Jun 052013

by Doranna

Dear AKC:  This one’s for you.  

(A Dog Agility Blog Event: Improving Agility Organizations: I’m not picking on the AKC–it happens to be the agility venue in which I primarily participate.  Being active in agility, obedience, rally, and tracking means such choices must be made. (!!) )

push.567As agility trainers and handlers, we’re constantly re-evaluating what works with our dogs.  At least, we should be.  When things don’t work, then we change something.  And we do it quickly enough to keep small problems from becoming big problems, or else…boy, do we got big problems!

Another factor paramount in training is consistency.  Not only consistency in defining and reinforcing behaviors, but consistency in our criteria…consistency in who we are as trainers.  Our dogs know what to expect from us.

Or they should–!

Well, people are trainable creatures, too.

We respond to our circumstances and our experiences, and we make decisions based on those factors.  When trialing experiences are profoundly inconsistent, it matters.  When frustrations go unaddressed, it really matters!

Last year I wrote a r/a/n/t/ post about the last T2B course I ever ran, and why–after too many intensely technical and demotivating courses that didn’t in the least fit the published intent of the game–I quit entering my dogs.  I would love to take part in this game…if it only stayed more consistently true to its purpose.

I stopped running FAST for the same reason.  When it takes a calculator and a batch of experienced handlers bent over the course map, desperate to find any potentially successful strategy, then it really kinda isn’t fun any more.  It’s more like “taking things too far.”

So, dear AKC, pay attention to the courses you approve–and the message those courses give our judges about what you’re looking for.  Please make sure they fit the spirit of the game as you defined it in the first place.  Consistency is your friend, and inconsistency is just really annoying.

And when you hear this feedback–any feedback–not just from one person, but from a steady trickle of people, it behooves you to act on it at more than a glacial pace.  Because, seriously?  It took you a decade to institute the PACH?  I remember bemoaning the lack of it at the very first trial when preferred dogs were running.  It took how long to allow grandfathering from regular classes to preferred?  Both logistics that were more than sensible and obvious from the get-go?

And how long did it take before we didn’t have to prove our jump heights on the spot?  And while we’re at it, when will it be possible to shift from a B-class to an A-class?  Because, seriously, you’d rather write Letters of Shame taking away runs instead of allowing the easy entry fix?

These are the kinds of things that matter to us.  They change the decisions we make about our entries, about our dogs’ careers, about sometimes about our interest in the sport.

(You can bet I would have made different decisions about my limited entry money if I’d known the PACH would be grandfathered in a year after Belle retired–she was 100 points short of PACH2 not because she wasn’t perfectly capable of earning that title, but because with multiple dogs to support, I based my entry choices on the extended absence of any such title.)

At the least, the failure to respond to obvious clamor engenders a mutual lack of respect; at the most, it pushes people away.  And an organization like AKC should know better, if only from all that mutual love of dogs.  Re-evaluation and response…change, when necessary…and as necessary.  Not a decade later.

Consistency and responsiveness.  Because as with handlers and our dogs, it’s not just about managing, it’s about thriving.  And it’s about creating a kind of teamwork where handlers, clubs, and trial secretaries feel they matter.

It has nothing to do with our dedication to our dogs, or to our training, or to doing the very best for them–those things are ours to nurture–it has to do with that next layer, the competition layer.  Because when we matter, we invest in what we’re doing with all our hearts…sort of like our dogs.  And when we don’t, sometimes we just stand in the middle of the ring and stare at you and think, very loudly, “What jump?”