Lorrie’s Agility Dog Blog

Musings on Dogs, Agility, and Being an Instructor

Which Program Fits Your Team?

Participating in agility trials presents an abundance of choices.  Deciding which venues to compete in will probably be your first task.  That will depend on what is available in your area, the type of dog you have, and your preferences.  (See my Venue Comparison).  After you have chosen a venue, it falls on you to determine which program is right for you and your teammate.  USDAA, NADAC, DOCNA, AKC, CPE, and TDAA all have programs designed for teams that do not want to or cannot compete in their championship division or at their normal jump height.  In addition, most of the venues have a veterans program.  Exactly what the veterans and/or performance, skilled, preferred, etc. programs entail varies by venue, but they all have reduced jump heights.  Some take the spread jumps and doubles out, and USDAA changes the height of the A-frame to soften the angle.  There are a number of factors that should impact your choice. 

Conformation.  Very straight-shouldered, long-backed, or heavily-built (not fat) dogs might benefit from the reduction in height that the performance/preferred/skilled division offers.  Well-built dogs in good condition should have no problem with the higher jumps. 

Health.  Obviously, you should not be playing agility with an unhealthy dog, but for dogs with manageable health problems (kidney disease for example), or dogs that have had successful orthopedic surgery, the performance division might be the way to go. 

Speed.  If after extensive training to learn how to tighten your lines and get your dog motivated, your dog is still missing course time by fractions of a second, and you are interested in tangible rewards (which most people are), the extra time that the preferred division offers may allow you to earn those Qs.  Speedy dogs usually have problems with off-courses or missed contacts rather than difficulty executing full-height jumps or making time! 

Height.  If your dog is a fraction of an inch over the cutoff for the next height division, you need to decide if your dog’s best interests would be served by putting them in the performance division so they can jump at a lower height.  Jumping higher may not be detrimental to your dog (no studies have proven that it is or isn’t), but it is definitely more physically demanding. Conversely, for a dog that is comfortably over the cutoff, the lower jumps might encourage them to jump flat, causing more concussion on the landing.

Goals.  If your goal is to be successful at the national or international levels, or you are determined to earn an ADCH rather than an APD, you will have to participate in the championship/proficient/competition division.   If your goal is to play with your dog and have a good time at local trials, you may choose the slightly less stringent standards the performance division offers. 

Age.  It is difficult to think about your dog being a veteran, but in order to let them play the game comfortably, you have to consider making things easier for them.  If your dog is a veteran, you can take advantage of the veteran or performance divisions (and sometimes both).  For dogs that have been playing for a long time, the performance program can be a way to ease them from the full-out physically demanding form of agility to one that is made a bit easier by lowering the jump heights, removing spread jumps, and easing the angle of the frame.

 For the record, both of my dogs are in the Championship or equivalent division of the venues I participate in except USDAA.  There I have one dog in Championship and one dog in Performance.  My performance dog measures 16.25” – ¼” over the height cutoff to jump 16”.  Rather than make him jump 22” in only one venue, I decided to put him in performance.  He still has to compete with the Border Collies and he’s got the shortest legs in the class :-), but I did not want to ask him to jump higher than his head.  With some of the top handlers and dogs in the country in my area putting their older dogs in performance, that class isn’t any less competitive than the Championship class!

Choosing a division or program should not be based on intangible things like whether it is “respected” or not, or what people will think about you as a team.  Consideration should be given to the factors outlined above.  Priority should be given to making the game safe and fun for your dog.  At the end of the day, it is up to you to decide which division is best for your team.

May 8, 2009 Posted by | Agility, Agility Trial, Agility Venues | , , , | Leave a comment