Sunday, May 26, 2013

USDAA Agility Trial (Orchard Hills) - USDAA First Impression

Molly and I had our first go at USDAA Agility this weekend and I leave it with very mixed feelings.
I entered Molly in Intro Jumpers the first day, and Intro Standard the second day.  Molly is still very much a work in progress, so a class labelled "Intro" seemed right up our alley.

Agility Building.

Hanging in the new soft crate.
Intro class is pretty great depending on what you are looking for.
If your dog NQ's in the ring, you can turn it into a training session and go "For Exhibit Only".  You can also go into the ring planning to be For Exhibit Only - and the training and fun session can begin as soon as you and your dog begin your run.
Jump heights are also more lenient.
I was not interested in running FEO.  I was interested in running my dog on a course and getting a score - whatever that score may be.  I did expect, erroneously, that a class labelled "Intro" would allow dogs and handlers some elbow room as far as mistakes go.  This is not the case.  Other than refusals not counting against dogs, no mistakes are allowed.  Refusals are not counted against dogs in Starters and Performance 1 anyway, so that was not really a benefit of doing an Intro course.
The Intro coursework may have been a little bit easier, but only a little bit.

We began our first day by being measured.  Jump heights are Serious Business in USDAA.  Molly measured at 20 1/4" and that will put her in the 22" height class.  That was what I entered her in, and what I expected.
When Molly was having a Very Skinny phase in the winter, she measured below 20" for CPE, which allowed her to be in their 16" height class.  CPE measures DOWN, while USDAA measures UP.

Click to Enlarge.

So, our run.  It was a Jumpers course.  Molly started off pretty great, took the first two obstacles just fine, but then went shooting off to our left to go sniff something or say hi to the ring steward.  I got her back, but set her up too close to the jump and she took the bar when she went over it.  We ran the rest of the course quite nicely after that, until after the second-to-last jump.  Molly came to a dead stop and just stood there sniffing.  And sniffing.
The two things that Molly did on that course are things that we have been working so hard to overcome and work through, and while she did have great moments on the course, I really felt so discouraged with her.
Bottom line: We NQ'd for the dropped bar and were 4.23 seconds overtime.
This course was allowed 27 seconds for "Standard Course Time".  I felt like that was an extremely tight time for an "Intro Level" course.  And perhaps I am spoiled by CPE, but I also felt like ONE error could be allowed in Intro Level.  We deserved an NQ, we had a time error and a dropped bar error.
But despite that, there were some dogs who were not lightning quick, but who had good and clean runs, but they NQ'd on time errors.  I do not see the point of setting such a tight time on an Intro Level class.  Only 3/21 dogs entered in Intro class qualified.  Only 1 dog in my height class qualified.  So much for helping people ease into USDAA agility.

One thing I will say is that after every dog ran in Intro, EVERYONE cheered for them.  I thought that was very kind, fun and welcoming.

Today I was not feeling a lot of USDAA love.  I expected to NQ on time errors alone.  Molly is fast but we waste time with her "voyages".

We also had to get measured a second time.  An intern judge measured us at... 21 3/4".  Uh-oh.  She had her supervising judge, a Certified Measuring Judge, remeasure Molly.  The CMJ measured us at 21 1/4".  What we had now was a TIE between two jump classes.  They both took their time with their measurements, with much moving around of Molly's legs and head and kneading of her shoulders.  You might think that Molly was being prepared for a surgical procedure instead of being measured so that she can play a dog game.
I was now frustrated for two reasons: If Molly is indeed over 21", she would have to jump 26" when I enter her in Starters (the first level of USDAA agility.)   I will not jump her at 26".  It is too much impact for a heavy dog like Molly.  Molly is in great shape, but she is packed with muscle and is just shy of 60 pounds.  We will be entering the Performance Program instead.
And the other reason is that I was finding USDAA and their wanting to measure my dog 3 different times and their insistence that I now need to find a CMJ after 10 days following today's measurement to be completely absurd.  Ridiculous!
They told me if I take just a little bit of weight off of her, she will probably measure down below 21".  Well.  Okay.  They did allow that she does not have much weight at all to lose.
I don't think that I can possibly convey how ridiculous all of this seems to me.

It was still another hour until our Intro Standard course.  The time ticked by.  Five minutes before our run, I brought out some ham and had a highly rewarding session where I would say "With Me!" and when she would come back to me or away from sniffing, she would get the ham.  It did not take my food hound long to learn that it was VERY beneficial for her to respond to me.

I will mention now that I felt like Intro was a waste of my time, for what I am looking for in an "Intro Class".  There was little to no difference in the rules, SCT or course work.  The major benefit is to be allowed to play in the ring if you NQ and that was not something that I was looking for.  I may as well have entered P1.  Upon discovering this, I e-mailed the trial secretary for the trial that Molly and I are entered in next weekend. She is allowing us to move up into Performance I class for all runs and I am very happy about that.

Click to Enlarge.

Despite my little annotations on this map, Molly and I did good.  She broke her start line stay and therefore followed me wide as I was making my way around the jump, hence bypassing the weave poles.  You are allowed to start the weaves again, of course, so we did that.  I knew, knew, knew that she was going to skip the table and it is a measure of her progress that I got her to come back to me and not launch up the dog walk.  I had a moment of confusion ("Where am I.  Did I want to cross?!") because I was so shocked that Molly flew over that broad jump and behaved herself on the teeter.

First Place and a Q.  GOOD GIRL!
This USDAA is a very strange animal as far as I'm concerned.  We are playing next weekend and if we do well, of course I will try to get her Performance Dog title (I think that is what the first level is called.)  At this point I definitely do not love it.  I am sure that is what the elitist and snobby USDAA competitors like to see anyway.  For me, agility is supposed to be fun - not a 10 minute long measuring and discussion session over whether a dog is a quarter inch away from having to jump 5 inches over her body height.  Not a zombie-perfect run for Intro and Starters/P1 level entrants.  Not a course time so short that only the fastest and cleanest of runners can come in under time.  Perhaps my mind will change, time will tell.

I am proud of my girl for Q'ing today.  I am proud of her her for running better and better every day.  

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