Dolcenea and I worked extremely hard to finally qualify for the AKC Agility Invitational so we could compete in this prestigious event and be an excellent representative of the purebred Akita while Dolcenea was in the prime of her agility career. This was a goal I had planned for Dolcenea long before we ever entered our first agility trial together.
I started Dolcenea working towards this goal entering her in our very first AKC agility trial in January 2008. She completed her Novice titles by August, her Open titles by November, her Advanced titles by June, 2009 and finally finishing the last Masters legs needed in Utah, Wyoming and Kansas to qualify for the big event by the deadline of June 30, 2010!
It was a very long road filled with tons of hard work keeping a female Akita motivated enough to complete the difficult requirements to qualify, since the rules for entry into this event are based on "bullet dog abilities". I knew it was going to be an uphill struggle all the way!
Agility doesn't come easy to Dolcenea; it is something I have to work at three times harder than she does to complete the course. Usually I have to run the outside course if I want her to qualify or at least come in under standard course time. Dolcenea is a true Akita in every characteristic of what makes an Akita an Akita. Once she has completed an activity, for example the Standard course, she doesn't see any reason what so ever to go out and do it over and over and over again. Akita's are extremely inteligent and know there isn't any point in repeating anything just to please their handler.
The day finally arrives!
It was a 16 hour drive to get to Long Beach and $200 a night for the hotel. Considering how big this event was, I figured this was part of the dues of entering, but I was not prepared for what was to follow!
Upon my arrival I had to find exactly where in this huge facility the agility was located, thank goodness I came a day early to get acclimated. The map I printed off from the website didn’t look anything like the directions I was given when I walked into the wrong end of the building! I finally made my way through the maze of the convention center to be pointed to the crating area. It was a sectioned off area with waste high curtains and not much else, sandwiched between the end wall and the back of the very tall bleachers. The crating spot with my name on it was a taped off area measuring 3'x5' without any room to spare. The spot was surrounded on three sides by wire crates and a very small isle way to get through on the final side.
Dolcenea is not a small Akita by any stretch of the imagination. She measures 24” at the shoulder and weighs in at a very muscled 90 pounds, so she has to have a crate big enough to accommodate her stature. I brought her smaller wire crate just in case space was limited, and boy was it ever! Dolcenea's smaller crate measures 3'x4', and there wasn’t room left over for anything else! I had to borrow space from the dog in the next spot just to put her two Yobi battery operated fans on the floor facing her crate. Dolcenea was not happy being sandwiched between three barking dogs. I had to move the persons chair crated next to me to get Dolcenea into/out of her crate.
There were spectators walking thru the crating area poking fingers into the unattended crates trying to pet the dogs, and usually these fingers were attached to a very small child. Dogs were escaping from their crates trying to search for their parents, I caught 2 of them myself, since I stayed with Dolcenea at our tiny crating site and most of the other exhibitors stayed in the bleachers. It was really hot in the building, no air conditioning or air movement at all. I had both battery fans going to try and keep Dolcenea cool with her cool coat on and she was still panting, from being hot and nervous due to the very cramped crating quarters. I asked to be crated by an electrical outlet so I could bring a larger electrical fan to keep her comfortable but alas that didn't happen.
The potty area left allot to be desired! They brought in sod and built a 20x20 potty area for all the conformation, obedience and agility dogs to use and placed it right outside the entrance/exit door. The smell at the door was not pleasant, you had to hold your breathe because of the smokers and the urine smell. It was bad!!!
Dolcenea would not go potty in the sod area no matter how much I tried to coax her, she held herself everyday until we got back to the hotel and walked to the very small grass area in front of the bank next door.
Walking to the ring to run was impossible because of all the spectators standing in the isle ways by the bleachers. To get to the start line you had to have the gate stewards part the crowds and make you a path through the swarms of people and guide you to a place to stand to wait for them to call you to the start line.
At 1:00 pm I drove into the unloading area on Saturday and was told it was closed and they wouldn't let me in. Unreal! So I had to go park my car in the pay to park lot, walk the mile to my crating setup and pack everything I needed and then walk the mile back to my car, Dolcenea was not impressed.
Now it’s time to actually run in this event!
Shock #1: came when I arrived at the ring for our first run of the event and saw the other Akita entered. This dog was stunning!!! He was small statured with oval bone, had excellent length of shoulder, a deep narrow chest, perfect length of stride, and a wonderful temperament wanting to please his mommy without exception. He had exceptional drive weaving faster than any bullet dog I’ve ever seen for his size! He tore up the course like he had springs on his paws and wings on his legs and he was an ILP’d Akita (German Shepherd/Malinois/Akita mix).
I knew I was doomed!
I knew I was doomed!
I didn’t know AKC allowed ILP’d dogs to compete against Pedigreed dogs in the Invitational? Dolcenea couldn’t compete against this other Akita in any way, shape or form, he ran circles around her... literally! He has the benefits of the German Shepherd/Malinois gait and structure (covering the maximum amount of ground with the minimum number of steps) and Dolcenea doesn't.
Dolcenea is built like a pedigreed Akita. Massive head in balance with body, thick muscular short neck, moderate layback of shoulders, heavy bone, wide and deep chest, with moderate angulation. She would much prefer to be sleeping on the couch rather than pleasing mom by running agility. She does things her way if at all, and she absolutely hates the weave poles!
As we stood in the general area to enter the ring for our runs, the gate stewards would ask me where the other Akita was? I would point him out and they would say that is a German Shepherd not an Akita. I didn't know how to respond other than to say he's an ILP.
Shock #2: they made us 20" Preferred dogs run in the 24" division and we were not given the 5 extra seconds for Preferred time, we had to run with the 24" division time, so Dolcenea was always over time. Then on Sunday the Jumpers course had a broad jump in it, and I didn't care for Sunday's courses at all.
Now keep in mind this is a HUGE event; tons of people, dogs and noise all going on at the same time. It’s rather overwhelming anyway, and then to add the crating, potty, unloading minutia, there was no way I could expect Dolcenea to perform perfectly considering all these difficulties! I'm glad I went to experience it, but at this point in time I wouldn't ever do it again. I still don't understand why on Friday for the FAST warm up run we ran with the 20" division, but for the STD and JWW on Saturday & Sunday we had to run in the 24" division. This blew me away; I couldn't believe how the AKC changed the rules for the invitational!
What is the point in running in the Preferred class to qualify for the Invitational then to have to run the courses on Regular class time in the event itself not being given the extra 5 seconds for Preferred? I just don't get it? If I would have known this was the case I wouldn't have entered this event at all. Dolcenea and I need those 5 extra seconds to qualify, and what is the point in entering an event like this if you don’t go there to qualify!
After this experience my whole out look on AKC agility has changed. Qualifying at the Invitational was one of the goals I had set for Dolcenea to achieve and succeed at and it didn't happen. It's difficult enough running the only pedigreed Akita in agility that competes at our level. This was our 95th weekend of agility trials since Jan 2008, but to have to endure the minutia to run in this trial setup us up for failure right from the start.
I don't understand how the AKC can ILP a dog as a specific breed to the detriment of the pedigreed dogs running agility in that breed. Is it fair to classify a dog which clearly has additional physical benefits and abilities as a non-traditional agility breed so they can enter the Invitational.