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Is Agility Going the Way of the Dinosaur?

Pre-historic classifications are making 'real' competition difficult

One theory about the demise of the dinosaur was that changing climates brought about a relatively rapid change in the vegetation. The dinosaur’s digestive system could not adapt to this different diet, and they became extinct due to chronic constipation. Aileen Clarke sticks her neck out and asks 'Are agility competitions heading the same way?'

Circumstances are changing and because there is no scope for flexibility, several show committees are now buckling under the pressure and are cancelling their shows, or thinking about cancelling them.

Entry Numbers are growing rapidly, resulting in some shows restricting entries to two or three runs a day. Competitors feel that travelling maybe 200 miles to have two runs is not worth it so they get another dog. Therefore, the entries double and the downward spiral continues. There is also a bottleneck in Novice that keeps Novice numbers high as it has been made more difficult to move up into Senior.

Agility must be the only sport where one (canine) competitor can move up through the ranks on the achievements of another (canine) competitor. If a pups 'brothers or sisters' (the other dogs handled or owned by his owner) have qualified out of Starters – this then excludes him from Starter classes. It is like Linford Christie’s younger brother being offered a place in the Olympic squad because Linford qualified several years ago. These young dogs then have to compete at Intermediate level against Advanced and Championship dogs, which means that young dogs owned by handlers who are out of Starters have to be trained to the highest level by the time they are 18 months old. What pressure are we putting on our pups to achieve this?

I am not going to attempt to catalogue all the problems we are facing in agility. We can all think of many other things that are not right with our sport, and we all know that something has to be done to prevent our sport going the same way as the dinosaurs.

So what can we do?
I am going to stick my neck out and propose a nearly radical change. I feel that there is no point in changing just one classification such as Novice, as this has a knock on effect and moves the problem rather than deals with it. I think that the whole system should be changed, but I also think that we have a good system that could be adapted to meet the growing demands of Agility competitions. If we use the system we have in a different way, it could make a big difference without too much upheaval. It would be fairer to all, dogs, competitors and show committees, and it might act like a good dose of Sennokot to relieve the blockages that we have in our competitions. So here goes...

Proposal: All dogs should belong to a definite Classification.

Proposed Classifications

Level Class Description

 Level 1

Elementary Dog

Dogs and handlers that have not been placed first to third at a licensed agility test (Special Classes excepted)

 Level 2

Starter Dog

Dogs and handlers that have not been placed first at a licensed agility test (Special and Elementary Classes excepted.)

Level 3
I like butterflies

Debutante Dog

All dogs between 18 months and two years old.

The recommendation would be that Debutante dogs would be restricted to combined classes up to and including Novice. Debutante dogs would be eligible to compete in Open classes

Level 4

Novice Dog

For dogs over two years old that are owned or handled by competitors who have previously qualified out of Starter Classes and which have not been placed first in a licensed Agility Test in separate or combined classes, Novice level or above, and Open Classes. (Special, Elementary and Starter Classes excepted)

For dogs that have not been placed first in a licensed agility test in separate or combined classes, Novice level or above, and Open Classes. (Special, Elementary and Starter Classes excepted)

Or for dogs that have had less than five placings of first to sixth place in Novice Classes or Combined Classes of Novice level and above or Open Classes. (Special, Elementary and Starter Classes excepted)

Level 5

Intermediate Dog

For dogs that have qualified out of Novice but have not had two first places in an Agility Class, or one first place in an Agility Class and one first place in a Jumping Class, or Combined Class, that includes Novice and above at a licensed Agility test. (Special, Elementary and Starter Classes excepted)

This would make Intermediate the class for dogs with multiple jumping wins or for the dogs that gets lots of good placings, but just fails to get that elusive first place in Agility.

Level 6

Senior Dog

For dogs that have had one win in an Agility class and one win in a Jumping class or two Agility wins in Novice or Intermediate classes, Combined Classes that include dogs of Novice standard and above or Open Classes (Special, Elementary and Starter wins excluded)

Level 7

Advanced Dog

For dogs that have four wins. Two of which must be in Agility in Senior classes or combined classes that include dogs of Intermediate Standard and above

Proposed Classes

Open Classes

Open to all dogs

Combined Classes

Any of the above classifications could be joined together to make a Combined Class

Illustration Credit: Amazing Pre-historic dogs

For instance, a show schedule could read something like this:-

  • Class 1 Combined Elementary/Starters/Debutante Agility (Combined Levels 1/2/3)

  • Class 2 Combined Elementary/ Starters/Debutante Jumping (Combined Levels 1/2/3)

  • Class 3 Novice Agility (Level 4)

  • Class 4 Combined/Senior/Advanced Agility (Level 6/7)

  • Class 5 Combined Senior/Advanced Jumping (Level 6/7)

  • Class 6 Combined Novice/Intermediate Agility (Level 4/5)

  • Class 7 Intermediate Jumping (Level 5)

  • Class 8 Open TFO

 Only the dogs in those classifications would be allowed to compete in the classes stated.

The possibilities are endless
It would give show committees more flexibility in the classes they offer, and more control over the number of entries at their shows, as classes could be run on an individual basis or be combined and still count for league tables and for winning into the next classification. This would be beneficial in a geographical way as the more remote shows could combine classes, and shows in areas where numbers are high could keep them separate.

It would also be beneficial to young dogs, as the recommendation would be that they only compete in classes suitable for their age and lack of experience. This hopefully would have the knock on effect of discouraging the over training of young dogs. It would also mean that there would be an option of putting young dogs in combined classes with Elementary and Starter dogs, regardless of what the handler has achieved with his or her other dogs. However, the combining of classes would be left to the individual show committees.

The original classifications with the exception of Novice, Intermediate and Debutante would remain the same. Therefore, it would cause no grand upheaval in any changeover, and it would be only some of the Novice dogs that might need to change their classifications to Intermediate depending on their wins.

The biggest change would come in the classes offered by shows, as reduced numbers in Novice and Intermediate Classes would enable committees to have a greater choice in the classes they offer.

  1. It might mean that clubs might have to fork out more on rosettes and trophies, but this would be a good way for clubs to put something back in to the sport!!

  2. It would also mean we could protect our young dogs, as we could reduce the pressure of their training.

  3. It would be fairer in that dogs of similar level would then be competing against each other.

I am not very good with logical problems. The idea seems good to me, but have I missed anything glaringly obvious. Would this give a level playing field for all competitors, human and canine alike. More importantly would it actually relieve the blockages in competitive Agility?

What do you think?
Would it work?

About the Author
Aileen Clarke has five dogs and has competed successfully in Agility, Breed and Flyball.

She has recently started her own business, Fellandale Dog Training. At present she has over 70 people registered with her and the major part of her work is helping families deal with problems they are having with their dogs. She also does pet obedience classes, fun training, training walks and gives talks to clubs and groups about canine understanding and communication. All the training is done through kindness and positive association, and she has many associates including a Tellington Touch practitioner.

Her long-term aim is to set up a Canine Education Centre in County Durham.


From Mrs  Le Signe
I have just read Aileen Clarke's article on re-oragnising the classes for competitions. As an avid agility goer and hopefully budding competitor, I was very interested in what Aileen had to say. How refreshing that someone is prepared to look into what could be a very demoralising sport for some.  For example, I should be winning out of starters in the next season (I consistently get placed in the top 10 of 90% of the classes I run). Once I am out of starters there does not seem to be much incentive since all the top handlers will win the classes.  With a different system in place I feel the sport would gain and retain a lot of excitement. (12/08/02)