HISTORY AND BACKGROUND
This is a story of success. It is a true story.
It is a story about how equality and fairness can triumph.
It is a story of mans best friend – the dog, and his favourite game – Agility!
Dog Agility is a sport. It is not a hobby. It requires the dog to show physical stamina and the ability to be fast, flexible and athletic – we call this being agile. Dog Agility also requires the dog to uses it intelligence and willingness to work and please us.
Dogs are smart. But they have not yet mastered the art of counting up to twenty or being able to read and understand the complex rules of Games such as Gamblers and Snooker! For this we need the handler. The handler and the dog form a team, a partnership and for some, they form a connection and a bond.
It is the handler that trains the dog to play the game, for that is all Agility is to most dogs, a fun game and a time to play. Susan Garrett (Say Yes Dog Training – just outside of Toronto, Canada) has a favourite saying:
“work = play = work”
It is this attitude by the dog (installed by the handler/trainer) and the belief by the handler that training (working) revolves around the principal that “work = play = work” that will separate the best in the world from the rest.
Best in the world! Very strong words. What do they mean?
To me, “the best in the world” means “winning at the highest level” on complex course designs that allow the dog and handler to shine and stand out above the rest. The best dog and handler team can see the subtle challenges and prepare for them well in advance, setting up the correct line, giving the right verbal cue or body cue, or conversely, knowing when to say nothing and let the dog do his job. Naturally, the dog has to know his job (fast accurate contacts, good weave pole entry)! Further, I like to think that the best is the team that can excel across the full gambit of the sport, and now days that is not just Agility (Standard) or Jumping, but also Games like Gamblers and Snooker. These Games tend to place a little more emphasis on the skill of the handler, as both a trainer and somebody who can see the strategy behind the challenges set by the Judge. Games also push the handler to better understand their dog and to know exactly what the dogs rate of travel is (metres/feet per second) and to know how far the dog will work at a distance and generally know the strengths and weakness of the team.
Ok, I have stated above what I think “the best in the word” is. What about my words, “winning at the highest level”? This does not mean wining Crufts, or Olympia or your countries national final.
To be “the best in the world” requires an international organisation that provides an opportunity to bring the top dogs from around the world together under one set of common rules so that that “best dog” has a chance of “winning at the highest level”.
This organisation cannot exclude some dogs because of the lack of a document that states the pedigree of the dog and its parents! Remember, Dog Agility is all about celebrating the physical attributes of the dog and the ability of the dog/handler team to work together. These attributes can be found in all dogs, not just pedigree dogs.
Further, Dog Agility in many places around the world has its strength and grass roots in organisations that have no connection to their countries Kennel Club. There are many more than these three listed, but organisations like the USDAA (USA), AAC (Canada) and ADAA (Australia) have contributed much to the world of Dog Agility.
So in my opinion a global organisation is required that opens its membership to organisations from individual countries based on their merits, and not on if it is a Kennel Club or not. Also, to allow an organisation from a country to choose what they believe are their best dogs to compete against the best dogs from other countries and to be able to make this choice based on the ability of the dog and handler team and not on if the dog does or does not have a pedigree and papers to prove it.
Such an international organisation exists. It is known as the IFCS and stands for the International Federation of Cynological Sports.
The IFCS does not restrict membership to only Kennel Clubs. The IFCS is about promoting the dog and its relationship with humans. It is about equality and understanding that a dog is a dog. Further, one of the goals of the IFCS is to work towards recognising the sport of Dog Agility as an Olympic sport.
The above are all attributes that I respect and support and is why I am a member of the IFCS Council and one of the Judges at the 2nd IFCS World Agility Championships (IFCS WAC).
DATES, TRAVEL AND THE HOST ORGANISATION
The IFCS held its second World Agility Championships (WAC) in the town of Picassent, 1 hour from the city of Valencia (Spain), between the 7th and 9th May 2004.
I had been away from home for the preceding 7 weeks on an overseas contract and had not had a day or weekend away from work and had not seen my wife, Cathy in that time.
A week is Spain was going to be exciting. I would get some time away from work, I would get to spend time with Cathy, I would get to meet some old and new Agility friends and I would get to see some of the best Agility teams in the world compete against each other for the title of World Champion (as a Judge I would get the best seat in the house to do so).
The host for the WAC was the Spanish Federation of Agility and Canine Education (FEAEC). The President of FEAEC is Mr Luis Ciurana. Luis is also a member of the IFCS Council. Luis and his band of Spanish helpers put on a wonderful championship and showed great hospitality and friendship.
Eleven countries competed at the WAC. If you include myself as a Judge (representing Australia), you could say that 12 countries participated. The competing countries (in alphabetical order) being:
- Puerto Rico
The USA and the home team of Spain had the largest teams, each with the maximum of 12 dogs. The third largest team was Japan and Canada, each with 9 dogs. Cuba was the smallest team with just the one dog.
Statistically, one would think the bigger the team the better the chance of having the biggest medal tally at the end! However, I must say that this is about the handler and dog and not about statistics. The reality is that the better the team members (dogs and handlers) the better the chance of an increased medal tally. I make this point because Russia sent a team of four dogs and was able to walk away at the end after competing against teams of 9, and 12 dogs with a substantial medal tally. Some of the other smaller teams also walked away with several medals.
It would not be impossible for a country to send a very small team or a team that has little or no international experience and still do very well. This is about speed, accuracy, contacts, weave poles, training and more training, plus team-work!
There will always be that extra little for a team that has a member or two that is experienced in the pressures of international competition. These “old hands” provide stability and advise to the less experienced and are a real value. But each country must start somewhere and a small team, a large team or an inexperienced team can come to the WAC, have a great time, maybe win a few medals and certainly meet new friends and enjoy the sport we all love.
It was great to see countries like Cuba and Puerto Rico send teams and travel from afar, even if they did not have the numbers of the host country or large teams like the USA or Canada.
Every handler that competed, from the smaller teams or the teams that are new to international competition up to the large and/or experienced teams can be proud that they represented their country and that their country and governing organisation was willing to stand up and say I support what the IFCS is trying to do and I am proud to send a team.
VENUE, SURFACE AND PEOPLE
The WAC 2004 was held out doors on a dirt surface (loose very small pebbles). There were two rings side by side, with only one ring at a time operating (the other being used to set up the next course). Only running one ring at a time in my opinion is the preferred method. As more countries participate and the number of dogs increase, there will be pressure to run two rings at once, but for my money I think that every team member should be allowed their 40 seconds in the spot light, and having two rings running at once means two spot lights. One ring allows spectators the chance to see every dog and every country participate and does not divide the crowd, their interest or the atmosphere.
In my opinion the best surface bar none for Agility is outside on natural grass. I believe the least desirable surface for Agility is indoors on a carpet or some kind of indoor, non-slip surface with cement or wood floors underneath.
Grass is best for three reasons. First, it is more or less non-slip for a dog and provides good traction (even in the wet, grass is better than carpet), it provides the dog with the ability to run hard and turn sharp. Secondly, the grass provides a steady and predicable surface that the dog understands and is normally use to. This amounts to the dog not slipping or scrambling its feet to try and get traction and generally means less chance of injury (due to the fact that the dog is sure footed). Thirdly, grass is natural with dirt below the surface that provides a certain capacity for shock absorption as the dog lands (and so again, less chance of injury). Indoor venues with just laid carpet directly over the top of the cement or wood floor do not offer as much shock absorption.
As already mentioned Valencia did not have grass. But neither did it have carpet. It was not the best surface I have ever seen for Agility, but it was not the worse I have ever seen. I would choose the dirt surface at Valencia any day over an indoor carpet venue and in the end the dirt proved to be of no major obstacle to most dogs. By the end of the third day I believe there were one or two dogs with tender pads from the small pebbles that made up the dirt surface, but then I imagine that an indoor venue with carpet would see dogs after three days of competition with burn marks from sliding.
Each ring was fully fenced and we had no rain. Food and drinks (including cold beer and local wine) was in abundance and all in all it was a pleasant venue with a good atmosphere.
The local clubs from around Valencia provided the support and they did a great job building courses, scribing and scorekeeping. At times we had a few language barrier difficulties and on more than one occasion we had software compatibility problems with scoring programs that caused the odd delay here and there. But on the whole the help and support was great, the delays minor and I believe all the teams took things in their stride, everybody understanding that when you gather eleven different countries in the one place that language differences can cause a delay.
Standard Agility and Jumping is more or less universal (a great strength of the sport) and does not generally provide too much trouble with regards to the language barriers. However, what we found out in Valencia was that the rules for the various Games are not universal and each Game and each Judge has a different interpretation.
This was a learning curve for the IFCS Council and myself as one of the Judges and something that I am sure the IFCS will work towards improving for the next WAC.
PRACTICE BEFORE THE WAC
The host organisation provided teams with three different venues that allowed them to train for a couple of days prior to the start of the championships on equipment and a surface similar to what they would find at the WAC. In fact, one of the training venues included the actual WAC grounds and equipment, so all the teams had a chance to practice the various obstacles and run their dogs over the surface prior to competition day.
The schedule was published at the beginning so each team knew the plan for the three days of competition.
The three days of competition included:
- An All around (Individual) competition over four rounds (Standard Agility, Jumping, Snooker and Gamblers). The winner of the All around Competition (for each height class) being the handler/dog team that can call them selves the IFCS Individual World Champion for the next two years.
- A Biathlon consisting of Standard Agility and Jumping.
- A Power and Speed Game.
- A 3 Dog Team Event over three rounds of Standard Agility, Jumping and a 3 Dog Team Relay. The winning Team being the team/country that can call themselves the IFCS World Championship Team for the next two years.
- A Dog Agility Steeplechase®. This is a USDAA sanctioned event and is a registered trademark of the USDAA. The event is usually held over two rounds and has a cash pool from entries for the winning prize. The USDAA provided approval for the IFCS to run the event and has allowed the top 25% from each height class to qualify to enter the USD$10,000 Dog Agility Steeplechase® (to be held in Scottsdale, Arizona, USA, on November 11-14, 2004).
The Power and Speed Game and the Dog Agility Steeplechase® were considered competitions of the non-championship kind. However Gold, Silver and Bronze Medals were awarded.
Each of the four Individual rounds that made up the All around winner also received Gold, Silver and Bronze medallions.
Each dog had the opportunity to run 9 rounds over the 3 days and if picked for the Team Event a possibility of running 11 rounds.
Power & Speed – Judge: Ken Tatsch (USA)
Standard Agility (Individual/All around) – Judge: Hisato Tanabe (Japan)
Gamblers (Individual/All around) – Judge: Steve Drinkwater (Australia)
Jumping (Biathlon) – Judge: Francisco Alegre (Spain)
Friday night – Official “Gala” Dinner
Dog Agility Steeplechase® (Round 1) – Judge: Ken Tatsch (USA)
Standard Agility (Biathlon) – Judge: Hisato Tanabe (Japan)
Snooker (Individual/All around) – Judge: Ken Tatsch (USA)
Jumping (Individual/All around) – Judge: Francisco Alegre (Spain)
Jumping (Team Event) – Judge: Steve Drinkwater (Australia)
Standard Agility (Team Triathlon) – Judge: Steve Drinkwater (Australia)
Dog Agility Steeplechase (Finals) – Judge: Ken Tatsch (USA)
Three Dog Relay (Team Triathlon) – Judge: Steve Drinkwater (Australia)
COURSE DESIGNS (see also the Course Codes)
With four different Judges from four different countries, there was bound to be a big variation in style and course design. This is a good thing and I believe it is one of the strengths of the IFCS WAC.
For my part, I tried to set course designs and challenges that would allow the very best teams to stand out above the rest. We can all go to the big competitions in our home city and see some brilliant handler and dogs (there are many in each county). Handler’s which are able to direct their dog around a course with speed and accuracy. However, in my opinion, many of these handler/dog teams when pushed to the limit (as you would expect at a WAC), would not have what it takes to be a world champion. To be a world champion you need that little bit more than the others at the top of their game. You need to be able to see the subtle challenges that the others do not see. You also need to see the obvious challenges that all can see, but then know your dog and your own skills so well that your timing and choice of handling skills are just that little bit smoother and thus quicker than the rest.
An example of a sequence that was designed to really test the hander/dog teams ability was the approach to the Spread Hurdle in my Jumping course for the Triathlon (figure 1). This was a sequence with a Long Jump (flattens and accelerates the dog) and an angled approach to the Spread Hurdle and then for the larger dogs, a wrong course (off-course) obstacle (Hurdle No 11) on the landing side. The dog needed to turn hard right after the Spread Hurdle and be directed to the No17 Pipe Tunnel.
Many handler/dog teams knocked the bar on the Spread Hurdle for this sequence. For the larger dogs it was mostly due to the handler wanting to shorten the dogs stride over the Spread to prevent any wrong course opportunity to Hurdle No11. The handler going into panic mode or over-handling mode and basically handling different to his or her normal style distracted the dog for a split second. Couple this with the requirement for a hard turn to the right and it was enough for many dogs to bring down the bar. For some teams the handler did not control the angled approach (a challenge that should have been seen on the walk through and an appropriate strategy/handling technique devised). The approach line not been controlled by the handler had many dogs having to auto-correct their stride/take-off point at the very last moment to prevent cross jumping the Spread Hurdle and landing in the fence (to the left of the obstacle). For many, not having the trust in their dog to jump the obstacle without over-handling and then not having the trust in their dog to be able to call-off the No11 Hurdle at the last moment and redirect to the Pipe Tunnel was their down fall.
figure 1 – Get the code to open in Course Designer
AGILITY (STANDARD) TRIATHLON
Another sequence set by me with a challenge that was tough for many was the No8 to No12 sequence in my Standard Agility course for the Triathlon (figure 2). In this challenge the dog had to wrap around Hurdle No8, ignoring the wrong course (off-course) opportunities and complete the No9 to No11 distance challenge before the Dog-walk at No12.
In Australia we see this type of challenge frequently and would be achieved by most experienced dog/handler teams with the dog on the left into the Pipe Tunnel and the handler meeting the dog at the up ramp of the Dog-walk. For this type of challenge the dog just needs the basic ability to be comfortable working away from the handler. There was no change of direction required until a recall to the handler (waiting at the Dog-walk up ramp) after Hurdle No11. For most dogs with basic distance control and compulsion to drive and not be worried about a handler that is not right beside, this sequence should have been achievable. The dog just had to drive straight forward out of the No9 Pipe Tunnel and jump the two obstacles directly in front.
Much to my surprise many handlers did not attempt the sequence as I envisaged it would be ran during the course design and instead ran around the up plank of the Dog-walk and handled the sequence from the far side. Needless to say, the teams that handled the sequence on the close/A-frame side of the Dog-walk had faster times.
figure 2 – Get the code to open in Course Designer
GAMBLERS (INDIVIDUAL/ALL AROUND)
My Gamblers course was a simple one (figure 3). The IFCS believe that the skills and strategies used for Games like Gamblers and Snooker are an important element to the sport of Dog Agility. I recognised that teams from the USA and Canada have been playing distance Games and Games of strategy like Gamblers for much longer than most European countries and that it would not be fair to include complex Gambles that required both distance control and directional control from afar. Go to the Gamblers Brief.
I wanted to design a course that gave a fair representation of what Gamblers is all about and yet still be achievable by the majority of handler/dog teams, even ones not familiar with the Game.
This design used the Dog-walk as the barrier and required the dog to be able to weave from a distance. I was pleased to see many teams successful at this Gamble. Several made the Gamble in time and received the bonus and there were also several that successfully completed the Gamble but ran out of time.
Gamblers will usually have a contact obstacle or the Weave Poles as an obstacle within the Gamble sequence. To be successful at Gamblers a team needs to perfect the skill of handling the dog over the contact obstacles or the weavers at a distance. However, the trick is to first have a solid performance with the dog close. Many handlers have a weak performance on a specific obstacle and then start to practice the obstacle at a distance for Gamblers training. The result is usually that the problem they have very often is made worse by the handler being at a distance.
The point being, it is best to work on a solid performance of each obstacle as one exercise and on the dogs drive and compulsion to play/work as another. When you have both, then you place them together and you have a dog with the ability for Games like Gamblers.
The other point to be made about Gamblers, and one I was consciously aware of when designing this course for the WAC, is that the Gamble (and distance work) is only half the Game! This point is often forgotten by the inexperienced team. The other half of the Game is having a solid reliable performance on each obstacle, knowing your dogs rate of travel, his weakness and strengths and having the ability to achieve enough points in the opening sequence (use strategy based on your individual team strengths) to be at the exact right place when the whistle blows for the start of the Gamble.
For this Gamblers course the dogs had 40 seconds in the opening sequence to achieve as many point as possible. The Toy/Mini dogs had 14 seconds to complete the Gamble and Midi/Maxi dogs had 16 seconds to complete the Gamble. Successful completion of the Gamble (in time) meant that the points earned in the opening sequence were doubled. Highest points wins.
As a twist, to make it interesting and get the teams running around the entire course, there was a bonus up for grabs in the opening sequence. The opening sequence bonus worth 6 point was achieved if all three Pipe Tunnels were each performed successfully at least once.
figure 3 – Get the code to open in Course Designer
THREE DOG RELAY (TEAM TRIATHLON)
I had a lot of fun designing and Judging this event (figure 4). The rules of the Game make it difficult to design a course if you wish to use three different sequences. The normal set up is to have two sequences and one of the sequences is used twice. Being the WAC I wanted to be different and to have a relay event that was exciting to watch for the spectators. I cannot speak for the majority, but I know I was excited Judging this Team Relay. The USA and Canada both had clean runs and great rounds. It was all down to the clock. The crowd really got behind this event with plenty of cheering and shouting. I thought this event was one of the high lights of the weekend.
Go to the Team Brief.
figure 4 – Get the code to open in Course Designer
The end result of the WAC was that the dogs had fun, the handlers had the opportunity to show the world how good a trainer they are and everybody goes home a winner. Seriously, the winner here is the sport of Dog Agility! I hope to see this event grow and grow and become the one true measuring stick for the best Agility teams in the world.
We have new world champions for each Individual height class (Toy, Mini, Midi and Maxi) and we have new world champions at a Team/Country level for each of the four height classes.
For results check out: www.dogsports.ru
THE NEXT WAC
The next WAC will be held in May 2006 in the Netherlands.
I hope to see you there?
COULD ADAA BE COMPETITIVE AT THE WAC?
I know this is the question you are asking! The truth is that anything can happen at the WAC. To be successful you need lady luck on your side (grin)! Seriously, to enter with a fighting chance we would need experienced handlers within the team, each with a proven track record and an ability to absorb the pressures and stresses placed on them (that is, they need to be mentally tough).
A team Australia at a future IFCS WAC I believe would also greatly benefit from a team captain or coach that did not compete (have a dog). Several teams had coaches and/or captains this year and they really had the ability to reduce the stress, admin and workload on the competing team members. Some of the bigger teams had a mix of old hands and new so that the more experienced, along with the team coach and/or captain could guide and help the younger team members.
Dogs need to be quick, very quick and they need to have very good contacts and good weavers. I did not see too many bars fall and many of the very fast dogs had tight turns. The standard really was very high.
The IFCS WAC has an emphasis on Games, especially Snooker and Gamblers. It was clear this year that Canada and the USA had an advantage over Europe in this area (as Europe is only just starting with Games). The ADAA experience in this field will be a real benefit if and when we ever send a team to a future IFCS WAC.
I would like to thank the cubs that raised money to help pay for my airfare. As with many things in life it is often the small things that can make a difference, such things as networking, knowing the people and faces and knowing what has happened in days gone past. Having an intermit knowledge of history and what happened in the past often helps in preparing for the future. Many thanks to Cathy who acted as a senior steward for the WAC and was invaluable in helping the show run smoothly.
Cathy and I are going to attend the next WAC in 2006 and I welcome anybody to join us for a week of Agility you will never forget.
Run Clean, Run Positive.