After my experience training at different agility clubs in Germany, traveling with an agility judge, competing in Germany and in England at the KC International Agility Fest this past summer I noted several things. I believe the points in this post show some major problems the system of agility in place in the US (talking beyond the obvious of course design). This has been a topic that I have notably spoken out about in the past but thought further touching on these points would be an invaluable report.
The cost of competing even locally in the US is absolutely horrendous and to qualify for large events takes a small fortune (and not to forget the cost it takes to travel and go to the large events on top of it all…) Should success measured by the amount of time and expendable money you have ? Or should agility be an accessible, fun sport to do with friends on the weekends? And just like any hobby or sport the goal generally is to continue improving your skills and performances. Ridiculous entry fee costs is not an advantageous way to promote new competitors OR young competitors.
Competitors in Europe will straight up not enter competitions if the entry costs are too high- even if it’s to compensate for cash prizes in a cup. The fact that for one run in the US costs as much as several runs if not a whole weekend of competing everywhere else in the world absolutely needs to change. Food for thought, a local AKC trial generally costs about $40-50 for two runs and my entry for the Kennel Club’s International Agility Festival with over 12 runs was under $50… I find this to be a huge issue especially when the agility in the states is a watered down version (gold star for showing up) of agility in the rest of the world. What is the objective of a competition? Ultimately, a competitions purpose is to test the handler and their dogs skills. To have challenges that teams prepare for and to master.
Furthermore, a major major flaw in the US where entry money is being eaten up and not staying within the sport or to promote the sport. A cost being lost (beyond profit) could potentially be paying the parent club for tracking scores. Competitors in Europe keep score books and record their own scores with printed stickers with scores from shows. This score book is brought to shows and can be referenced to easily. Great, we already have a system of scores printed on stickers for ribbons in place. Peel ’em off and put ’em in your book. A lot of competitors already have a habit of tracking their dogs scores in a personal book already too. Any profit should be going to agility clubs which facilitate the sport and create a fun, friendly atmosphere. Money that can go into better equipment, surfaces, better technology, prizes for competitors, etc etc. More clubs makes agility more accessible to both new and existing handlers too.
Another aspect that allows competitions to be less costly in Europe is that judges are not paid. Clubs pay for the judges for travel expenses, a gift and maybe dinner. This works in Europe because being invited to judge a show is an honor. If competitors do not like a judge or their course designs then that judge will not be invited back to shows. Simple. The biggest honor is being invited to judge competitions in other countries, larger agility cup events or even international/world events. Judges in Europe purposely put out safe and challenging courses. Whereas, in the US I have seen it plenty that judges who put any challenge out are not as popular but judges who put out fast, flowly courses and ‘wheel loose’ get invited back time and time again. Why is this different? Because of the titling system. People want to Q and get lots of points.
This brings up the (major, major, major !!) issue of the our titling system versus a win up system. In the US, the titling system consists of needing to earn three clean rounds in both jumpers and standard to move up into the next higher level. It does not matter placement or quality of the performance only that you manage to squeak through the course- even with half a second left on the clock and our course times are quite generous… In comparison, in Europe (and the rest of the world as far as I am aware) you must win (dog with placement) three rounds in order to move up a level. This then allows for teams who do not have high level skills to not reach higher levels. This system promotes wanting to push, take risks and continuously grow to get better. As as you ascend in classes, winning the class becomes more competitive of a challenge. If you are not looking to have this challenge or better your skills but still feel inclined to compete there is the option to then stay in the lower classes with easier level courses and dogs at your similar level (easy peasy problem solved there). If we judge dogs separately by their jump height why is it any different to judge dogs and handlers with teams of similar skill levels? If you want to brag about titles or have something to show for your dog then why not work towards being in the highest grade and winning classes. Getting a gold star just for paying your dues and showing up is a bit ridiculous and outdated in any sport- especially dog agility.
In order for a change it is up to us, the competitors, to make it happen. Potentially, by creating individual agility clubs with members who train together and put on shows that operate independently but follow a higher club of rules may be a good step in the right direction. Along with handlers tracking their own scores. Though, I am not certain myself exactly how to make this much needed positive change and of course it will not happen overnight. But I hope that this post gave you some food for thought. Let’s get the conversation going and make change for our sport. 👊🏽