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As American as apple pie and a-frame

Tania Chadwick, an unabashed American agility enthusiast, surfed in from San Jose, California where she lives with her husband and two Golden Retrievers, Murphy and Marley, both of whom are competing in Agility. Here's how it works on the Other Side of the Pond.

Agility Organisations
Here in The States, we have three very different agility organisations, United States Dog Agility Association (USDAA), North American Dog Agility Council (NADAC) and the American Kennel Club (AKC). All three offer trials through sanctioned clubs and host a national event. USDAA courses most closely resembles what is run in the UK. At this time, only the AKC sends a team to an international event, the FCI World Championships. In 1996 the USDAA chose a team to compete in the World Dog Show, but that show, to the best of my knowledge, hasn't existed since.
With three different agility organisations, one can play a lot of agility! My calendar for 1999 has 29 confirmed shows listed and more could be added as they are confirmed. I don't travel outside of the state, but if I did I could attend another 20 shows scheduled in Oregon, Washington, and Arizona. Anyone can enter any trial in any location they want provided they have met the requirements of that organisation. USDAA, NADAC, and AKC have some minimum requirements for registration before the dog can compete, and in addition, the AKC only allows pure bred dogs that are registered with the AKC to compete in their events. Provided those requirements have been met, one could compete every weekend of the year!

For a sample of a show premium, please visit The Bay Team site. (See Agilitynet Links)

Many folks all around the United States do quite a bit of travelling to attend agility competitions. Some travel great distances simply because there are no clubs or shows in their area.

I live in San Jose, near San Francisco in California and I concentrate on competing in my home state. There is plenty of agility to do here, but many of my colleagues do travel to Oregon, Washington, and Arizona on a regular basis for competitions. All three organisations had their national events on the eastern part of the country for 1998, Ohio, Georgia, and Massachusetts, so travel was tough on the competitors from California. Some drove across the country but most went by plane.

In my case, of the last seven shows I attended, some were at close as 40 minutes and others were as long as seven hours, my average drive time is approximately three and a half hours . Six of those seven shows required a two-night stay at a hotel. I usually leave some time on Friday to arrive at the show site and set up and get a good nights sleep before a trial. In my case I place different importance on each organisauion, so I won't travel long distances for every show. I will travel up to seven hours for a USDAA show, two-three hours for a NADAC show and no more than two hours for an AKC show.

The costs of trials also vary with each organisation. Here are some examples.

USDAA trials, for instance, offer five basic classes per weekend:

  • 2 Standards: $15-18/8.57-10.28 each per dog
  • 1 Jumpers: $8/4.57 each per dog
  • 1 Gamblers: $8/4.57 each per dog
  • 1 Snooker: $8/4.57 each per dog
  • 1 Pairs Relay: $6/3.42 each per dog

Sometimes an extra games class or two are offered, depending on the host club. The approximate cost is $62 per dog for a USDAA weekend.

USDAA trials may also offer other special classes for fun or for qualification for various national competitions, which may cost $18-$50/10.28-29.14 per dog depending on the class or the tournament.

NADAC trials usually offer four classes per day, eight for the weekend:

  • 2 Standards: $8/4.57 each per dog
  • 1 Jumpers: $8/4.57 each per dog
  • 1 Gamblers: $8/4.57 each per dog

Sometimes a club will offer a special price for all classes. The approximate cost is $50-$60/29.14-34.28 per dog for a NADAC weekend.

AKC trials offer only two classes per day:-

  • 1 Standard: $18-$23/10.28-13.14 per dog
  • 1 Jumpers with Weaves: $7-$14/4-8 per dog

The AKC has a new class, in limited number, called an International class, which is open to dogs in the Excellent level. The format is similar to a FCI World Championships-type of run and may cost $18-$20/10.28-11.42 per dog. That's about $56/32 per dog for an AKC weekend.

Awards also vary with each organisation and the quality of awards depends on the club hosting the show.

Most clubs offer a ribbon or rosette for a qualifying score and a placement ribbon or rosette first through fourth, some clubs go to sixth place. A small prize is also given for a first place at USDAA and NADAC shows and sometimes in AKC.

Only the USDAA has a class that has a cash prize. It's called a Steeplechase, where the top dogs move from round one to the final round to compete for cash prizes (See section under Nationals Events for more information).

USDAA also offers an award for those dogs and handlers that consistently place, called the Agility Top Ten. They are scored by getting points for each place they earned. More dogs at a trial afford more Top Ten points. At the national championships those Top Ten teams in each class (Standard, Jumpers, Snooker, and Gamblers) are recognised for their achievements.

Each organisation offers a titling program. Each program differs in the numbers of titles and what the requirements are to achieve them. Here in the States we do not have an Anything But Collies (ABC) class that segregates the collies from the other breeds. Our titling programs allow all dogs the opportunity to earn titles for advancement to the higher levels. However, we are seeing that the top placements are going to the faster Border Collies, and that the majority of the USDAA Agility Top Ten at the 22" and 26" heights are Border Collies. So whatever the focus, teams that want to play agility can pursue either avenue, titles or placements. For more information on the titling programs, please visit the web sites of the respective organisations.

Certificates for titles are given by each organisation and are printed on nice paper with the dogs name, owner/handlers name, and title achieved. They are very suitable for framing. They come by mail, and there can be a long wait for these certificates, sometimes as much as six months depending on the backlog.

National Events
 Each organisation offers a national event where dog and handler teams must qualify.

USDAA offers three National events, the Grand Prix of Dog Agility, the Steeplechase and the Dog Agility Masters Tournament. For the Grand Prix, USDAA authorises various clubs around the country to hold a Grand Prix Regional class. It is a class that is 20-22 obstacles in length and is judged under Master's rules. All dogs regardless of their level may run the Grand Prix and with ten (10) or fewer faults qualify for the National Grand Prix of Agility event. Teams that win their respective height at the Grand Prix Regionals will receive a travel compensation to attend the national event.

The Steeplechase is an event where competitors can win prize money. It's a jumpers style course with an A-frame and a set of weave poles. At the regional level, there are two rounds and the top dogs advance to the final round where the slate is wiped clean and the scoring starts fresh. It's scored time plus faults. A cash prize is awarded to the winner of each height and it can range from a couple dollars to a couple hundred dollars. A qualification at a regional event is required to advance to the National event. At the National Steeplechase, the prize money could be as high as $4,000/2,285, which is split by the winners of the four height divisions.

Finally, the Dog Agility Masters (DAM) Tournament, is a three dog/handler team competing all five classes and are scored cumulatively. DAM teams must place in the top 75% of a regional events to qualify to participate at the DAM Nationals.

USDAA's 1998 Grand Prix of Dog Agility was broadcast on a television cable network called Animal Planet, and the various DAM Tournaments have been broadcast on Outdoor Life television cable network. USDAA has entered into a contract with Outdoor Life to broadcast their agility events, but I don't know if that includes the Grand Prix.

NADAC Nationals qualification consists of earning 50% of the total points available over two shows. A clean standard run is worth 10 points, five or fewer faults is worth five points, a clean gamblers and jumpers are both worth 10 points.

AKC Nationals qualification consists of four clean runs at the Excellent level. The AKC also broadcast their Nationals on the Animal Planet network as well.

Start & Finish Times
Most shows regardless of organisation usually have a briefing between 6:30-7:00am, walk-though at 7:00-7:30am and first dog on the line by 8:00am. Finish times depend on the size of the show, sometimes it could be the luck of the event order. I had a show in February that went to 8:30pm both days and then the following weekend the show ended at 2:30pm in the afternoon.

Agility Clubs
 There are more and more agility clubs springing up all the time. Some are new agility clubs that only do agility; some are factions from existing obedience clubs that want to do agility as well as obedience. Some clubs only do certain flavours of agility, such as USDAA and NADAC because mixed breeds are allowed to compete, and the clubs associated with obedience have a tendency do only do AKC.

Some clubs that host AKC shows will offer agility, obedience, conformation and other classes all at one show if the club members are so inclined to plan such a large event.

Many of the top handlers here in the USA are offering classes and seminars. I am fortunate enough to live near two of the top handlers in the US, Jim Basic and Nancy Gyes. Jim and Nancy have won numerous classes at the USDAA Nationals and both been selected to numerous World teams. I attend classes with six to eight other handlers once a week, 60 minutes for my advanced-level dog and 90 minutes for my masters-level dog. I also attend various seminars given by Jim and Nancy or their guests, such as Chris and Jeff Bolton. As the agility community grows, and the demand for instruction increase, we are seeing some of the top handlers who are teaching, actually touring around the country offering seminars. For the handlers, it is a great opportunity to meet, watch and learn from the leaders of the sport who you might never see in your part of the country.

I also try to train at home a couple times a week, but we are limited with space and the amount of equipment. I currently have three jumps, one tire, and set of weave poles, all hand made. There are a number of places to purchase equipment but a nice A-frame runs about $300/171.42. I hope to have an A-frame (home-built) and a used tunnel by the end of the year. My trainers do offer private lessons and rental of their agility field for additional practice. So I can't really have any excuses!

I hope you have enjoyed this brief look in agility in the United States.

Good luck!

About the author...
Tania Chadwick
is a relative newcomer to the sport of Agility, but already has been consumed by the fun of it. She has been training with Nancy Gyes and Jim Basic, who operate Power Paws Agility in San Jose, California and competing with her Goldens Murphy and Marley (Goldies to Brits) since 1996.

Tania's younger dog, three-year old Marley, has really excelled and after just one year, is competing at the Masters level. In January of this year, Tania and Marley qualified for the USDAA's Grand Prix of Agility National competition. While they will not be making the long plane flight to Cleveland, Ohio for the competition, they will be enjoying competing this year and striving for their Master Agility Dog title.

Here is a link to her site. She claims 'it's just something I play around with to keep my skills updated for web stuff I do at work. You can visit Tania on http://www.geocities.com/Heartland/Prairie/2481/agility.htm

All Agility photos credited to Bill Newcomb and the group photo to Tim Chadwick. Editor's note: US$ prices are converted at the going rate of 1.75. Information provided on 13 April 1999 by National Westminster Bank.
1998 USDAA Grand Prix of Dog Agility National Champions @ United States Dog Agility Association, Inc. All rights reserved.