Aug 3, 2011

Competing in Agility – the way I see it

I read through e-mail posts by agility exhibitors on how wonderful the trials are, how they really enjoy attending the various venues, how helpful everyone always is, and how they can’t wait until the next trial! This is all great and wonderful but for some reason when I attend agility trials, local or otherwise, my perspective on “what goes on” is very different from everyone else.

In this writing I’ll cover the side of agility I experience at each trial that other exhibitors don’t seem to notice, or care about, or talk about on the agility e-mail lists. I’ll discuss the things that make competing in agility more of a chore than something I enjoy considering it’s a hobby I have to pay to get into.

Let me preface this blog by giving the reader some insight into my agility career to date.

I travel alone, always have always will. I usually stay in a hotel, but not the same chain every time. I drive to the trial locations, I will NOT fly my beloved Akita anywhere, I don’t trust airlines! I’ve been competing in agility for eight years now, traveling to Montana, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota and at home in Colorado. And I always run with my beloved breed the Akita! Dolcenea is the third Akita I’ve put agility titles on.

I compete in AKC, UKC, CPE, ASCA, USDAA, DOCNA, UKI, and NADAC. I may well have the only non-traditional agility dog titled in every agility venue living in Colorado (well at least in my mind). The most extreme agility traveling I’ve done consisted of 5 states in 11 days which included one Breed Nationals in Missouri where I brought the agility equipment for the event. I’ve qualified for and competed in the AKC Agility Invitational, DOCNA Nationals twice and CPE Nationals this year. In CPE and DOCNA Dolcenea won High in Trial in the 20” Standard Division. Last weekend I attended my 114th weekend of agility trials.

From all of this “hands on knowledge” I will describe my experiences competing in agility – the way I see it. I will detail the minutia I go through at agility trials; it may vary depending on the venue itself, and whether it’s a large or small trial. But in general most of the trials are pretty much the same with the exact same experiences happening almost every time.

Disclaimer: if you don’t want to read ranting and raving stop reading now!

Setup & Crating – it’s the worst!

When I think about the next agility trial coming up, the dreaded chore of “setup & crating” always weighs on my mind. I really don’t like it when you have never been to an agility trial in a particular area before, or facility, or even state, and you follow the clubs premium details but other people don’t.

Some clubs e-mail out a judging schedule/confirmation letter detailing setup times as follows: “setup & crating; (any given day), building will be available from 4:00 pm to 6:00 pm, please conserve space and no x-pens allowed.”

You arrive at 4:00 pm on the specified day and the entire crating area is FULL and you get to crate in your car parked six blocks away. Why do clubs have one set of rules for their club members, their friends, their family members, and a completely different set of rules for someone who has never trialed in their event before?

As you’re standing in the FULL crating space at 4:05 pm wondering to yourself; how did 200 people come into this facility and take up ALL the crating space in a matter of 5 minutes? Well it’s rather obvious the club members, their friends and family have “perks” that the rest of us are not privy to. Then you look around noticing all of the 9’x6’ mats covered with portable recliner chairs, several bags, a couple coolers, surrounding one little 2’x2’ crate. Why in the world does someone need to take up that much space for one small crate leaving me to crate in my car?

As you turn to leave with all the crating stuff you carried in because you have no place to put it, you look around and realize you can count at least five x-pen setups? What’s up with that? In the confirmation letter it stated “no x-pens allowed”. Of course, how silly of me, this rule doesn’t apply to club members, their friends or family, it only applies to me the exhibitor from out of town, or the newbie, or just someone who actually reads the confirmation letters and follows the rules detailed within its pages.

Then there’s scenario number two. You arrive at 4:05 pm and by gosh by golly you’re lucky enough to get the very last crating spot available, which of course is the worst crating spot in the building (that is why it hasn’t been taken yet) right between the trash cans and the women’s bathroom door! So you think to yourself at least this is better than leaving my poor dog in the hot car all day. So you go back out to your car and bring in only the bare necessities; your crate, your agility bag and water for your dog. Since there isn’t room for anything else in your tiny crating spot you only have to make two trips back and forth to the car instead of the usual five. Now you get to leave your stuff in a strange place hoping the building will be secure and everything will be there as you left it when you come back in the morning.

You’re exhausted from driving 12 hours get to the trial site, upset that ALL the crating was already taken even though you arrived on time for setup, but slightly relieved you did manage to get a spot no matter how tiny it was. Now you get to drive to a strange hotel room to “try and get some sleep”. The alarm goes off at o’dark thirty even though you’ve really only slept maybe three hours. You do your normal morning rituals and then drive over to the trial site to realize, now that everyone has arrived, you get to park out in BFE. No biggie you think to yourself, at least you get to crate inside… right?

You walk into the building headed to your tiny crating space with only your dog since you know you don’t have any room to bring in anything else you may need, and all of a sudden reality hits you right between the eyes, just like being smashed in the face with a snowball!!! Someone has moved your stuff!!! Yes I repeat… while you were gone, a stranger came along and moved your belongings and shoved them out in the isle way for everyone to trip over! Talk about feeling violated, and now “your stuff” is right in the direct path of the women’s bathroom door and you have lost the only spot left to crate in because “they” needed more space. The only options left is to crate in the stair well and hope the fire marshal isn’t on duty that weekend, or to take yourself and your poor dog back out to BFE and sit in a hot car all day and walk the mile back and forth to check to see when you will be running.

Then there’s scenario number three. You arrive on time to setup your crating with everyone else and there is AMPLE crating for everyone! What a shock! You wonder over to the wall area making sure you are far away from the entrance/exit sections and you choose what you hope will be a nice quiet spot that is just down from the entrance door to the parking lot. While setting up your spot you keep in mind to conserve space because the premium said it would be tight crating, so you only put down your small tarp that just fits under your crate measuring 4’x4’ so everyone else can fit in the crating area. By now five other people have come and put down their tarps and brought in theirs crates and have setup next to you leaving maybe a one foot gap between your tarp and theirs so you don’t feel like a complete sardine, then everyone leaves their stuff and heads home.

The morning of the trial arrives and you walk to your crating setup to find out someone has moved your tarp over on TOP of your neighbor’s tarp and SHOVED their huge soft crate in to your crating space FORCING room for their crating setup! You look around to see if everyone’s crating space has been adjusted like this and you realize, nope, no one else’s setup has been touched, just yours! You think to yourself, how rude! So now you and your neighbor have to share a chair and take turns being able to get your dogs in and out of their crates, all because this rude person who forced their crating on you didn’t want to walk any farther into the building to find a crating spot suitable for their needs. Unreal! Then this rude person feels you have no right what so ever to be upset they have pushed their way into your crating spot while you were away because they didn’t show up on the day setup was open to everyone! This rude person decided to wait until the last minute to arrive at the trial and then just take over an area that they like to crate in! Go figure!

Crating in general:
I never like the crating areas we have to crate in at agility trials. I can’t count how many times people leave their dogs in their crates hour after hour after hour because they are working classes, setting up rings, working the score table or just shooting the poop and their poor dog(s) gets forgotten. Being the conscientious handler I am I always stay with my dog in the crating area even when I have to sit on the floor because the club doesn’t allow chairs in the crating area. I get to listen to all the lonely/forgotten dogs whine, cry, howl, tear at the crate door, or snarl at a dog passing by. It’s pathetic! If the temperature outside isn’t above 60 degrees I will always try and crate outside in my car so I don’t have to go through this horrible experience. And sometimes you have the nasty handler that is too damn lazy to bring another crate and will shove two large dogs into one small crate and leave for the day. I can’t count how many times I’ve had to walk to a crating or x-pen setup and breakup a dog fight between “friendly crated dogs”. Then finally the owner of these dogs shows up and says “oh don’t worry about it, it happens all the time, they’ll work it out”. This is a person I DO NOT want to be around, or to be around my dog! Lucky me I always end up crating next to them!

The only reason you even entered this trial was you thought there might be a chance of Q’ing because you like the judge, you have ran in trials they judged before, and you like their courses. But all that fades away when the agility trial minutia monster rears it’s ugly head. All you want to do now is get back in your car and drive the 12 hours home!

Running in agility with a non-traditional breed is difficult enough, but when you ad the hassle of traveling 12 hours to the trial site, staying in a strange hotel, going to a new trial location you’ve never been to before, then you arrive on time to setup your crating spot to find out everything is taken, or having your stuff moved by the “locals” really takes the fun out of the whole event which you haven’t even ran in yet. These experiences really can ruin your chances of having a good time at this event!

Check-in and course maps:
Checking in isn’t too bad in small trials, but if you're entered in a three ring trial trying to find the correct course maps for the classes you’ve entered can be difficult when you have Novice, Open and Excellent maps out for FAST, Standard, Jumpers and T2B classes. So you finally get past the course maps section, then you get to try and find “your” specific arm band number on the pre-printed labels. You never know if they are filed by number, by dog’s name, or by handler’s name each club/venue does it their own way. Then you get to try and find your dogs name on the gate sheets, and just try to find something to write with to check in your dog that actually writes. Now keep in mind while your trying to get all the above done so is 332 other people right along with you!

Briefing and walk thru’s:
Briefings: You hear the whistle and you head for the general direction the sound came from. Since you are shorter than everyone else you find yourself in the back of the huge crowd gathered surrounding the judge. Unfortunately I can never hear anything the judge says during the briefing because I always find myself surrounded by the group of people that “can’t stop talking”. No matter how many times the judge or the show chair says everyone please listen, “this group” thinks those words DO NOT apply to them. Then you have some people who prefer to walk the course while the briefing is going on which annoys the judge, so the judge won’t start the briefing until ALL of the exhibitors are paying attention to them. So a five minute briefing turns into a 20 minute dissertation.

Now for the walk thru’s:
There’s nothing worse than hearing the words “general walk through” yelled from the side lines then see 3,299 people swarm a 100’x100’ area with 20 different sized obstacles set out to block your path. Now bear in mind I’m 5’4” tall and feel like I’m always the shortest person entered in the trial. Trying to see around everyone else who towers over you as the group is walking the course is impossible. Especially if someone in front comes to a complete stop, or practices a front cross at full speed and slams into you, or worse yet they slam into another person who ends up slamming into you. It’s a battlefield; we should get combat pay for entering. I’ve lost count how many times I’ve had people hit me in the face, neck, chest, shoulders, back or head with their hand as they are turned the other way trying to figure out which way to run the sequence.

Then you get the exhibitor’s who “haven’t seen one another in ages” that stop right in the middle of the walk through to hug. Or the group who stop to shoot the poop and stand STILL right in the middle of the worst sequence of jumpers course design you’ve ever seen. Or the agility instructor who’s students are still not quite sure how to run the sequence, so they go over the same section in the course walk through over, and over and over again.
Why does this ALWAYS happen to me?

Random draw entries:
There isn’t anything “random” about random draws!

I’ve entered the same random draw trial for three years in a row now. The first year I didn’t include a volunteer slip and of course didn’t get into the trial. The second year I included the volunteer slip stating I would prefer not to work the Excellent level courses and didn’t get into this trial either. The third year I entered the trial and included a volunteer slip saying I would work anything they wanted me to and I didn’t get into this trial either. By this experience alone I know for a fact there is nothing “random” about a random draw trial.

According to the word “random” is defined as: 1. Made, done, happening, or chosen without method or conscious decision.  2. Governed by or involving equal chances for each item.

When a club can select entries out of a hat pulling one envelope out at a time opening it to see “who” the entry came from and checking to see if there is a volunteer slip included with the entry, there is nothing random about this process! The club then has the “option” of accepting this entry because they now know “who” the worker is, or putting this entry on a wait list which pretty much assures you don’t get into the trial! 

The powers that be in the club select the individuals they want entered into the trial, it’s that plain and simple. And if your not “one of the favorites” you don’t get in. I will NOT enter random draw trials anymore! When I read on an agility trial premium “method of entry - random draw”, I throw the premium away. Thank goodness I have the luxury of choosing what venue I want to run in and what state I want to travel to and I’m not STUCK entering local trials that have turned into random draw entries. 

In summary, everyone experiences things differently, and I know my experiences at agility trials DOES NOT reflect the experiences of others. For some reason I always find the idiots, or they always find me. My worst experience at a trial was in Wichita at an AKC trial where an exhibitor was in such a hurry to potty her dog before she was the next dog in line, she kicked open the door and hit me square in the mouth with it. Did she apologize for her actions? No! Did she even know that she hit me in the mouth with the door? No! When I brought this to her attention was she sorry? No! And what do you think her response was…? She informed me it was all my fault for being in her way! Really? No concern for my well being what so ever! No remorse for giving me a fat lip!

So the moral of the story for going to agility trials is, try to have fun, but know it will be an up hill battle all the way!