starters classes but Midis are not afforded the same luxury, which is ironic as I don't know of any Minis that also run as Standards so it isn't such a problem if they win out! 

This is particularly relevant to Dave Cooper's comments about people that run Midis in Standard classes. We are not allowed to be both Midi and Standard at the same show but, if we win open classes at Midi height, we are then forced to take on Intermediate etc. classes if we want to be a 'Standard' dog.  In my case with my Midi, we don't even have those Collies worried - he can make the height but his legs just are not as long. 

I long for the day when we need not bother with Standard classes just to get a run or two, as there will be enough shows giving Midis a good three runs in the day with classes for Starters, Novice, Intermediate and Senior Midis. I live in hope!

From Dave Cooper
I know people who won't enter Midi classes, as winning into Senior, would be a distinct possibility for them in such a small class, and then their Standard classes would also be Senior. So until the numbers, classes and the  'perceived' standard increases, Midi numbers will not increase.

From Jackie Bromwich
Fascinating article. Having just started running a Mini dog last year after years of being a complete 'collieaholic,' I am thoroughly enjoying it. Mini competitors are friendly, the dogs have character and no-one tuts or thinks I am wasting time when my Japanese Spitz takes off on one of her 'bumps & circuits' of the ring through sheer excitement!!

I would also go with the philosophy that Mini dogs take up a lot less room. They also don't grind the lawn into mud in the winter in quite the same way as six border collies. I'd never give up my collies - but I would hate to be without a small dog now as well.

Photos: Penny Cockerill, Bridget Fletcher, Mary Ann Nester, Kevin Potvin, Ellen Rocco, Peter van Dongen, Kay Westgate