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A different view point...

The debate about whether Advanced dogs should be able to compete in Intermediate classes was going on way before the Kennel Club announced the changes to the 'H' regs. In an article which was written just before the changes were announced - but remains relevant - Nancy Hudson asks whether this decision is  entirely fair to Advanced dogs and their handlers, now or in the future.

I guess a lot depends on how you interpret the meaning of Intermediate classes i.e. whether you apply the term Ďintermediateí to the standard of class/course or where the class sits in relation to other standard classes, i.e. novice, senior etc. My personal interpretation has always been the latter,  Iíve always thought of intermediate classes as an extra Ďin-betweenieí class for all levels of dog with the exception of starters.  After all, there is no such level as an intermediate dog or handler.

Why Intermediate classes?
From memory - and I could be wrong here - Intermediate classes were created to give dogs, other than starters, an additional run, i.e. to be used instead of Open classes as required. Very often shows used to schedule Starter, Novice, Open and Senior classes which meant that starter dogs had three runs whilst novice and senior dogs had only two and I seem to remember that causing consternation to senior/novice handlers at the time. Whilst Advanced classes were created around/at the same time, not many were scheduled and that is still the case. I donít include Power & Speed or Championship classes in this statement as they are quite different.

It has been mooted recently that Intermediate classes are a waste of time and what is the point of them. Surely the point is that Intermediate offers all levels of dog, out of Starters, an opportunity for a challenging, enjoyable run. Whilst some Intermediate courses might be too difficult, thatís an entirely unrelated problem and needs to be addressed separately.  The degree of difficulty of course design isnít limited to Intermediate classes. One often sees Novice courses which would prove challenging to a Senior partnership and so forth.

Why remove Advanced dogs from Intermediate?
If thereís an argument to remove Advanced dogs from Intermediate, then why not an argument to remove Novice or Senior dogs instead/as well? Obviously this couldnít work as Intermediate classes would metamorphose into Novice or Senior or classes with no entries! My point here is why should Advanced dogs be excluded from a class which was designed for the majority to enjoy?

It appears that the main concern regarding Advanced dogs competing in Intermediate classes is that itís proving too difficult for dogs to move up the ranks because itís not possible to win against Advanced dogs. Iím not sure that removing, or excluding from, a class which is available to the majority for different reasons - perhaps to challenge Novice dogs and give a more relaxed run to Advanced/Senior dogs - is the right way forward.

Maybe  we should look instead at finding different ways of moving dogs through the ranks, i.e. by number of top three placings rather than outright wins. Maybe we should restrict dogs to their own level i.e. novice to novice; senior to senior; advanced to advanced and keep the intermediate class for all those levels (i.e. giving two classes per dog). Perhaps intermediate should not count towards progression but remain just as an in-betweenie class for all to enjoy. Iím not deliberately leaving elementary and starters out of my equation, they too would have two runs by allowing elementary to run in elementary and starters (not novice) and starters to take part in starter and novice classes.

Of course the above isnít always easy for shows to schedule, but what is with the numbers weíre looking at today?  Whichever way you slice the cake, show committees will still have to scratch their heads when scheduling classes in order to cope with numbers.

Worried about the competition?
Another opinion frequently voiced is that people are unhappy with their Novice dogs having to compete against Advanced dogs. But surely the most important level for Novice dogs is Novice and thatís where theyíre competing with/against their peers. Intermediate is another class to have the benefit of which perhaps gives a different type of challenge to Novice partnerships.

Personally when I have a Novice dog I donít expect to do too well in Intermediate classes until my dog and I gain some experience. I enjoy the Intermediate classes more because my expectations are lower whereas I get stressed by novice classes because I want - and at some point expect them to - do well in them.

I can sympathise with those who think itís unfair to compete against Advanced dogs but then couldnít the same be said of Novice dogs competing against Senior dogs (would remain the case in Intermediate) and Senior dogs against Advanced dogs (is the case in Senior classes) and so forth? Where do you draw the line?

Another thought is that once a dog qualifies into Advanced level by whatever means, itís going to have to compete against the existing Advanced dogs and if it wasnít competitive against those dogs in Intermediate, then it still wonít be when it reaches Advanced.

I have competed at Advanced level for over 15 years with three different dogs and, as is always the case, there is at any given time a small group of dogs and handlers who win most of the classes most of the time, but they change because staying at the top at Advanced level is transitory and affected not just by form and experience but by the dogís age (and possibly that of the handler!) I would hasten to add I am not one of the small group but one of those who normally end up unplaced in the advanced classes, tutting in the background that Iím just not quick enough!

From a completely personal point of view...
I would hate to lose intermediate classes or be excluded from them. This view is based around two main factors:-

  1. When I have a Novice dog I like to take part in Intermediate classes to gain experience over and above that gained from Novice classes. (This comment is based on intermediate classes being removed altogether, as some have suggested although this now seems unlikely). 

  2. I have an aging Advanced dog who is gradually winding down but is certainly not ready to move into Veteran classes. We have a good run and great fun in Intermediate classes. I donít want to put her over vast spreads or ask her to turn herself inside out as is often the case in advanced classes.  Indeed I enjoy intermediate courses with my younger dog for the same reason. Just because a dog is quick enough to win Intermediate, Open or Senior classes surely doesnít mean that it must spend the rest of its agility career negotiating very difficult patterns?  It also begs the question, why should those who do really well in a sport lose out which I believe will be the case for advanced dogs. Whist I believe that Advanced classes should be more challenging than Senior or Intermediate, it's good to have a more straightforward run as well. Sure. Advanced status is the elite of KC agility. but let's keep things in perspective. Agility to the majority is a hobby that we enjoy with our pets regardless of what level we achieve.  (This comment is based on advanced dogs being excluded from intermediate classes.)

Over the years I havenít often seen standard Advanced Agility or Jumping classes scheduled. They are a rarity. I donít count Advanced Power & Speed as that is a special class and one I donít participate in because I donít like the huge spreads (purely personal view.)

Champ classes
It is fantastic that there is now Championship, but my dogs arenít always quick enough. We often come away with unplaced clear rounds. As placings are very limited in those classes, it canít really count as a standard run for Advanced dogs with the normal number of placings, trophies etc. that one would expect in a standard class.

My point here is that whilst my dogs might have been a little quicker/luckier than some in order to win into Advanced, they arenít different from anybody elseís dogs. I donít train them by negotiating impossible patterns and I donít want to compete with them over impossible patterns. I want to enjoy and for my dogs to enjoy agility as much as anyone else. I can foresee a situation when Advanced dogs are excluded from Intermediate classes. Where a show has a Championship class scheduled, it could well be the only choice for Advanced dogs.

Who do we exclude?
In my view, if people seriously want to exclude a group of dogs from a great class, i.e. Intermediate, then there must be something suitable for them to compete in that doesnít involve courses which are too difficult. As already said Advanced dogs and handlers like to have fun as much as other levels. Maybe the idea of splitting the class and letting Advanced dogs run over the same course but in a separate competition could be the answer until such time we manage to sort out the issues surrounding course design and the varying degrees of difficulty etc. 

Iím also aware that there is talk of downgrading dogs to Intermediate once they become less competitive or of a certain age, but I think that might prove difficult to administrate although it is certainly an option.  Neither option would be my personal choice as I think a generic class which is available to all is a good thing for the sport and keeps the fun in for everyone.

In conclusion
This is a rather rambling essay for which I apologise, but I never was very good at getting straight to the point and I didnít want this to come across as a cold bullet pointed statement. It contains a bit of emotion as I feel very strongly and wanted that to come across. I donít often get involved in open debate as I worry terribly about being shot down in flames and making myself unpopular, but I felt I had to make a case for advanced dogs staying in intermediate as there have been many statements put forward on the other side of the debate but not many, if any, from this standpoint. If only for posterity, at least it's a different viewpoint.

A version of this article appeared in the agility magazines earlier this year.


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