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The same but different

The Agility Association of Canada (AAC) was founded in 1988 by Art Newman. At first, there were only a handful of people involved nationwide, but the numbers have increased apace and now there are about 900 members. Because it is not necessary to be a member of the association to compete, the actual number of dogs who enter events is probably closer to 2,000. The rules are probably similar to those in the UK - dogs have to go THROUGH tunnel and OVER jumps - but there are differences. Maureen Jennings and Lynda Yielding go into the nitty gritty of agility the Canadian way.

What is different is the structure of the trials. Unlike the European system, we have four levels of jump heights. The standards are 10", 16", 22" and 26". In addition, we have a Veterans class for older dogs who still want to run but have a difficult time with the higher jumps, and are allowed to  lower their jump height  by up to two  jump heights. Veterans will have the A-Frame lowered to 50.

We also have a specials division, which is designed for those handlers that feel a 63 A-frame  is too steep for their dog and the measured jump height is too high. As well spreads and and doubles are removed and dogs in this division will jump one jump height lower than their official jump height.

There are three levels of difficulty.

  1. Starters
  2. Advanced
  3. Masters

You can move up to the next level after three qualifying runs (running clean within the allotted time) under two different judges. In addition to standard courses, there are four divisions of games - Jumpers, Gamblers and Snooker and a Team course which involves two handlers and their dogs, each running half a course with a baton to pass on in an exchange box, just like a relay.

Agility shows
Trials are held both indoors and outdoors and can be made up of any combination of courses - i.e. just games, just standard, or some of each. Because of this system, a dog does not have to win out to be a champion. This means dogs who genetically couldn't compete with the impossible border collies, can rise to the top and get their titles.

The first national championship
This year is the first time we have had a National Competition. The first round was at the Provincial level and the National was held outdoors in Calgary, Alberta. At the regional provincial competitions, a dog and handler had to achieve 300 points or more (out of a possible 600) to qualify for the nationals. On each day, a dog and handler competed in one standard course, one jumpers and one gamblers course. This arrangement was repeated at the Nationals.

The rules for the Regionals and the Nationals were different from the scoring in regular trials in that the scoring system was based on 'modified masters' rules. This means that no one was eliminated because of faults and points were accumulated over 6 events held on two days. However, if a handler made an error on course, the penalty was significant. There were awards in each of the six events for regular, veterans and specials classes as well as awards for overall placement in each height division.

Lynda's reflections
Because this was a first, there was considerable (probably self-induced) pressure, to put on a great show and that was achieved by the three agility groups in Calgary putting on the show. The show venue was Spruce Meadows, Canada's finest equestrian site. There were three trial rings operating at the same time - one for the standard course, one for jumpers and one for gamblers. The spectators loved it.

The qualifiers were divided into three groups, and each group rotated through the three rings. The two days ran very smoothly and there was tremendous interest from the public. The feeling among competitors differed. Some wanted to see all the other competitors in their jump height - to keep track of where they were in the standings. Others, like me, were just glad to be a part of the fun, as we weren't going to place in the top ten.

I compete with a Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever who jumps in the 22" regular division - a very competitive group with lots of Border Collies in it. We did get one fourth place in the Gamblers event on the first day which pleased me greatly. One of the things that I noticed was that the ribbons (first to sixth in each event) were spread out somewhat. They weren't all picked up by the same six handlers.

Shirley McRitchie's dogsOne of the role models for all of us was Shirley McRitchie - a wonderful competitor with two 10" regular dogs who placed first and second overall in that division. She treats her dogs beautifully, is always encouraging to others and, although quite competitive, she can laugh at her mistakes, never blames the dog and she's still out there to have fun with her dogs. Shirley has been involved in agility for ten years and is 73 years old. All in all, it was a great experience, lots of fun and a great opportunity to talk with handlers from across the country.

About the authors
Lynda Yielding started competing in agility with Shadow, her Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever, four seasons ago when he was two. Shadow has his Master Agility Dog title as well as Master Games titles in all but team. He needs one qualifying score in team to achieve his ATCH. (Agility Trial Champion of Canada).

Lynda recently certified as a judge. In the Fall of 2000, she and her husband Dan, who is now trialling with Spryte, his young NSDTR, started Muskoka Agility Dogs, a new lesson and trial site in Huntsville, two hours north of Toronto.

Maureen Jennings. This is Maureen's third season of agility and she is completely addicted to it. She has a Border Collie named Jeremy-Brett and when he's good he's amazing and when he's out of his mind with over-stimulation, she feels as if she trying to catch an express train.

When she find time to earn a living, she writes historical mysteries set in Victorian Toronto. She is always trying to find a way to introduce dogs into the stories. You can see them on her web site http://www.maureenjennings.com

Photo: (left to right - Lynda Yielding & Shadow. Maureen Jennings & Jeremy-Brett